Candidates for Supervisor & Trails in El Dorado County
PLACERVILLE CA: The questions were focused on Trails use and advocacy and the question seemed simple but were excellent at revealing the candidates trail knowledge and use. An early question was asking candidates what are the benefits of a trail system. A seemingly simple question but a question that effectively exposed each candidate’s knowledge of the issue in about a minute each.
This question lead into a series of similar questions revolving around the benefits of a trail system, it’s economic impact on the county, and how candidates proposed to advocate for the trails system.
After just the first round of questions, about 12 minutes, it became clear that while most of the candidates had knowledge of the trails, there were some that obviously had extensive personal knowledge.
Although all of the candidates from Tahoe had extensive understanding of trails and their benefits, when Angela Swanson spoke it was clear she had a longpterm and detailed knowledge of the subject. It was clear that she had a personal knowledge of the trails and a understanding of the issue that could not have come from any ‘prep’ work of a candidate new to an issue. Also standing out was Sue Novasel. Her knowledge and understanding of the issues closely aligned with the goals of the group hosting the event.
On the Western Slope the answer proved much more difficult. Not because of the nature of the questions, but because the Western Slope is much more diverse than the Tahoe basin and has many more competing interest.
The group hosting the event is a group that is primary a class one hike and walk trail system advocacy group. The group also supports other non-motorized uses like equine. Competing interest on the Western slope includes an active off-road segment that is best known for the uses of the Rubicon trail. Another large segment are those that want to keep the railroad as an active recreational resource. Although all of these uses can be made in a parallel multi-uses format, real world constraints such as a horse and bike using the same trail has many problems, but the most serious constraint is money. Making the trails fully multi-use is far more expensive then to make them hike/walk/bike use only.
Another thorny issue brought out was recent assaults on the trail segment in the city of Placerville.
Candidate Dave Souza was clearly very familiar with the trails and had intimate knowledge of many trails as an equine user. He also was one of the candidates that focused on the uses of the Rubicon trail. Candidate Mike Pettibone also talked about the Rubicon as a motorized trail resource was the only candidate to use the word “train” and briefly talked about the need for train and trail advocates to work cooperatively. Candidate Theresa Piper also touched on the trail/rail conflict and added comment about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the subject. They were brave to bring up the subject and the conflict between those two uses is real and relevant. But is unclear if the trail advocates wanted to even hear the subject as they are on the trail side of that conflict.
Another western slope candidate brought up another subject that trail advocates were unlikely to bet happy to hear, the safety issue. Teresa Piper was the only candidate to broach the subject of trail safety. She mentioned that there were a number of serious assaults on the trail and that this safety issue is a hot issue on a very popular online neighborhood watch group hosted on facebook called “El Dorado County Watch,” a group with over 6,000 members.
This was a sensitive subject if the trail expansion is to be accomplished. The trails must be safe for users and the cost of that safety is additive to the cost of the trails. The added costs could delay or derail some expansion efforts. Like the train use issue, the safety issue is valid and relevant, but not likely to have generated much support in this group.
Perhaps the most revealing issue was the benefits of the trail. Many of the questions following that focused on the economic benefits and that revealed where the hosting group was focused. The answers were similarly revealing.
In this reporter's opinion, the fundamental and primary benefit is “quality of life” issues. Some candidates were clearly understanding of this. Candidates Penn, Parker, Novasel and Swanson saw this as the first benefit. But many other candidates focused on the economic benefits, as did many questions that followed.
The economic issue is more of a political issue used to persuade policy makers, but less effective as a rhetorical argument. Undoubtedly the trails use by hikers, walkers, and bikers brings economic benefits, but the weakness of the position is that it suffers from a low ‘return on investment’ metrics compared with other forms of recreation use like the motorized rubicon trail. But this trails advocacy group is about class one hike/walk/ bicycle trails.
This one question of benefits clearly delineated those candidates that saw the “quality of life” as their first response from those that saw it first from an economic perspective.
Further questions then delineated those that saw trails as both motorized and nonmotorized subject from those that only talked about the trails as a non-motorized subject. They also separate out those that had thought out ways to promote the trails system from those that were less prepared to answer such questions. Many questions revolved around economic issues but no candidates had any hard numbers and the issue was answered in a more generalized manner with all candidates agreeing that there was an economic benefit and without any setting a real distinction among themselves on that issue.
Perhaps the most surprising result was that the event was even successful! Many people have expressed concerns that a large crowd of candidates makes a candidate debate/forum unmanageable in a reasonable time frame. There were eleven candidates and taking just two minutes to answer just a few questions takes an incredible amount of time and illicites many duplicate responses. Getting quality information from a large candidate pool without spending all day, or boring the audience, is nearly impossible. The hosting group had the advantage of being a single-issue group, but the success was the result of a well planned and executed event.
Not only did they get informative answers, they did it in under two hours leaving the audience plenty of time to talk with the candidates after the formal questions. Other groups could learn a lot from this groups successful format, but it is still unclear if it can be done with so many candidates if the questions covered a much larger range of subjects. What is clear is that this groups did a great job getting the information and keeping it to a reasonable time period.
The hosting group also recorded the event for public distribution. Unfortunately, they ran out of memory storage space before the event completed. Below are two questions that may not have been otherwise captured (Use by others for the purpose of public education is hereby granted to all parties - Cris Alarcon).
How to increase economic potential related to the trail system:
Importance of “Connectivity” of trail system (From Sac Co to Tahoe)