Government / Politics

Election 2020: SBC Supervisor District 4

Five candidates running for seat vacated by Jim Gillio.

Watch candidates for SBC Supervisor District 4 answer questions from the BenitoLink 2020 Virtual Election Forum.

The District 4 seat on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors has been vacant since July 31 when Jim Gillio stepped down. Since then, the seat has been in the news as state Senator Anna Caballero submitted an appointment request to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Five candidates are looking to represent San Benito County Supervisor District 4 for the next two years. Those candidates are Robert Gibson, Mike Mansmith, Keith Snow, Bob Tiffany and Dan Valcazar. Snow did not respond to numerous attempts for comment.

 

Robert Gibson is a fifth-generation resident who has lived all but 13 years in San Benito County. He was appointed by Gillio to the San Benito County Planning Commission.

Though his time in politics has been short, Gibson, a farmer, said he feels he could continue to contribute to the county as a supervisor. 

Photo courtesy of Robert Gibson.
Photo courtesy of Robert Gibson.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for District 4 supervisor?

GIBSON: I am running as I think I would be the best person for the job. I am the only candidate with experience in local government, having been appointed to the Planning Commission by former supervisor Jim Gillio. I have worked with numerous departments during my tenure.

What issues are most important to your district?

Agriculture, infrastructure, affordable housing, diversifying the tax base and high-paying jobs are the big issues for the county and District 4.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Not in a general sense, but specifically that I would like the county to work with private businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, places that offer accommodations (RV Parks, Campgrounds, Airbnb) and others to focus on bringing tourism and tourist dollars to our community. Our outdoor recreation areas, wine trail, and agritourism businesses along with the county treasury could use a unified voice to stimulate tourism and  our economy.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

The challenges would be the poor quality of the roads, the long commutes, affordable housing and the ever-present pressure of housing growth.

How do you plan to address those issues?

To address the issues, I want to encourage multi-family housing, increase the tax base to provide more funding for roads, more deputies, fire and ambulance personnel. Next we need to hire senior planning staff and direct their work at streamlining the commercial permit process and getting appropriate lands entitled for commercial/industrial to encourage employers to build here, allowing us to take people off the highways.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

Communication is important, I feel using social media and email is the most effective way to let the residents know what issues are coming before the board.  

What is the role of local government?

The role of local government is to provide the basic infrastructure and services to the people. 

What ideas do you have to balance the need for improved infrastructure while meeting state requirements for housing?

We are over our market rate housing and doing better than surrounding counties on moderate and above moderate income housing. Unfortunately the extremely low, very low and low income housing isn’t getting built; we could do much more in my opinion to provide rental units to better meet the demand. Part of the strategy is to hire a grant writer to go after all federal and state grants, but specifically for housing we could do better in my opinion. We could also leverage county funds to buy the properties and then have non-profits get the housing built. There are also options for county employees that I would like to see offered for rental units.

What role do you see agriculture playing in San Benito County’s economic future?

Agriculture has always been a big part of this community and will continue to do so. While the technology may be changing, people still need to consume the fresh fruits and vegetables and the various livestock raised here. We could include the farmers and ranchers in the above-mentioned tourism plan as we have many innovative farmers and ranchers here.

 

Mike Mansmith is a third-generation, lifelong resident and co-owner of Mansmith’s BBQ. Though he does not have political experience, he has been involved in various youth organizations. He said he has the problem-solving skills, common sense and work ethic to be an effective elected official.

Photo courtesy of Mike Mansmith.
Photo courtesy of Mike Mansmith.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for District 4 supervisor?

MANSMITH: I am running for the District 4 supervisor seat for three main reasons: I would like to regain the public trust as an elected official, reunite this community the way it once was, and to strengthen our economy. 

What issues are most important to your district?

I feel that the issues that are most important to the constituents of District 4 would be restoring our economy, and the programs that benefit our ag community such as 4-H and our fairgrounds that has now lost its state funding.  

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

The decrease in funding from the state of the County Fairgrounds, and of course the lack of events there, hurts greatly.  The condition of our more rural roads is painful.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

The main issue that District 4 faces is the same issue as every other district, funding. Due to our limited resources and lagging economy our businesses have been forced to shut down which is creating more division among our community. 

How do you plan to address those issues?

I want to fight for those businesses and create solutions that will stimulate our economy, bring our businesses back and reunite our community all at once.  

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I will stay connected with my constituents through social media, a designated phone specifically for District 4 matters and face-to-face interaction.  

What is the role of local government?

My view of the role of local government or all government for that matter is to protect the people’s rights, fight for the needs of our community, and to be the voice for the people it represents.

