The Town Crier contacted the candidates running for Idyllwild Fire Protection District board of commissioners, State Assembly and Congress. Our questions and their responses are below. Not all candidates responded or met the deadline. Responses are printed in the order they were received. Responses from Lake Hemet Municipal Water District board candidates will be published in a future edition.

Questions: Idyllwild Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners. Candidates: Dennis Fogle (appointed incumbent), Dan Messina (appointed incumbent) and Christina Reitz. Messina did not respond. The three candidates are running for two seats.

1. Is the emergency siren a good idea and worth the investment? Why or why not?
Christina Reitz: Yes, the siren is a good idea, but should be part of a broader, joint-emergency alert effort between IFPD and the county. Riverside County is responsible for managing emergency alerting and evacuation and needs to be included. The plan needs to include ALL of the communities on the Hill from Poppet Flats/Twin Pines to Pinyon, linked to the proposed ribbon network of WNKI. Mountain Disaster Preparedness has proposed to take the lead on public education. Multiple layers of emergency alerting are needed because as we have learned, not just from the Mountain and Cranston fires here on our own mountain, but also the Paradise and similar fires, that phone, cell and internet phone systems can and do fail from loss of power and communication lines.
Dennis Fogle: Due to the sudden danger that fire and other emergencies can and has caused, the need for an emergency siren is a wise investment that can save lives. If the finances are available and the maintenance costs are reasonable, I feel that the investment would be worthwhile.

2. What are your thoughts on the proposed fire sprinkler ordinance?
Christina Reitz: The sprinkler ordinance should match the building and fire regulations of the county and state.
Dennis Fogle: The ordinance that requires sprinklers in additions of 50% or more to a structure is already in place and is being enforced by the Riverside County Building Department. Whether the ordinance should be reduced to 30% is still being researched.

3. Should the district have transferred banking operations to a non-local bank?
Christina Reitz: Not all banks can handle the needs and requirements of government banking. If the local bank was unable to meet the district’s banking needs, then it had no choice but to transfer its banking operations to a non-local bank. But it should maintain an account locally to handle cash deposits and withdrawals, transferring when necessary between banks. Driving on and off the Hill to bank just adds to the district’s expense of doing business if not entirely necessary.
Dennis Fogle: The local bank costs more to carry an emergency account and it doesn’t give an interest rate comparable with other U.S. banks.

4. How is the district managed, both operationally and fiscally?
Christina Reitz: Overall, the district is soundly managed. I have concerns especially when it comes to ensuring that the district is covered with enough staffing when running multiple calls and when sending personnel and equipment out of the area to assist on large fires. The district eliminated the assistant chief position, and the fire chief leaves the district for extended periods of time as part of an Incident Management Team for large incidents. I am concerned about who is running the district when that happens. I am also concerned that the district’s budget relies so heavily on money coming from responding to the large fires that there will be budget problems when there is a slow fire season. Abatement and enforcement is another area of concern. Drive-by inspections, lack of personal contact for corrections and enforcement, not having current property owner information, poor handling of neighbors making complaints and the complaints by those being served are all issues that have been brought to my attention.
Dennis Fogle: There is a monthly review of the operations and expenditures of the IFPD presented by the chief and reviewed by the board members. It is critical that the income is sufficient to pay the monthly expenses and plans for future needs of the department.

