May 17 Election Forum was held at Bolado Park Event Center. Photo by Blaire Strohn.

The San Benito County Farm Bureau hosted a south county-focused election forum May 17 at Bolado Park Event Center.

The forum gave south county residents an opportunity to hear candidates’ views ahead of the June 5 primary, and featured San Benito County Supervisor District 4 candidates Jerry Muenzer, Jim Gillio, Elia Salinas, Sandy Swint, and Rob Bernosky, as well as incumbent Sheriff Darren Thompson. Deputy Sheriff Bill Hutchison, who is running against Thompson, had a prior engagement.

Farm Bureau Executive Director Mindy Sotelo and Fair Manager Dara Tobias moderated the election forum.

“Having south county residents become informed is important to make the right decision,” Farm Bureau President Pat Wirz said.

South county represents 80 percent of the landmass of San Benito County. Some questions addressed issues like roads, law enforcement presence, fire and medical response time, and cannabis.

In response to questions raised about roads in south county, candidates focused on what they called, “forgotten rural roads”.

Muenzer and Bernosky said they support another sales tax aimed at road improvements, while other candidates sought alternative methods to fix these roads so residents don’t pay another sales tax.

Muenzer addressed the Highway 25 realignment project which he said is now five years out due to environmental impact reports. For background on the realignment project, read  https://benitolinkcom.wpengine.com/apparently-faulty-engineering-caused-cave-hwy-25-realignment-project.

Residents who attended the forum showed interest in public safety and law enforcement presence. Incumbent Sheriff Darren Thompson said reducing response time is the top priority for south county.

“The Panoche Valley Solar Project currently has a negotiation with the sheriff’s department to cover the cost of providing a Sheriff deputy 42 hours a week to patrol Southern San Benito County,” Thompson said. “That will soon go away when the project is completed.”

All candidates were against Measure C, the proposed cannabis tax in the unincorporated parts of the county, including Elia Salinas who is the spokesperson for a cannabis extraction company.

“We can’t have a measure in place without policy, while others address the concern for public safety in the county if cannabis is allowed,” Salinas said.

The election forum was held for south county residents who couldn’t attend the BenitoLink-Farm Bureau Forum on May 3. An edited version (partially funded by sponsors Community Foundation for San Benito County, SBC Eyecare, and Benito Valley Farms, and with help from media partner CMAP-TV) of each individual race can be viewed on BenitoLink.