By Arielle Hardy
Plumas County Board of Supervisors held a meeting on November 8th, 2022. Opening with public comments was Catherine Schwartz, a Clinical Supervisor at the Behavioral Health Department, who expressed concern regarding her staff in which she supervises. She spoke about the concern of the recent loss in staff due to wages, requesting increases in wages due to the increase in health insurance. She said she has some employees working two jobs, and the clinical aspect can be stressful. She also noted that in the past year they have lost almost half of their clinical staff (some to other local agencies that offer higher wages) and the lack of the proper amount of employees is adding additional stress to the clinical staff.
Ava Hagwood, a child welfare social worker with Plumas County Social Services, commented regarding the challenges the County has been faced with over the last three years from the Dixie Fire, COVID 19, inflation, and extreme staff shortages. She commented that two days after she spoke with the board the week prior, general union members received an email stating that the board canceled the negotiation session for a second time, citing they do not have the information the unit asked for. She asked for an explanation for why the negotiations aren't taking place and the cause for the delays, and noted that employees have taken personal time off to come and speak with the board about the matter. She said after a month and a half they have still heard nothing, especially regarding the drastic health insurance increases, stating that “when our calls for help fall silent, we lose faith in our leadership.” She used an example of Google being one of the most profitable companies in the world because they value investing in their employees.
“In order to have a functioning county, and in order to protect the children (have 911 calls answered in a timely manner) or in today's case have roads plowed so people can get to work and school safely, we must invest in the people providing those services. I would argue that everyone in this room wants this county to operate as a team. Employees and employers all have the shared interest of making this county better and meeting the needs of our community. In order to do so we must have a functioning team. A team with communication, respect, and appreciation. I ask you to show appreciation for our team, and respect that they need answers to these negotiations and health care concerns in a timely manner. I ask you to openly communicate with employees about why you do not have the necessary information to hold negotiation sessions, and what you are doing to acquire that information. I ask you to communicate what you are doing about the increased health care costs, and when that will be resolved. I ask you to act in a timely manner so that there are employees left to meet the needs of our community, and make this team better. When Plumas county invests in their employees, they will reap the benefits of higher retention, more qualified staff, better services provided to the county, decreased workloads, and increased efficiency. Please invest in your team and in your community, and please do it in a timely manner. Thank you.”
The third public comment was from Christy, representing staff member Eliza Fletcher, a six-year employee of Plumas County behavioral health who wrote a letter to the board, but could not attend in person due to her responsibilities. The letter expressed the difficulties of their employment and their conflict between their passion for serving the community and helping clients, yet the challenges they face with wages that are not competitive to less stressful jobs. The letter also expressed the increased cost of living making it another challenge to continue in the position. Without change they will continue to lose staffing, and have difficulty filling positions which are paid higher elsewhere. “This will not only affect current staff expectations, but it will also affect our clients and the quality of care we can give.”
Tom, a resident from Chester, gave a public comment speaking in regards to the health insurance increase for employees, speaking also on the behalf of other employees. He asked the board to “report out” what efforts are being done in order to address the increased insurance, and what possibilities are being considered to address the issue. He also asked for the boards’ consideration to revisit the budget to address the situation considering the amount of staff they are losing, and difficulty with morale. He concluded that recognition from the board would “go a long way.”
Mike Dianda, Operating Engineer and Business Representative for the general and mid-management Union, gave a public comment via Zoom. He commented in regards to the negotiations of the general and mid-management bargaining units negotiation status, saying he believes, “the county is bargaining in bad faith, and the union is seriously considering filing a charge with the public employee relations board for this.” He continued to express that they have had two negotiation commissions canceled with the county, and the one session that they did meet, the county was not prepared for their session. He said he has not received any information that he requested on that day of the negotiations, and no future dates have been scheduled.
