Government / Politics

Primary Election 2020: SBC Supervisor District 1

Two candidates compete for North County seat.
Betsy Dirks. Photo provided.
Betsy Dirks. Photo provided.
Incumbent Supervisor Mark Medina. Photo provided.
Incumbent Supervisor Mark Medina. Photo provided.

Two candidates are running in the March 3 primary election for San Benito County Supervisor District 1: challenger Betsy Dirks and incumbent Mark Medina.

 

Betsy Dirks is 42 years old and has lived in San Benito County for 18 years. This is her first time running for office.

She is an independent contractor for yearbook publisher Herff Jones Yearbooks and also works as a consultant in 38 schools training teachers and students in journalistic writing, photography, graphic design, desktop publishing, sales and marketing. Previously, Dirks was an English teacher, journalism adviser and yearbook adviser at Gilroy High School. She has a clear, single subject teaching credential in English Literature.  

Why are you running?

I’m running for San Benito County Supervisor, District 1 because my husband and I moved to San Benito County 18 years ago and have expanded our family as the county has expanded. I have a strong desire to see the county thrive through making sure that the infrastructure of our roads and the infrastructure of technology comes to fruition in a timely manner so that we can offer opportunities for economic growth that will provide a place to inspire my children to raise their families here.

I want my children to come back to Hollister after they get their education to not only live, but work in the county. I want to provide all of our youth with an opportunity to expand the roots that they planted and give back to our county and community.

I also feel that there is an inequity on the board with the lack of female supervisors, so I think that the perspective of a woman is needed. I also have an ability to weigh both sides of an issue in that I’m a trained journalist and have a degree in journalism. I also balance all sides of an issue before making decisions and this is key in developing authentic relationships and building trust and transparency with the constituents of San Benito County. 

What issues are most important to your district? How do you intend to handle them?

The two biggest issues are the Highway 25 expansion and how that is going to come to fruition. The project is in my district, and follow-through will be very important in making sure we are staying on top of legislation at the state level to be aware of any new laws or bills that could affect our timelines. It is going to be to build relationships, so we can ensure the project isn’t delayed in the same way the 156 project is currently delayed.

The condition of the offshoot roadways is also of concern as the traffic has picked up and those roads are getting worn down and are in need of repair themselves. It is imperative that we prioritize and look at solutions to road repair that are not just band aids, but an actual long-term fix. The recent repairs on Fairview have left many District 1 residents shaking their heads, including mine. There may be reasons for how these were repaired, but the overall outcome has not been favorable. The wear and tear on our roads and the Highway 25 expansion are intertwined as the biggest issue facing my district and the no. 1 thing residents are talking to me about when I walk the district.

Another big issue is regarding the harvesting of cannabis and hemp in my district. While most people I have talked to and I myself are not averse to this, it has caused some consequences that weren’t foreseen. I have no issue with cannabis growth as I think we need to have the economic growth it can provide our county. However, we need to work with the residents in my district to find a solution to the smell that happens during harvest. This smell has had a major impact on the quality of life of residents living in the vicinity and downwind of these farms.

Since it is a new development we need to be proactive in looking at how we can work with both growers and residents to come to a solution so we can still capitalize on the new and growing industry of cannabis, but also be good neighbors to the surrounding families. I’m sure we can look to other communities to see how this has been handled in the past to come up with a plan moving forward. 

As a supervisor, my goal will be to not just hear my constituents, but provide tangible results based on their input, not just what I think is best.

District 1 is a mix of residential, rural and industrial areas. How do you intend to manage those areas and their uses as the county grows?

The general plan has these areas outlined and as long as we follow those zoning areas, then I will make sure that those areas will be utilized to their full potential. I will want to make sure that the plan for residential is in accordance with what our infrastructure can accommodate. If any more building is to be done then this would follow a timeline where we can get the roads repaired/expanded (Highway 25).

There should be a negotiation with developers in order to more closely control and more effectively negotiate to mitigate the impacts on the community and elevate the benefits to our county.

The industrial areas I see as a big opportunity for economic growth, if we can bring in the right businesses to locate here. The rural parts of our county in the general plan should stay rural. 

Employee retention is an issue in county government. What will you do to attract and keep skilled workers in San Benito County?

The first thing I would like to do, if it hasn’t or isn’t already done, is to send out a survey to past employees to see if we can capture data as to why they left. I would also like to survey current employees to see where their pain points are. Once we have objective data, we can begin to address the issues.

That being said, with any business we need to make sure that their pay is competitive and that they have affordable housing. If retention is an issue, then we also need to start from the inside out. There are studies on how workplace culture can influence and affect whether or not people leave or stay in jobs. I would expect the survey to address this issue as well so we can see what is working and what may need some adjustments.

How does your life outside of politics influence what you offer as a candidate?

