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Supervisors want residents to weigh in on state of Jefferson

The Chester Progressive of Chester, California

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Proponents of the state of Jefferson pushed the Plumas County Board of Supervisors to sign a declaration of support Jan. 20, but they didn't get it — partly because the supervisors had not seen the declaration yet and partly because they want input from their constituents.

The title of the declaration reads: "Declaration and Petition to the California State Legislature for the Withdrawal of Plumas County from the State of California and to Form the State of Jefferson."

After the supervisors listened to arguments for and against forming the state of Jefferson, one by one they voiced their preference to gain more information and to hear from the people of Plumas County.

"I'm 100 percent behind what the state of Jefferson stands for and what it means to our county," Board Chairman Kevin Goss said, but he wanted input from the boards of education and the hospital boards.

Supervisor Lori Simpson said she agreed with Goss about representation, but, as she stated back in October, "it needs to be voted on by the people in the county."

She added that both Butte and Shasta counties asked for more details and that since she is the fiduciary for the county, she feels that same responsibility.

She concluded her remarks with "Let the people of Plumas County decide."

"I echo what Lori has to say," said Supervisor Sherrie Thrall. "I absolutely believe in 'We the people

"I'm very much in support of the state of Jefferson," Supervisor Terry Swofford said. "But I agree with Sherrie (Thrall): it's important to hear from the people."

"I liked the name you picked out," said Supervisor Jeff Engel in an attempt to lighten the mood in the room.

He said he was "sympathetic to the need for more representation" and, as a businessman, "I'm always looking over my shoulder" because of state regulations.

He agreed that his constituents should vote on the matter.

However, to "hear from the people" won't come cheap.

During an interview the following day, County Clerk Kathy Williams estimated that a countywide special election would cost approximately $60,000.

The last time the county held such an election was in 2011 to vote for a successor for state Sen. Dave Cox, who died while in office. That election cost the county $57,801.81.

"There have been two increases in postage cost since then and overhead has increased as well," Williams said.

If an election were to be held, it would take approximately 130 days, which extends past the timeline advocated by those organizing the state of Jefferson. Simpson said that she would consider adding the item to the next regular election to avoid the cost of a special ballot.

Mark Baird, the Siskiyou County businessman who is the spokesman for the group, told the supervisors that they want a "spot bill by the end of January and legislation by mid-March."

Baird originally spoke to the board last October and made the presentation again during last Tuesday's board meeting.

He repeatedly told the supervisors that signing a declaration wouldn't be binding, that it would simply "guarantee a seat at the table."

However, the board didn't receive a copy of the declaration prior to the board meeting, and were given only two copies to share during the meeting.

Baird told the board that the document could be altered in virtually any way as long as it contained the phrase "lack of representation," because that's the cornerstone of forming the new state.

"California is broken," Baird told the supervisors in his opening remarks. "We think we're there because of lack of representation."

Baird went on to articulate what he perceived as a lack of representation in the state Capitol and cited legal precedent for forming a new state.

Of prime concern to the supervisors is the financial viability of the state of Jefferson.

"The new state would own all of the assets that exist in its borders," Baird told the supervisors, and listed items such as community college campuses, Caltrans equipment and California Highway Patrol vehicles.

It would also be apportioned its share of the state's debt — a fact that Quincy resident Delaine Fragnoli addressed in her remarks. "It took 50 years for Virginia and West Virginia" to divide their assets and debts, she said.

Supervisor Lori Simpson said she was disappointed that the board hadn't been given the financial information it asked for during the Oct. 14 meeting. Baird said that all of the financial information could be accessed on and that, according to his calculations, Plumas County would have a budget surplus of $55 million.

Part of the rationale for the surplus is that the county would be able to access more of its natural resources if it weren't encumbered by California law. But detractors of that rationale say the new state would still be under federal law.

"Creating a new state won't free you from NEPA or the EPA," said Fragnoli, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fragnoli, along with others who spoke against the state of Jefferson, acknowledged the frustration of being underrepresented, but didn't think the formation of a new state was the answer.

For and against

"I am not against adding a new state like Jefferson," said Graeagle resident Mark Mihevc. "What I am against is who is doing it. The state of Jefferson advocates are extreme right-wing tea party Republicans. Their handouts and flyers say it all."

Mihevc was the first to speak after Baird made his presentation.

He was followed by Quincy attorney Michael Jackson. "I'm a proud resident of the state of California," Jackson announced, a state that he describes as being "very, very good to me."

"This is the most dangerous presentation I've heard in 45 years of watching politicians," Jackson said and pledged to do everything he could in Sacramento to fight it.

Jackson said that the presentation cited "a lot of outdated law" and he feared for the fate of education and health care in the proposed state.

Portola resident and longtime educator Howard Thomas spoke in favor of the new state. "Representation is what this is all about," he said. "We basically have no representation."

Thomas said that other states are also considering splitting and cited New York and New Amsterdam and North and South Florida as two examples.

Many of the speakers came from outside of the county — including from Shasta, Lassen, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama counties.

"Looking around Plumas County, it breaks my heart," said a Shasta County resident as he discussed the impact of regulations on the local economy.

"Help us to help you help all of us," he summed up in asking the supervisors to show their support.

Greenville resident Mark Mitchell took issue with the way natural resources are currently being handled and mentioned his "backyard of 60,000 acres that burned and now have rotted." He also objected to an education system in which students learn how "to put a condom on a banana."

"I understand people are angry," said Quincy resident Faith Strailey, but "we don't have enough information."

Sierra Valley resident Tom Dotta encouraged the board to adopt the declaration "to maintain a seat at the table."

Three speakers were from Lassen County and they all supported forming a new state, with one saying "we would leave" if it doesn't happen.

A Tehama County resident noted that his county passed the declaration and there "had been no repercussions from Sacramento."

"A vote does not obligate this county to anything," said Indian Valley resident Todd Anderson. He then questioned allegiance to California when "you have the attorney general and Cal Fire (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) willing to lie" with regard to testimony in the Moonlight Fire.

After listening to the comments for and against the state of Jefferson, the board discussed the issue and informally agreed to have county counsel review the declaration and pursue the option of putting the matter before the voters.

What others are doing

The state of Jefferson is targeting 20 northern counties and five have signed the declaration thus far: Tehama, Glenn, Yuba, Siskiyou and Modoc.

The larger counties — Butte, Shasta, Nevada and Placer — have thus far not signed on. As with Plumas officials there say more information is desired.

State Assemblyman Brian Dahle, whose district would be consumed by the state of Jefferson, has said that he understands the motivation behind the movement to achieve more representation, but that he too needs more data.

He has said, "The devil is in the details and if the details are worked out and looked like it was something that, financially, could work and we work on all those things, then maybe I can get behind it."

In the interim, Dahle is pointed out as an example of how rural counties can be represented.

"He can work across the aisle," Supervisor Lori Simpson said. "We need more people like Assemblyman Dahle."

Change of venue

Since every seat in the boardroom was filled, and people stood along the walls, and even more crowded in to the doorways and spilled into the halls, many wondered why the venue hadn't been changed to accommodate the crowd.

During an interview the following morning, Board Chairman Goss said he was reluctant to change the venue because many people watch the meetings via live streaming, and that capability would be lost in a different setting. He didn't anticipate changing the venue for future meetings.

Goss also came under fire for cutting off public comment once the board began its own deliberations. Goss explained during the meeting that he limited the comments because of the board's packed afternoon agenda, which also included a presentation regarding the formation of a tourism business improvement district in the county, as well as an issue of church versus state.

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Original Publication Date: January 28, 2015

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