By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
California State Senator Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, came to Del Norte County over the weekend to meet with local constituents, politicians and other community leaders.
While on his visit, Sen. Aanestad took the time to speak with The Daily Triplicate about issues facing our community. Here's what he had to say:
Q: How will Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's prison rehabilitation and construction plan alleviate Pelican Bay State Prison's overcrowding issues, and what will you do to ensure it happens?
A: We understand that there's up to 500 new beds, so that alleviates some of the crowding, but it also creates problems because if we're going to put in 500 new beds it means that we need more correctional officers.
We need more services, more infrastructure at a time when, not necessarily Pelican Bay, but a lot of the prisons have kind of outgrown their local infrastructure. As far as if we're going to bring in 100 new correctional officers and build homes for them, then where's the water coming from, what are we going to do about the sewer system, etc.
It's not just a matter of passing a bond to create more beds for inmates. There's a whole lot of other issues I need to talk to the warden (Robert Horel) about and see if we can't make sure that the prison system continues to be good neighbors in the local communities that they are in.
One of the complaints legislatures had over the years is that some prisons have not been good neighbors. So each of us, with our own local prisons, have it on our schedule to go and talk with the administration of our own prisons, not just with the correctional people in Sacramento who give you the PR deal.
Where the rubber meets the road, how is it that this is going to affect the community and what are you going to do to make sure the community is not harmed by the expansion that we're talking about?
I have to admit also, as far as this bond goes, is that I was disappointed that they made it a lease revenue bond. Many of us think that's unconstitutional. We believe, I believe, that it should have been a general obligation bond and voted on by the people.
Yet the thinking out there is that the legislature said, Well the federal government is ready to come in and take over our prison system. They've already done it with the health care portion of it, but we don't have time to go the people.' Well I think that's a real mistake in the kind of government that we have. So I was not happy that these were lease revenue bonds. I would love to have the vote of the people to determine if this is something that, for example, your local people would want.
The other things to talk about, as far as the prison goes, is we'd like to see prisons do more with the local economy, as far as ordering some of their supplies and some of their services, rather than the bulk rate.
In fact, we have documented in the republican caucus where, even though the prison system buys in bulk, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're doing it efficiently and at less cost. We have some local business people in other areas of the state who have been able to show us that they can provide the same services and the same goods for less money than what the prison's are paying for them now. So that would be one of the things I would like to talk to the administration about on this particular prison system.
Q: The Klamath River is an important part of Del Norte County, particularly because of the salmon our fishermen and local tribes depend on. Specifically, what will you do to maintain the environmental integrity of the river and its wild salmon population?
A: Well, tough question because if you look at my district, I not only have where the river comes out and meets the ocean, I've got where it starts in Oregon. and I've got everybody in between.
I've got the entire length and it's pretty safe to say that all of the people who are affected by that river don't agree on what is the proper answer to your question.
I represent the farmers in Modoc and Siskiyou County who depend on that water. They depend also on the generation of cheap hydro-electric power to run their pumps so they can irrigate their fields. And they have the fisheries down here who have a different slant on things. In the middle we have the Native Americans and the conservationists I mean the whole gamut.
So I make a decision here, these people are mad. I make a decision here, these people are mad.
Right now the most pressing issue has to do with the upper Klamath. There's four dams there that the state is in negotiations with the owner to try to mitigate what's going on with those dams. Maybe we don't need them, maybe they would. Right now the question is: If we tear those dams down who's going to pay for it the mitigation?
Because there's not just the process of ripping down brick and mortar, but the sediment behind those dams for the last century has built up all kinds of toxins and chemicals, etc. ...
We're hearing everyday from the people who are users of the river, and we're just trying to make sure that what we do is best for the environment but also is not going to be a hardship for the people who have depended on that power and that water for the last hundreds years, and (who) actually have hundred year old water rights to that water.
Q: Senate Bill 133, which would provide millions of dollars in funding to rural schools hurt by the loss of federal timber sales money, has drawn criticism from local school officials who say that Del Norte County would not even qualify for the loans as the bill is written. How can you fix this problem and secure more funding for Del Norte County schools?
A: I would disagree with them that they don't qualify. Whether they want to avail themselves of it is a question.
And as of last night is whether they need to is a question because the federal government passed their budget last night and there's $60 million in there. But it's a one-year fix.
What my bill is mainly there for is to provide short-term loans until the feds get their act together. Well, we'll see whether my bill is even needed now.
We knew that probably only a third of the schools would avail themselves of it because it was a loan that had to be paid back, and if they could get by without it, or if it was such a large part of their budget. But I have a couple of school districts that it is a huge part of their budget, that they needed the loan so that's why we put it in.