My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic and to not do anything halfway. That if you are going to commit to something, you are going to commit 100%. So, I developed the foundation for leadership and communication at a young age.

At 16 I was on the student state board for a theater organization—the International Thespian Society, flying down to board meetings in Los Angeles. While at Chico State University, as a journalism major, I was the communications manager for the student-run public relations agency on campus.

While teaching at Gilroy High School, I was able to revive the journalism program and along with some very talented students and a supportive administration for First Amendment rights, we created a nationally recognized print journalism program where we won the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for high school journalism—awarded by the staff of the Washington Post.

Once we moved to Hollister, I started to get involved in the community and served for a year on the Civil Grand Jury for San Benito County. I was also on the board of directors for the Emmaus House, the Baler Education Foundation, and was on the founding board and am the current president for the Live Like Geno Foundation.

I have been consulting for the same company for 16 years and running my own business where I work with 38 schools on the Central Coast. I have a rich history in dealing with issues and solving problems, while working with people and listening to their needs and finding ways to mitigate concerns. I believe in teamwork and feel strongly that the best solutions only come if we all work together.

I am ready to not only lead, but be a part of a team that is offering workable solutions and giving a voice to families in San Benito County. 

How will you communicate with your constituents? 

I have already developed a solid social media base, so I will be available via messaging options that way.

I also will have a Constituent Corner on my website, where I will distill each supervisor meeting into consumable pieces of information that the average reader can not only understand, but be able to see how it applies to their experience in the district. 

I want to offer a Conversation Corner at the end of the month, after the second supervisor meeting, so that constituents can go over any concerns or ideas that they have. This would also allow me to bring any issues that are appropriate to the following board meeting at the beginning of the month.

I also want to offer a meeting every other month, where we have a panel of women who are doing things in the committee—they might work at a nonprofit, or in a community business—where they can offer their viewpoints on the selected issue for that particular month.

It would also be opened up to questions and followed with how the community can get involved with whatever issue is being addressed. I think it is important for the positive work in the community to be highlighted and I’m also hoping it would connect in the community. As our city grows, the personal connections we make will be the foundation that maintains the “small town feel” that makes the cities in our county unique.

I will also be available for people to call me as well and will make a commitment to get back to people within 24 hours, if not earlier.

 

Mark Medina is 51 years old and was born and raised in San Benito County. Following San Benito High School he joined the Air Force and attended Gavilan College after his service. He currently serves on the Board Of Supervisors for District 1 and works as an accountant at Sábor Farms in Salinas. 

Why are you running?

Our residents are tired of political bickering and want solutions to the day-to-day problems caused by poor government operations. I ran and continue to run for office to make a positive difference in the lives of my family and our San Benito County family.

What issues are most important to your district? How do you intend to handle them?

We have to solve our transportation crisis that interferes with the health, safety and family time of our residents. We cannot approve developments that are not contributing to solving that traffic congestion caused.

We have to force Caltrans to implement cost-effective traffic solutions that allow Highway 25 to be developed into four lanes. 

With traffic solutions in hand, we can also create a sustainable community that emphasizes a safe and vibrant downtown, more educational opportunities, after-school programs and recreational alternatives for our children; job opportunities and new industries that are compatible with our SBC vision of maintaining our rural and agricultural identity, additional housing and tourism will result from solving transportation issues.

Those issues will and can be solved by simply solving transportation issues and ensuring that we only accept development that is compatible with our vision of SBC.

District 1 is a mix of residential, rural and industrial areas. How do you intend to manage those areas and their uses as the county grows?

We need to modify our General Plan to plan specific areas for agricultural development opportunities and industrial development in order to protect our residential and rural areas from any nuisances. This type of planning prevents spot development from occurring in and around rural and residential areas.

Employee retention is an issue in county government. What will you do to attract and keep skilled workers in San Benito County?

Employee retention is as much about good leadership as it is about compensation. It is critical that we have great leaders within our government departments—people with the experience who prioritize and understand the term: Service to the People. The people are the employers, they provide the revenue to pay our bills, and they must be served! Employees will stay at a government job if they are well-led and share this vision.

How does your life outside of politics influence what you offer as a candidate?

I did not realize initially that a supervisor position was a full-time job. However, I have been able to manage my managerial job in agriculture and my family life with my wife and son. When I wake up, and drive to work, or attend soccer games with my son, I experience the same thing that my SBC family experiences—the difficulty of spending hours in a car driving to work or getting to soccer games. My family, my kids and my work ground me and help me understand my job as a supervisor.

How will you communicate with your constituents?

Communication and transparency are critical whether you are at home, on the job or acting as an elected official. I do the following: Facebook, random phone calls to constituents, random emails to constituents, BenitoLink articles, attend local events, listen to the residents.

 

Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.