5. Is there a need to bring a parcel fee increase before the voters?
Christina Reitz: Maybe. It will be a hard sell when the district has increased the fire chief’s salary, purchased a new vehicle for the fire chief (that is unmarked), new office equipment, acquired two more fire engines and ordered two new ambulances. Yes, the equipment is necessary, especially the ambulances, the new vehicles were financed and the two fire engines were free. I have also noticed the new logos (that only reflect firefighting and not the EMS side of IFPD) and new uniforms plus gear for the crew but at what cost. The district has also been able to get some grants to gain additional equipment. More vehicles and more equipment mean more on-going maintenance costs. To the voter on a fixed income and the struggling business owners in a town hit by fire and washed out roads in recent years, and now a pandemic, it is going to be very difficult to pass.
Dennis Fogle: Since the parcel fees were established, there have been several increases and decreases of the fee. The fee has not changed since 2004, which is $65 per parcel. As everyone is aware, the increase of the cost of living and the need for an increase in salaries requires more income. Since the fees have not increased in 16 years, we are paying our employees salaries below other departments. This has caused us to lose young, trained firefighters to other agencies that pay more. Therefore, I am in favor of a parcel fee increase. It is a shame that our community is willing to pay more to have its garbage removed than to pay more firefighters to save our homes from fire or to respond to a life-threatening medical emergency. Garbage removal has a built-in fee increase and so should the fire department.

Questions: State Assembly, 71st district. Candidates: Randy Voepel (incumbent) and Liz “Elizabeth” Lavertu. Only Lavertu submitted responses.

1. Why should renters go into debt to pay back rent when the government shut down the economy?
Liz Lavertu: Renters who have been hit the hardest by the shutdown should not go into debt due to back rent. The state has already stepped in to protect renters from being evicted and property owners from defaulting on their mortgage. I am hoping that by Feb. 1, the federal government will step in to help stabilize the housing market. If they don’t, we will have to dig deep to find solutions for property owners and renters alike.

2. Should the state provide Medicare for All during a pandemic?
Liz Lavertu: We should always have Medicare for All, pandemic or not. Health care is a right and everyone deserves comprehensive, affordable and quality health care.

3. Has the state effectively handled the pandemic?
Liz Lavertu: California has done better than some parts of the country, but I believe if we would’ve been slightly stricter early on and stayed closed for two to three weeks longer, we would be in a much better position today.

4. What do you say to small-business owners who had to permanently shut their doors?
Liz Lavertu: I am sorry that the government was not there for you. We failed you. Your business is important to our state’s economy, over 50% of private sector jobs in California come from small businesses like yours. Let’s work together on rebuilding and helping you with your next chapter.

5. What can be done to take the burden off stay-at-home/work-from-home parents?
Liz Lavertu: As a work-from-home parent whose child is still 100% distance learning, my heart goes out to all the caregivers. We have met a lot of new challenges this year, some of which could’ve been avoided. The lack of equity when it comes to internet service and technology has been brought to light during COVID-19. As a state, we need to step in and provide more child care centers to meet the needs of our communities to support our families.

6. What do you think of the governor’s executive order directing the state to require that, by 2035, all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero-emission vehicles? (This seems odd given the approval of fracking permits.) Will the state actually be able to replace the funding from the gas tax? How is California’s working class (already over taxed) going to be able to afford moving to zero-emission vehicles?
Liz Lavertu: It is ridiculous to approve over 360 new fracking events in 2020 and turn around and issue an executive order to ban sales of new gasoline cars. I am not concerned about the loss of tax dollars. We can always find new revenue to replace the gas tax when sales begin to slow. If a new tax is needed, it should not impact California’s working class who already pay their fair share. When it comes to the cost of these new vehicles, my hope is that by 2035 there will be significant advancements in technology to be able to offer affordable options for zero-emissions vehicles and that we find solutions to the environmental impact that their batteries have on our planet. When we get there, if the vehicles are not priced accordingly, the state will need to step in to offset cost for some residents.

7. What is your position on fracking?
Liz Lavertu: We need to ban fracking to protect the environment and the people who live in those communities. California is heading toward a zero-emission future and we should be investing in future jobs in green and renewable energy.

8. What does medical freedom mean to you?
Liz Lavertu: Many people, myself included, are scared to seek medical care due to the cost. Medical freedom to me means freedom to choose your health care provider, freedom from exorbitant medical bills, the ability to seek the medical attention you need, when you need it.

