MEYERS — Voters in El Dorado County's District 5 could have a difficult choice come June, remarked the moderator in closing out Thursday's candidate forum hosted by the South Lake Tahoe Democratic Club.
For more than 90 minutes the four candidates running for the seat on the Board of Supervisors fielded questions before a crowd of about 60 people in the California Conservation Corps building.
Questions ranged from the expected, including vacation home rentals (VHRs) and traffic (to name a few), to less prominent topics, such as Sheriff John D’Agostini's hospitable feelings toward the State of Jefferson — the Northern California secession movement.
On a number of the issues the candidates noted their agreement with one another regarding certain initiatives, such as creating incentives to encourage second homeowners to rent their property long term, rather than short term — a proposal put forward by various candidates in response to both questions on VHRs and affordable housing.
The current housing situation in Tahoe is becoming increasingly bleak, noted candidate Jeffrey Spencer. If not addressed, Tahoe will see a continued exodus of young people moving to more affordable locations.
Spencer, who spent decades working in transportation both at the state and federal level, echoed comments by candidate Kenny Curtzwiler, owner of K&K Services, on the workforce housing front: the area's large employers need to step up and come to the table.
People are no longer building homes, they're building investments, Curtzwiler continued.
To that point, former District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago suggested working at the state level to designate short-term rentals as commercial enterprises, which would carry a slew of regulatory requirements. More immediately, Santiago said good enforcement is needed.
On the issue of VHRs, Curtzwiler said he wants to see a moratorium on new VHRs put in place as a means to force the current Board of Supervisors to "stop kicking the can down the road."
The county is moving on the subject, contended incumbent Supervisor Sue Novasel. An ad hoc committee was formed in 2017 to study the issues and on Wednesday, May 2, the Board of Supervisors is slated to meet in South Lake Tahoe to discuss VHRs — which have become one of the most fiercely debated topics on Tahoe's South Shore.
At the end of the day, local neighborhoods deserve peace and quiet and that is why the county is discussing enforcement matters, Novasel said.
Perhaps the question that drew the most varied responses was in regards to cannabis.
Novasel, who noted she also serves on an ad hoc cannabis committee, said she believes a moratorium should remain in place until the county can enact a local tax.
Regarding retail stores, Curtzwiler said it should be a question of where does the community want those businesses and how many does it want. Cultivation facilities, on the other hand, do not belong in the Tahoe Basin, he added.
Santiago said she would like the community to "step back" until some of the unknowns, such as long-term health impacts, are better illuminated. She stopped short of calling for a ban, which Spencer seemed to support, at least for the time being.
"I say 'sorry, it's just not worth it for us,'" he said.
While the discussion remained cordial, at least on the surface, the most contentious point came from an audience question concerning conflicts of interests and recusals.
The question appeared aimed at Novasel, who has recused herself at times on several different subjects during her term as supervisor. When it came time for her to answer, she walked several feet to the back of the auditorium and grabbed a large sheet of paper that was rolled up.
She unraveled the sheet to show a map of the Meyers area before stating that she was forced to recuse herself from voting on the Meyers Area Plan because she owns real property in Meyers.
Speaking directly to Curtzwiler, Novasel, who seemed genuinely agitated by the question, said Curtzwiler would have had to recuse himself from the same vote.
If those in attendance Thursday landed on their ideal candidate in the race for supervisor, there's no shortage of other races for them to turn their attention to — the June 5 ballot will be packed with local and statewide races in El Dorado County and California.
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