“Your lean negotiator is only available 5-7 weeks out, and your HR representative is very slow at getting information to us. We have received the county's proposal, and received it late last week from Jack Hughes. In my opinion, it is an incomplete one, with only one item proposed, and in my opinion, it’s marginalized and insulting to your employees. I want you to understand I cannot make a decision on this proposal because I have had no budgetary information sent to me and to go off of. We have been told by supervisors Goss and Jack Hugh that the county doesn't know their budget, so this is the reason for the delays. That the auditor's position and the old CAO position have been vacant for some time, and that they don't know their number at all as far as budget.” He continued to urge the county to come to the negotiation table in good faith as soon as possible and offer these bargaining units the same if not similar improvements the county has recently negotiated with other unions.
As far as department head announcements, Wilo Vieira, Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Weights and Measures for Plumas County, presented the 2021 agricultural report for Plumas County to the board. Viera thanked the ranchers and producers of Plumas County, as well as her staff for compiling the data in the document. Viera reported that the number one effect on production value has been the drought, and that overall the agricultural values for Plumas County dropped by about 14% with the largest loss being in hay production. Animal production was almost the same from 2020, sheep production has almost doubled since last year due to an increase in price per pound on our market lands, and an increase in valuable breeding stock that was sold out of the far Eastern side of the county. Apiary production dropped by about 24% as the price of honey decreased, and the large decrease in the number of hives that were in the area during the time of excessive amounts of smoke from the Dixie fire.
There were also several producers who had their hives burned in the fire in the Humbug Valley area. Hay production experienced almost a 50% drop due to the drought, supply chain issues, and the seven to ten year rotation of the alfalfa hay which is a high value crop. Specialty crops were also down this year, the leader being industrial hemp which experienced a 75% reduction per acre planted. Small fruits were reduced to around 80% due to a majority of producers being affected by the Dixie fire.
Todd Johns, Sheriff/Coroner, reported with the Sheriff's department that there will be a deputy resigning due to relocation to Santa Rosa. He read a report from Tehama County that due to staffing shortages, PCSO officials confirmed that the agency will be suspending daytime patrol services starting November 20, 2022. He predicts a similar outcome in the near future for Plumas County, and reiterated that he notified the board a month ago that he has identified possible funding the board may be able to utilize in order to pay staff until they get the budget figured out. He expressed his concern as to why it’s been a month and why there hasn't been a resolve for using the funding.
Behavioral health reported they were able to intern a recruit for the SUV/Administrator that was needed, however the employee was previously a clinician and they are now down 50% on therapy staffing. She expressed her concern about having to drastically change the way clients are cared for, including having only group sessions available instead of giving clients a choice.
Wendi Durkin gave a presentation from “Save Lake Almanor,” which she has been involved with for almost 20 years. Durkin spoke regarding project 2105 in which the licensing expired in 2004. Prior to then, a group of collaborative stakeholders met for four years in order to negotiate the terms of a license. When all was agreed upon and it came time to sign the license, state water resources control added “reasonable temperature control measures,” which had never been discussed or negotiated in the four years prior. Durkin expressed the hardships the communities of Lake Almanor and Chester have faced due to the delayed license in the past 20 years, the most recent being the Dixie fire.
“The only constant for our community is our lake,” Durkin continued, “which you’re aware of, the last two years has had dangerous algae blooms that have threatened our fish habitat, as well as our ecology.” Durkin and other residents continued to inform the board of the history of why the temperature control measures won’t work, who is behind the reason for the request, and the potential cost to residents of the county as well as the county itself.
Reasons were then presented for requesting unequivocal support in a draft letter to PG&E, noting the additional reasonable water control measures report. They gave an in depth history as well as emphasized the ecological importance of the licensing, saying that since the new license for the Rock Creek-Cresta project in 2001, two segments of the river (about 13 miles) have been “reborn”, and the river once again has trout, some measuring over 17 inches according to the website for the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA.) They elaborated the role CSPA and others, and impact of the dam on the community, how long the licensing has taken, as well as possible intentions of CSPA.