What ideas do you have to balance the need for improved infrastructure while meeting state requirements for housing?

The need for improved infrastructure can come from the increased tax base by inviting and promoting commercial growth within our community. I am the candidate that is pro business and believe that our community can and will greatly benefit by businesses coming to our community to give our residents employment, increasing our tax base and making our community self-sustaining, to improve our currently failing infrastructure.

What role do you see agriculture playing in San Benito County’s economic future?

Agriculture plays a large part of our community’s background and history. Agribusiness can capitalize on this heritage making San Benito County a destination where tourists can come to enjoy our wineries, orchards and ranches. Having a national park in our backyard is a tremendous asset that we need to capitalize on to entice people to come to our great community and stay to enjoy our agriculture-based businesses, hotels, and restaurants.

 

Bob Tiffany grew up and has lived in San Benito County most of his life with the exception of 15 years. He owned and operated Tiffany Motor Company for over 30 years and sold it last year.

He served multiple terms on the Southside School District Board of Trustees. He has also been a member of the Hollister Rotary Club since 1987; a board member of the Community Foundation for San Benito County since 2003; a board member of the Ridgemark Tennis Club since 2007; and president of the San Benito County Business Council since 2015. 

Tiffany said his numerous years in leadership roles have demonstrated he is empathetic and collaborative and can deal with all types of people and situations. 

Photo courtesy of Bob Tiffany.
Photo courtesy of Bob Tiffany.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for District 4 supervisor? 

TIFFANY: It really comes down to striving to make Hollister and San Benito County a better place to live. Except for a handful of years, I’ve been here my entire life, and this is where my wife Kathy and I have raised our family. It’s a wonderful place, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better, and given the pandemic and its enormous impact on our businesses and local economy, we are also at a significant point in our history. I felt that I needed to step up and further serve my community in a new capacity.

What issues are most important to your district?

On the whole I believe that each Supervisor should be focused on the critical issues that affect the entire county, not just their own district, and during this difficult time, that’s more true than ever. With that being said, the most important issues in District 4 are largely the same as those that are countywide:

  1. Public Safety: In our current environment, this includes not only having adequate fire and law enforcement coverage, but also protecting our residents’ health during the pandemic.
  2. Economic Recovery and Development: It begins with the recovery of our existing businesses and county’s overall economy from the effects of COVID-19. But we also must attract more new commercial and industrial development to our county, and the jobs and sales tax revenue they will bring.
  3. Infrastructure: Our county roads are in various stages of disrepair, and they are only now starting to be addressed after many years of neglect. But much more needs to be done when it comes to roads, and that includes finally dealing with the expansion of Highway 25 (although this is not in District 4). Overall, we have fallen behind in our county’s infrastructure, partly due to residential growth that hasn’t been properly managed. Any new housing development must not only make sense—and more often than in the past include affordable options—but it must fully mitigate the impact it has on our community.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Some of the lesser known (at least among some) District 4 issues that I will work on if elected are: supporting the Tres Pinos Water District in their efforts to address the infrastructure improvement needs they have; and pushing the federal government toward the opening back up of the Clear Creek/BLM land in southern San Benito County. This area has been closed to recreation for far too long without a resolution.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

Our greatest challenge at this moment is dealing with the pandemic, and the impact it is having throughout our county, whether it be with our people, our businesses, or our economy. It is up to the entire Board of Supervisors to successfully respond to this challenge, not allowing it to be an obstacle to successfully dealing with all of the other important issues facing our community.

How do you plan to address those issues?

As for addressing some of the critical issues that I have raised:

