A panel of community dignitaries sat front and center in front of a packed house in the Camp Nelson Fire Station, ready to update the mountain communities on the local happenings in their area. The town hall meeting was called together by Tulare County District 5 Supervisor Dennis Townsend, who graciously shook hands with nearly every person who showed up to attend the meeting.
Representatives from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO), California Highway Patrol (CHP), U.S. Forest Service, Resource Management Agency, Southern California Edison (SoCal Edison), Tulare County Fire Department and Supervisor Townsend himself, hosted the meeting, providing important information pertinent to the mountain communities.
Townsend kicked the meeting off by welcoming everyone, and then asked each representative to introduce themselves. He then jumped right into his updates.
Townsend said the Board of Supervisors has been working on its budget of $1.38 billion. He said a majority of this money would be focused towards public safety. He was pleased to announce the board has rejoined the Tulare County Economic Development Corporation, as it realized the benefit it brings to the members and its districts. He gave a small update on the raising of the Success Dam Spillway, stating phase two of the project would begin in the near future and would be underway for at least a couple of years. He also stated the Parks Advisory Committee for the county needed an additional member to fill a vacancy.
In news more local to the mountain communities, Townsend gave an overview of the snowfall over the winter stating it was the most snowfall they’ve seen in a while in the area. He stated the Western Divide Highway would be open longer now, and work towards training more Ambulance and EMT personnel who can respond in the mountain areas is underway.
Townsend finished his update by saying he’s lobbying for mountain communities and pushing for them to be noticed more on local, state and federal levels. He then gave the floor to TCSO Sheriff Mike Boudreaux.
Boudreaux began by saying thank you to the audience and he was honored to represent them as their local Sheriff. He then listed the resources in the area for the residents. He announced the South County Detention Facility was now open and it was a $72 million project. He stated the facility is focused on rehabilitation, but beds are available for those who don’t wish to be rehabilitated. Boudreaux said he has been focusing on getting more deputies to patrol the county roads, and with these efforts, property theft rates have dropped by 25 percent and gang violence has dropped by 44 percent. He also highlighted his Search and Rescue Team, before shifting the audience’s attention to Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman.
Norman’s report was rather short, as were the reports that followed. Norman stated the Tree Mortality Task Force has been busy lately. The task force has removed roughly 600 dead trees from the area, and will hopefully remove nearly 5,500 trees by the end of the year. He stated the department receives around 70 calls from the mountain communities a year, most of which are medical calls. He ended his report by happily saying he new fire station would be complete by spring of next year.
Johnny Wong, the representative from the Resource Management Agency’s Roads Department, didn’t give much of an update. He introduced some new faces in his staff, and stated he would be available for questions at the end of the meeting.
Eric LaPrice, the District Ranger for the Western Divide, reported after Wong. He touched on tree mortality and fires, stating some controlled burns would be taking place between now and the end of the year. He also spoke of some available grants the U.S. Forest Service is looking into pursuing. The most important item LaPrice touched on was the Forest Plan Revision. He said the draft for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the management plan is now in the comment period. He pointed out this plan doesn’t include or affect the Sequoia National Monument. LaPrice briefed over some current restoration efforts, and announced the U.S. Forest Service budget has decreased by roughly 44 percent since 2009.
SoCal Edison representative Brian Thoburn informed the group of upcoming planned outages. He also explained SoCal Edison’s big project of replacing bare wire with insulated wire to reduce fire hazards, as well as replacing wooden poles with steel ones. He stated SoCal Edison would be retrofitting electrical circuits soon, and adding additional weather station and cameras, in efforts to reduce wildfire risks.
Officer Tyrone Bowser, the resident CHP officer for the area, stated he’s aware of traffic concerns coming up the mountain, and he and his staff handle them as quickly and efficiently as possible. He also was open for questions at the end to address specific concerns residents may have.
Townsend wrapped up the meeting by thanking everyone for coming out and attending. He said more town halls were to come including Town Hall meetings in Springville and California Hot Springs.