Jeffery Janice, Lake Almanor Basin resident, presented the economic impact of Plumas County and the consequences to the people living in Lake Almanor Basin if the lake is degraded by the removal of cold water in the summer months. Janice read a letter written by John Crotty, President of the Almanor Fishing Association (AFA) about the history of AFA being founded in 1985 to promote and enhance Lake Almanor’s cold water fishery. He said that the fish pen program is the longest running, and most successful, fish pen program in the state of California, and if PG&E is forced to release additional cold water there will not be enough water at Hamilton Branch (where our pens are housed) and the increased water temperatures would be inadequate for the trout’s survival. The release of cold water from the lake would have a detrimental impact on the cold water fishery. Durkin concluded the presentation by providing the documents of the science behind why the temperature control measures are not an effective strategy.
Regarding departmental matters, Dana Loomis with Public Health safety, sought to get the board's approval to add a Physician Assistant/Nurse Practitioner position into the budget, and authorize human resources to fill the position. The board approved.
Tracey Ferguson, Planning Director with the Planning Department sought for the board to approve and authorize Chair to sign letter of support to the Sierra Valley Groundwater Management District (SVGMD) for the grant application to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) for the Sustainable Groundwater Management (SMG) Grant Program's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA.) The motion was approved.
The next topic was to approve and authorize the board to sign a comment letter to PG&E concerning the Rock Creek-Cresta Project and FERC No. 1962. Ferguson referred to the control measures report presented, and the draft letter stating the board does not agree, or support the temperature control measures that are scientifically unproven, or have the potential to negatively impact ecological life, as well as significantly diminish the aquatic resources. Ferguson agreed with the previous statements about the economic impact on the county and how it should be included.
Supervisor Hagwood gave recognition, applauding the efforts of Chester and Lake Almanor residents, and thanked them for their research and time to attend the meeting. Hagwood gave his approval for “the most strongly worded letter” to PG&E, expressing his support saying, “we have an obligation as the entire county to protect (and improve) the conditions of Lake Almanor, and not to knowingly allow a special interest to do here, what they have done in other places.” He also noted, regarding the Klamath, that, “a good conversation should be had with the farmers up in Siskiyou County. Devastating impact to the Ag community, and you don't have to look too far to see examples of bad outcomes when it comes to these endeavors, and we have an obligation to stop it.”
Discussion was made on edits to the draft letter and the motion approved unanimously to have the draft completed by November 15th.
The next topic was regarding for approval and authorization the board to sign consent, acknowledging and accepting the terms of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Local Agency Technical Assistance (LATA) Program. Ferguson said the department received the award letter in October for $500,000 to apply towards broadband internet. Their goal is to “advance the deployment of open access public broadband infrastructure,” targeting areas of Plumas County that don’t have access to broadband. Motion was approved to sign the consent form to further the process to receive the grant.
Martee Nieman (Graham) reported as Auditor/Controller, to approve and authorize to complete budget transfers for fiscal year 2021/2022; transferring to/from 51XXX accounts to clear up negative wages and benefits in various departments. Motion approved.
Todd Johns, Sheriff/Coroner with the Sheriff's department sought to approve and authorize the Sheriff, at his discretion, to authorize cell phone allowances for the staff under his command, and approve supplemental budget transfer of $15,000.00 from Custodial Services Acct. # 520404, $6,000.00 from Fuel Expenses Acct. # 52102, $3,000.00 from Special Dept. Expense Acct. 524400, and $2,880.00 from Medical Service Acct. # 521980 into Cell Phone Allowance Acct. #51120 to fund proposed cell phone allowances. Discussion was made regarding how often the staff uses personal phones. Motion was approved.
The board then reviewed, pursuant to Health and Safety code section 101080, resolution number 21-8609 ratifying the Declaration of Local Health Emergency due to the Beckwourth Complex, Dixie, and Fly Fires with discussion and possible action and recommendation to continue the emergency and bring it back within 30 days, on December 6, 2022.
Supervisor Hagwood reported having discussions with local business interests regarding Dame Shirley Plaza, attended the development commission meeting, and was on the radio. Supervisor Engle reported attending a RSF working group meeting. Supervisor Goss reported regarding checking in with the RSF infrastructure team and long term recovery as well as a county meeting with staff regarding moving forward with planning and rebuilding infrastructure.