As far as whether ... (Thursday's) action by the federal government changes things, we'll see.
Q: Del Norte County's economy is struggling. You assisted in bringing economic consultant Wayne Schell, from the California Association for Local Economic Development, to our community to help with our ailing economy. How will you build on this and make Del Norte County a more economically viable part of your district?
A: From my standpoint one of my main jobs is to bring some of the local leaders or elected officials together with the people in Sacramento that might be able to help them out. That (bringing Schell to Del Norte) was an example of that.
We'll also be looking to see if there is any way we can identify funds, grants, money from other propositions, that might be available to use in the county.
Yet, what I see really happening is the locals themselves, over the last three years, have kind of gotten together and are putting together game plans to revitalize the downtown area, start a visitor's center, and so anything that we can help in those regards we will.
Of course the main economy, as far as fishing or timber, a lot of governmental regulation has been what has hurt that over the years. Yet I think the pendulum might swing a little bit the other way and we're going to try and encourage some of that industry to be able to come back and be a part of the economy of the Northcoast.
Q: What can you do at the state level to help us improve U.S. Hwys. 101 and 199, the main corridors into Del Norte County?
A: Well certainly we can contact Caltrans and we can also contact the (California) Transportation Commission...then come up with some sort of systematic plan or priority system.
However, there are some things that we can do to encourage that the plans that are being created are being kept on track and not put on the back burner because some of the projects might try to get in their way and that's kind of what our role is, is to make sure that if the money has been allocated for projects in those areas and not just those areas, but any of the areas in the district that they are kept on those and not taken by Southern California.
Q: Del Norte County has difficulty attracting and maintaining health care professionals. What can you do as a lawmaker to assist with this problem and improve our health care system?
A: It's most of rural California that has the same problem. Not only doctors, but, for example, nurses.
There may be nurses that want to move to an area but maybe they're married and they'll say, What kind of work can my spouse expect up there?' And there's just nothing available. With all health personnel, doctors, nurses, all the auxiliary people, it's really tough in most of the rural hospitals.
Actually, Del Norte's got more going for it than some of the others because the hospital has made a recruitment plan, and also it is such a beautiful place to live for people who want that lifestyle.
Specifically the question is: What can I do? I can tell you exactly what we're doing.
I have, over the years, sponsored and had bills signed through the legislative process to make sure, for example, that doctors who want to move here from out of state physicians and dentists can get here without some of the burdens of regulations and licensing that perhaps they used to require. So we've been able to get out in rural California more dentists and more physicians who simply had to have a background check and, of course, pay their fee.
For example, in Redding we have two dentists who came from out of state to rural California just because of that program. We're working on that to do the same thing for nurses and we're working on that to do the same thing for other licensed professionals such as the phlebotomists the people who draw blood in a hospital setting.
We're trying to ease the licensing requirements and registration requirements to try to attract out-of-state people who might want to come to a rural area.
For example some of the dentists who came to rural California come from the Midwest. They didn't want to move to an urban area, they wanted to move to a rural area that maybe didn't have so much snow. And we were able to encourage them to come to Northern California...We're doing what we can to encourage practitioners to come to the rural areas.
Q: In the coming year, what do you foresee as the biggest issue facing Del Norte County and your district as a whole?
A: Overall, having a budget that is unbalanced and out of whack state-wide, with a three to five billion dollar deficit every year. We've got to pay interest on those bonds and the money that's borrowed. That interest should allow us hundreds of millions of dollars a year that could be spent on projects like Hwy. 199 and health care recruitment, etcetera. I think the number one priority is to get back in the black as a state and stay there. And accumulate some kind of reserve so we can start doing some of these projects that so many communities have been doing without now for at least the eight or nine years that I've been in the legislature. That's number one.
Number two, specifically for the Northcoast, we're trying to get some stability in the fishing industry. Every year it seems like more and more regulations come along, or different regulations come along and these folks who have major investments in the boats or the businesses that supply diesel and gas and food to the families of the fishermen, there has to be more stability than there is and we need to make sure that we're not really passing too many laws and regulations and trying to live with what we have now and see if we can't build on the economy that we have now.
So, from my standpoint, trying to get the fisheries back, maybe even get more interest in doing some more of the timber industry, those are priorities.
Q: When is the next time you plan to visit Del Norte County?
A: Oh gosh, I have no idea. We try to get up there once every four months. I have 12 counties and if I only spend one weekend in each county, that means that it will be (every) three to four months that I can make it. That's only if I can do it on a regular basis so I try to get up there three to four times a year. I'd like to get up there more because its a vacation spot as far as the beauty of the coast and the people up there. So I'd rather spend more time there than most places. But I also like to spend a little time at home on the weekends.