Friday, October 13, 2006

Commission candidates show strong differences

Four hopefuls face voters at Pizza and Politics forum

Express Staff Writer

DALE EWERSEN, LARRY SCHOEN, MICKEY GARCIA, SARAH MICHAEL, Pam Morris, publisher of the Idaho Mountain Express, center, moderates the Pizza and Politics forum Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

During a lively set of discussions Wednesday night, the candidates in both Blaine County Commission races presented voters with a clear choice of whether they want their local government to emphasize land-use planning or private property rights.

The four candidates expressed their views during a Pizza and Politics forum, sponsored by the Idaho Mountain Express, at the old Blaine County Courthouse. Before a crowd of about 80 people, the candidates fielded questions from both the press and local citizens. The discussion was moderated by Express Publisher Pam Morris.

Former Bellevue Mayor Dale Ewersen, a Republican, is running against Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Larry Schoen, a Democrat, for the District 1 seat, being vacated by Commissioner Dennis Wright. Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia, an Independent, is challenging current Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael, a Democrat, for the District 3 seat.

Though the District 1 seat represents the southern third of the county and the District 3 seat the northern third, all county voters can vote in both races.

In their answers to questions, both Ewersen and Garcia made it clear that their candidacies were motivated largely by a desire to curtail the restrictions placed on property owners by land-use-planning ordinances. Schoen and Michael contended that strong planning laws are necessary to protect the quality of life that most residents live here for.

Candidates in each race answered two different sets of questions. Some of the questions and the candidates' answers were as follows:

District 1 race

In his opening statement, Schoen said his candidacy is based on two themes: protecting the county's quality of life and basing decisions on good science and objective analysis.

"My commitment is to be careful, fair and practically minded," he said.

Ewersen said his theme of "a strong and vibrant economy goes along with respect for private property rights." He said a policy that requires construction projects to include deed-restricted housing is "putting the squeeze on developers."

"The construction and building industry has to keep cranking in Blaine County," he said.

Do you agree with the direction the county has taken in recent years in its land-use planning decisions?

Schoen: "Yes, we are generally going in the right direction." He pointed out that the county's actions must follow its comprehensive plan.

Ewersen: "I would say we have not gone in the right direction." He said the county's 2025 ordinances have infringed on property rights, particularly in their downzoning of some rural properties.

Do you support expanding the commission to five members?

Schoen: He said he was not opposed, but wants to see how the addition of a county administrator position works out first.

Ewersen: He said he supports it on the basis that it would bring more diversity and lighten the commissioners' workload.

Do you support regional planning?

Both candidates said they would like to include the cities more in the county's decision making.

Do you support Proposition 2?

Both candidates said they oppose the statewide ballot measure on the grounds that its consequences are too uncertain and it would too severely restrict the county's planning options.

Is Airport West the proper location for a new jail?

Schoen: No, a new jail should be built at the site of the existing one.

Ewersen: Yes.

Would you like to serve on the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board?

Both candidates said yes.

Do you agree that a new airport should be located along state Highway 75 just north of the Blaine County line?

Both candidates said yes.

Would you support creation of a new town in the southern part of the county?

Schoen: He said he would want to analyze potential impacts and consult officials in the existing towns.

Ewersen: "I think it's a really solid idea. My concern is that there would be no additional cost to existing taxpayers." He said the county needs more entry-level housing.

District 3 race

Speaking in an often loud, angry voice, Garcia chastised local government officials for abusing their power.

"This decade of watching what local government has been doing to individuals, this package of civil rights that we all carry, has made me damn angry," he said in his opening statement. "I want to see the power of local government curtailed."

In her opening statement, Michael said she had maintained the commitments she made when she first ran for office. She said she had promised to manage growth and had participated in passing the 2025 ordinances, that she had promised more public transportation and had helped create the PEAK bus, that she had promised to protect drinking water and had increased inspections of wells and septic systems, and that she had promised to control noxious weeds and had created the Cooperative Weed Management process.

Would you support creation of a new town in the southern part of the county?

Michael: She said she might but emphasized that there needs to be a guarantee that the homes built there would be affordable to local wage earners.

Garcia: The county could do more to provide affordable housing by curtailing its land-use planning regulations, which he said raise the cost of housing.

Do you support regional planning?

Michael: Yes.

Garcia: No. "Regional planning represents to me a pie in the sky. You've got bureaucrats running around making rules and fighting with other bureaucrats."

How can we equalize property taxes so that other landowners aren't paying more than what Sun Valley Co. pays since its property was reassessed?

Michael: She said that is a matter that is in the hands of the county assessor, an elected official, who has said the assessment process provides adequate information.

Garcia: He said challenging the reassessment would be a "legal wrangle that would never end."

How do you justify the property 'takings' of the 2025 ordinances?

Michael: She said the overall effect of land-use planning ordinances has been to increase property values throughout the county.

Garcia: He called county officials "so insensitive." "Vote 'yes' on Proposition 2," he said.

How should a new jail be funded?

Michael: There will be a bond election. The bond can be partly paid by the county's payments in lieu of taxes from the federal government.

Garcia: The county needs a new jail. "The jail is not safe for inmates. It's not safe for the public. It's not safe for the people working there."

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