Questions: Congress, 36th district. Candidates: Raul Ruiz (incumbent) and Erin Cruz. Only Cruz submitted responses by deadline. The Ruiz campaign responded with, “Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, this was a very tight turnaround for responses to your questions. I’m sorry we couldn’t meet your deadline.”

1.Now seems like a good time to implement Medicare for All. The majority of Americans support it. Congress had no problem giving corporations trillions of dollars in March. So the “We can’t afford it” argument doesn’t stand. Do you agree?
Erin Cruz: No. Free market solutions are best. We need to encourage competition.

2. Has congress done enough to aid Americans during the pandemic? Why?
Erin Cruz: No. Americans, including those with businesses, have the right to Due Process and Just Compensation in the event of indefinite closures. Fifteen days to “flatten the curve” has turned into over six months of excessive government interference in our ability to life, liberty and pursuit of Happiness. In the beginning, we were not sure of the extent of illness impact in our communities. By April, there should have been an aggressive plan to open up our communities while staying safe and healthy. In a county with 2.3 million residents we have seen drastic negative impact as a result of the fallout of COVID, not necessarily from the COVID illness itself. Suicide rates are up, deferred health care of otherwise healthy individuals has hurt many folks and the impact on local communities will take a decade or more to recover from. Our communities deserve better.

3. What is your position on fracking?
Erin Cruz: There are pros and cons if you look at research behind fracking. When elected to Congress, I will be “read in” to many aspects of the fracking debate regular folks don’t have access to. I would like to meet with experts on all sides before I move forward in any legislative capacity. We need to be energy self-sufficient as a nation and look at a balanced approach to sustainability.

4. Is the current wildfire prevention and land management funding adequate? If not, what is needed?
Erin Cruz: No. Our forests have lacked proactive management and oversight leading to massive wildfires. With the uptick in rural living, forest fires have become increasingly tricky to navigate for first responders. As seen in the most recent fires across our region and through the state, our first responders have been stretched thin in their ability to respond efficiently and most importantly, respond in a way that keeps them safe while they do their jobs. Not only do our first responders need equipment and resources, there needs to be sufficient planning in the area of manpower as well.

5. What is the new “normal?” Have we seen the full impact of COVID-19?
Erin Cruz: No response.

6. Should there be a federal jobs program?
Erin Cruz: It should not be the Federal Government’s job to guarantee employment. Resources to allow Americans the ability to quickly gain employment should be left to free market solutions.

7. What are your thoughts on Julian Assange?
Erin Cruz: No response.

8. Why should Americans go into debt to pay back rent when the government shut down the economy?
Erin Cruz: This issue goes back to Due Process and Just Compensation. Congress certainly needs to look at how to navigate the jump-start of full opening as it relates to individuals who were not considered “essential workers” and how these hard-hit Americans will be able to navigate lifting of eviction moratoriums, etc. My position on a reopen outlook isn’t to keep communities closed or you don’t get emergency funding, rather, I view the best economic stimulus is to fully open up the country. If states don’t open up, they don’t receive supplemental support to aid with combating COVID, amid re-opening. There has been enough dumping into industries with the endless shutdown across the states. Incentivize rather than penalize is the way to go.

9. What do you say to a small-business owner who had to permanently shut their doors when large corporations were given access to trillions of dollars without jumping through the same hoops as small businesses?
Erin Cruz: This is outrageous and these business owners should organize and actively pursue formal suit against the county and state.

10. What does medical freedom mean to you?
Erin Cruz: Your freedom to choose your health care, treatments and navigate health issues with your physician. Vaccinations should be elective not forced, especially the flu vaccine and any COVID vaccine released in the future.

11. Should the government be pushing artificial intelligence?
Erin Cruz: Any industry that flourished should be one that thrives without government interference. Technology and innovation do best when they develop organically.

12. Are you concerned about Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto and how that impacts our food and health system?
Erin Cruz: Yes.