Friday, 19 July 2024

Lake County News Editorial: This election is about economic development

Here at Lake County News, we run very few election-related or endorsement editorials.

The last one we wrote was published eight years ago, at the height of the Mitchell-Rivero battle for the sheriff’s job, a situation we had rightly predicted would be a mess. And, as it turned out, it was far worse than we had imagined.

The situation this year is far different. Candidates, thankfully, have been far more decent to each other, and the focus has been on policy and the needs of the county.

This year, however, there is an urgency for the entire county and for our Northshore home base that is more critical than in decades.

The situation is an amalgam of the long-running impacts of wildland fire recovery and the continual struggles of a rural county.

We believe the theme of this year’s election is economic development and making it a No. 1 priority.

That makes the District 3 supervisorial race just that much more important.

The candidates this year are EJ Crandell and Denise Loustalot, two very good people who are credits to the Northshore.

But the importance of the election is leading us to endorse Loustalot, the former mayor the city of Clearlake and a business owner.

We believe Loustalot leads on economic development. Running two businesses in Lake County – much less California – is no small feat, and she and her husband, Pete, started those businesses themselves from the ground up and have continued to expand and bring job opportunities to the county.

She also has experience as a local government leader. During her time on the Clearlake City Council, Loustalot served back-to-back terms as mayor and navigated some of the most contentious topics, including the issues with illegal marijuana that were tearing the city apart before the state’s recreational legalization vote.

Additionally, she brought her mettle to the project to renovate a lakeside home and turn it into a new visitor center and the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Loustalot is the chamber’s president, and she’s been pressing forward to revitalize that important organization in order to boost support for local businesses.

While outgoing Supervisor Jim Steele placed Loustalot as the chair of his East Region Town Hall and Crandell as his planning commissioner, he has chosen to endorse Crandell.

Crandell’s campaign, which appears to be run by Steele’s wife, Olga – who was the campaign manager for Frank Rivero – echoes Jim Steele’s priorities a little too closely. We can hardly find Crandell in the details as he appears more a hostage than a candidate.

After a lackluster four years of unfulfilled promises, an admitted taste for brinkmanship and a steaming heap of bureaucracy, Jim Steele doesn’t get to pick his successor.

We’ve watched him gleefully sell off Northshore assets – some of them bought with the tax increment revenue established under redevelopment by Northshore residents – and sit back as those funds disappear into the general fund. Then he had the nerve to complain that the Board of Supervisors wouldn’t agree to take some of those funds to dredge the Lucerne Harbor.

Yet, he never stopped himself to put on a condition that funds be used for Northshore needs before jumping up to make the motion to sell those properties. If he can’t adopt that as a priority, why should the rest of the board?

All that we can tell that he’s actually accomplished is bringing more bureaucracy to the Northshore in the form of the town halls. That’s what one would expect from a career bureaucrat. Oh, and claiming credit for things he clearly didn’t do, like reducing water rates through Cal Water.

He claims the town halls are the way to get things done in the community, that they’re a way to hear from residents. In fact, they look more like a way to divert people away from meaningful interaction with the county government and keep them spinning on a hamster wheel until they get tired and go home.

As an example: At a Lucerne Town Hall earlier this year, of the hour and 30 minutes allotted for the meeting, he spoke for almost an hour of it. Once his ramblings were over and he decided to leave for the night, that left residents a hurried 30 minutes to have any of their own business to bring forward.

Right. More illustration of Jim Steele (supposedly) being the smartest guy in the room, but far from the wisest, most perceptive or productive.

We don’t need four more years of Jim Steele. We need four new years of a go-getter who has and will continue to find ways to make the business climate more amenable, and who will actually listen – not talk over – the community.

In other words, action not mindless chatter.

This endorsement isn’t an action we take lightly. As business owners and media representatives, we have constant business before the board, so we expect our lame duck supervisor may exercise what power he has left in a final shot of retaliation.

Nevertheless, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Vote Denise Loustalot for District 3 supervisor. She’s the right choice for a better future for the Northshore.

Measure G offers a boost to the county

Right now, Lake County is facing a difficult and complicated financial situation.

The difficulties and potential solutions were laid out to community members in a series of five visioning forums held in January throughout Lake County.

What emerged from those forums was the county’s proposal to put a 1.5-percent general sales tax measure before voters on June 5.

At a time when it seems like the costs of everything is going up, commiting to such a course isn’t exactly the first option we’d like to take. But after careful consideration, it may be the best short-term option we have.

A great deal of the current situation is a result of the impacts of wildland fires. There also is the impact of the Lakeside Heights lawsuit settlement of last year, which required the county pay $4.5 million out of its reserves and other accounts because the settlement wasn’t covered by insurance.

We understand the point of view of those who oppose sales tax and their reasons for it. However, even so, they’ve not offered much of an alternative in the face of what is truly a dire situation. Mostly, they’ve complained about what they believe were past spending mistakes.

Yes, business as usual at the county needs to change, and there are signs change already is under way at the county government level. It seems slow to those of us who aren’t in government, but anyone should understand that course corrections of a big institution, like a big ship, take time.

However, telling Lake County to wait while it rearranges its way of doing business is like telling someone who desperately needs an organ transplant or a blood transfusion to instead get on home and try to do more situps and take some vitamins.

If the experience of the cities of Clearlake and Lakeport is anything to guide us, sales taxes have worked in the effort to protect services in tough economic times. In Clearlake’s case, it’s also allowing that city to move quickly forward with an ambitious road and street improvement effort that should reap significant returns in quality of life and economic development.

Are sales tax measures regressives? One can make that argument. But you know what’s more regressive, and downright backwards? Sitting by and doing nothing, allowing the county’s financial problems to deepen until there is no coming back and until county finds itself completely stripped of essential services.

If we have an alternative to take and fail to act, ultimately we’re as much to blame as anyone for the county’s situation, and in the decades to come we’ll find people pointing the finger straight at us.

Measure G sunsets after 10 years; having that sunset seems a good compromise. It will take at least that long – probably at least a decade longer – to fully recover economically and socially from the wildland fires that have destroyed some 1,600 homes in the course of three devastating years.

We hope that by that time we will have other fully developed options and avenues that can take Lake County forward, there will be more new homes rebuilt to bolster the property tax rolls and more new business to add to our county’s economic vitality.

Meantime, the county of Lake needs to begin building other revenue sources to fill the gap, including collecting revenues from Measure C, the cannabis tax Lake County voters approved in 2016. It must collect transient occupancy tax from all of the people who are renting their homes on AirBNB and other similar online services. It needs to keep up with tax default sales as is now being done after a lapse of several years, a situation which can’t be allowed to happen again. And it needs to sort out the issues with its building and planning department, which is key to the ongoing rebuilding efforts.

Going forward, we’ll need careful monitoring of milestones in order to address the kinds of criticisms detractors have put forward about past mistakes and accountability. The voters must receive ongoing, transparent reports of how this money is being used and how it’s aiding the county’s economic recovery.

A great deal depends on how this is carried out; the trust of the voters in their local government will be impacted for decades if this is carried out poorly.

Measure G isn’t the whole answer. Rather, it’s one tool that we believe can jumpstart other key aspects of a long-term, long-game solution, if it’s carried out with care and resolve.

We urge community members to support Measure G on the June 5 ballot.

The Lake County News Editorial Board is composed of Editor and Co-Publisher Elizabeth Larson and Co-Publisher and Site Administrator John Jensen.

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