  1. Public Safety: Everything starts with properly dealing with the pandemic, keeping our residents healthy and safe. This must be the No. 1 priority in our county right now. Local and state health measures must be driven by the scientific facts and health experts, not by partisan politics. I believe that the county must continue to strictly follow the state mandates when it comes to dealing with COVID-19, and this is the only way that we will ultimately get beyond the Coronavirus and its very significant impact on our citizens, businesses, and local economy.
  2. Economic Recovery and Development: This doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t be working to support our local businesses in every way we can, helping them get through this very difficult period. I am a longtime businessperson, and I understand how tough it is to successfully run a business, even in the best of times. As a Supervisor, I would make it a top priority for the county staff and departments to work closely with their city counterparts in their support of local business, and I would explore ways that our local, state, and federal governments can lend further financial assistance to each San Benito County business. Furthermore, to fully recover from the pandemic and the recession to our local economy that it is causing, we will also need to accelerate our efforts to attract more new commercial and industrial development to our county. We must bring more jobs to our community, and increase the county’s sales tax revenue. That is why at this point in time I am a strong proponent of both the commercial nodes like that at Betabel Road and the Strada Verde initiative.
  3. Infrastructure: With Measure G funds now flowing into the county, we have the opportunity to dramatically improve our local roads, and District 4 roads should be at the very top of the priority list. There’s no question that they are among those roads that are in the greatest need of repair. And although the stretch of Highway 25 that runs between Hollister and the county line toward Gilroy is not in my district, it would still be one of my very top priorities. The traffic on Highway 25 is terrible, and not only does it greatly impact the quality of life for our commuters and others each day, but it is a deterrent to attracting new business to Hollister and San Benito County. I was a Co-Chair of the committee that helped get Measure G passed, and with nearly a 70% approval at the ballot box, it is truly a mandate from the people in this county. As for other infrastructure issues, as Supervisor I would insist that any new housing development built in our county must fully mitigate the impact it has on our community. I would also explore ways that we can push and incentivize developers to build more affordable housing.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

In this environment that we’re currently living in, it’s that much more difficult to connect with and communicate to the constituents in our county, but it’s more important than ever. As supervisor I would make myself readily available by phone and email to individual constituents in my district, as well as conduct regular town hall Zoom meetings to reach out to as many people as possible. Being retired, and so not having the additional commitment of another full-time job, will allow me the time necessary to devote to the responsibilities of the position, and this includes staying in touch with those I represent in District 4.

What is the role of local government?

In simple terms, the role of local government is to serve the people it represents. In this particular case, it’s the role of each supervisor to represent the interests of his or her constituents, and to do so in a manner that brings the greatest good to the majority of the people of San Benito County and his or her district. More specifically, local government must protect its citizens with adequate law enforcement, fire control, and especially now, public health assistance. It must provide for the necessary social services to help those in our county that are the most vulnerable and have the greatest need. It must assist our local businesses to operate safely and to be as successful as possible in this very difficult environment. It must maintain and improve our county’s infrastructure: roads, housing, water, sewer, power, broadband internet, public transportation, and more. It must support our schools and promote the best education possible for our children. And it should provide greater services to the people in San Benito County, including things like a new and expanded library, which will enhance the quality of life for those that live here. Ultimately, the government of San Benito County is a business, and while it must be operated in a fiscally responsible manner, it exists to serve its customers—the people of San Benito County—in the best way possible.

What ideas do you have to balance the need for improved infrastructure while meeting state requirements for housing? 

To begin with, since San Benito County is designated as a “rural county,” it fortunately does not have the same state requirements for housing as the city of Hollister. This gives the county the opportunity to have full control over its housing development decisions. Included in this control must be better management of residential growth in our county: the proverbial “smart growth.” We need to not only be absolutely sure that any impact that a development has is fully mitigated, but that it makes sense for our community. Will it enhance the quality of life for our residents, make it a better place to live? Not all residential development is bad; if done right, it can help pay for roads, new parks, and other infrastructure improvements that go beyond what’s necessary to address the development’s specific impact. But with the recent surge in housing throughout our county, we must be very selective in our approach to approving any new residential development going forward. 

With that being said, there is still tremendous demand for new housing in our community and throughout the state. This is especially true of affordable housing, and this is where we need to accelerate our efforts when we do agree to additional residential development. Affordable housing includes building homes for working families that can’t currently pay for the market rate homes that are largely being built now, as well as those that qualify as affordable under the low income guidelines. It also includes more apartments and other rental units that our younger residents can afford on a monthly basis. Without these, many of those in the next generation will simply not be able to live here and so will be forced to leave. 

We have had some recent successes in the area of affordable housing in our county, such as the “sweat equity” homes that are soon to be built at the old Southside Road Hospital location. This is the kind of creative thinking that must take place in our county, and there needs to be more of the same. We must not only demand more from the developers in this area, but also must create incentives for them to build the type of housing and associated community amenities that our residents need and want. 

At the same time, our infrastructure is in terrible shape in some areas, and there is tremendous urgency that this is addressed now to improve our quality of life. Our local roads and Highway 25 are especially a priority, but there are certainly other areas of infrastructure improvement needs. We must push forward with the accumulated impact fees, Measure G and SB 1 funds, and other revenue sources to get these infrastructure issues dealt with immediately. 

What role do you see agriculture playing in San Benito County’s economic future? 

Agriculture will always play a huge role in San Benito County’s economic future. It is our largest industry, topping over $350 million in gross value of agricultural production, and that will likely always be the case. And as we go forward, it will be one of the driving forces in our recovery from the impacts of the pandemic on our local economy. Agriculture is also at the heart of what our county is all about: our past and our future is forever connected to it, and it’s a large part of what makes San Benito County such a special place to live. I also see additional opportunities in this area. Just as we’ve seen in nearby counties, we should strive to bring agriculture and technology together, taking advantage of the creative thinking and entrepreneurship that is so prominent in the greater Bay Area and Central Coast, bringing new agriculture-related industry to our county in the future. 

 

Dan Valcazar has lived in the county since 2008. He obtained his real estate brokers license in 2005. Before becoming a realtor, he was a San Jose police officer and a business owner. In his third year as a police officer, he ran for a seat on the San Jose Police Officers’ Association Board of Directors in 1986.
He said he has served roles that focus on the protection of the most vulnerable such as mentoring youth through church groups, chaperoning kids to build homes in Mexico for the poor, and teaching martial arts. Most recently, he coordinated an elderly abuse fraud forum at Ridgemark Estates where he worked with district attorneys from Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties to bring in experts from across the state.

Photo courtesy of Dan Valcazar.
Photo courtesy of Dan Valcazar.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for District 4 supervisor?
VALCAZAR: I admired Jim Gillio and supported him as supervisor. I want to see District 4 and SBC prosper and build great partnerships to ensure that SBC’s potential is met. The residents have a right to vote and have leadership that respects their ideas and leads the county forward.

What issues are most important to your district? 

In San Benito County, it’s roads, jobs and growth, but in District 4, it’s definitely about property rights specifically. Residents of SBC want clean water, open space, beautiful surroundings, and an environment conducive to raising families.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Lack of community voices. As I reviewed and listened closely to previous supervisor board meeting recordings, I noticed a small turnout of SBC residents. I applaud these involved residents for their participation. However, I know that District 4 has 10,000 residents alone and only having a handful of voices at a supervisor board meeting has me wonder what information is not being shared while decisions are being made. I would like to see improved communication of information to residents providing an opportunity for more inclusion when decisions are made.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face? 

Well, we all know a few of the basics, roads, jobs, growth. District 4 encompasses a large southern portion of SBC. Property rights, housing issues, and resource protection are some specifics. Leadership and professionalism within the county and city is also a huge problem. I was speaking with a state assemblyman and we agreed that SBC and the city of Hollister lose ground with the continued infighting.

How do you plan to address those issues? 

Cooperation is key to addressing the issues and building the right partnerships for SBC to prosper and receive necessary funding. I plan to lead with facts and present them transparently to the community. 

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent? 

Social media can be a good communication tool when used appropriately. Utilizing proper online meeting forums like Zoom, WebEx or GotoMeetings to host Q&As and listen to constituents. I also like to meet in person, six feet away with masks.

What is the role of local government? 

Well, if you look it up, three words stand out and I agree 100%. The role of government is to protect, provide, and invest in talent. When I train others, I always make the statement, “You will never reach your full potential.” Most young people, and many adults have no idea of their untapped potential. I believe San Benito County has untapped potential.

What ideas do you have to balance the need for improved infrastructure while meeting state requirements for housing? 

Improving Hollister’s ingress and egress is critical to the future of San Benito County. Although I understand the need to follow recently enacted state housing laws such as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 (SB330), we also need to ensure the widening of Highway 25. And, the new Highway 156 must no longer be delayed. The project needs to break ground in early 2021. Moreover, if the state wants San Benito County to stay on course with the new state housing laws, the State needs to work in a collaborative environment with San Benito County to expedite the widening of Highway 25 and provide additional funding to meet their design requirements. Any new development within the county has to have a strong infrastructure improvement component, above normal levels for the foreseeable future, due to our declining roadways. Of course, local jobs greatly reduce the stress on infrastructure while at the same time improving our local business economy. If we have the opportunity for new local jobs, we should all be in lockstep and focused on this opportunity, as well as ensuring that the growth fits the requirements of our future vision for San Benito County. 

What role do you see agriculture playing in San Benito County’s economic future? 

Currently, agriculture in San Benito County is a $350 million per year industry. It will always play a vital role in the county. Agriculture crop increase should be encouraged year over year. Ag land is foundational to the livelihood of San Benito County and is part of our identity. Because of this, we must be mindful of how and where new housing or other growth emerges within our county. Growth cannot impinge upon the prime Ag land which is part of the cherished history of this wonderful agricultural county. Ag land needs to be preserved or enhanced as growth continues. There’s a reason why Amazon bought Whole Foods. 

 

Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.