Candidate Q&A: Jeffrey L. Spencer for El Dorado County Supervisor
El Dorado County voters in District 5 have the choice of four candidates in the June 5.
To help inform that decision, the Tribune posed a series of questions to each candidate via email. The candidates were asked to restrain their answers to specific word counts for each question. All the answers appear as submitted by the candidates.
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Name: Jeffrey L. Spencer
Current occupation: Planning Professional
Area of residence: Christmas Valley
Please list any clubs, organizations that you are a part of and would like to mention:
National Academy of Sciences
Transportation Research Board
American Public Transportation Association
Military/Transit Cooperative Transportation Initiative Task Force
Knights of Columbus
Why are you running for supervisor?
I am running in this election out of a passion to keep District 5 rural and South Lake Tahoe a community. This region is a world-class destination and it is time that the residents of the basin and rural El Dorado County expect nothing but the best for its people. We have real problems, that need real solutions. We need someone with applicable experience to assist our county to resolve our issues and plan for the future and I am that person. I have been a dedicated public servant with 40 years of unparalleled experience. I’m ready to step in and tackle our issues from day one. My experience is with the federal, state, regional and local agencies, as well as community and environmental advocacy groups. The residents need to ask themselves, “Has my life, my city, my county become better or worse in the past several years?” To repair a suffering economy, resolve housing, transportation and environmental issues, we need an individual who has job experience in local planning, environmental laws and regulations, and a person that has a transportation background. I have that experience and held many positions demonstrating this knowledge and ability. I have always been involved in community issues. I’m running for Supervisor because many in the community have spoken out and said they do not feel heard. They do not feel represented. They do not feel the the county is prioritizing their concerns. My goal for the district is to work on solutions to resolve many of these issues. My vision for our district is for our residents to live and work in the same community. For our youth to stay local and not move away because they can’t afford to live here. I want our residents to experience and live in well managed communities.
Why should voters choose you over the other candidates?
To successfully deal with our housing, transportation and economic issues, we need to elect a trusted individual that has demonstrated experience dealing with these issues in the past. I have been a dedicated public servant and have over 40 years experience serving the people of California and the nation, assisting communities with their community planning, environmental concerns and traffic management. I am ready to step up and tackle District 5’s issues from day one. My experience working with federal, state, regional and local agencies, business and community leaders, and environmental advocacy groups, has provided me with the knowledge base and experience necessary to communicate directly and effectively with any government agency regarding projects and policies. I have built relationships and strong partnerships which will be valuable to all of El Dorado County. I have built strong connections with state and federal government officials and business leaders, which will assist in bringing a resolution to the gridlock we experience at times, when trying to resolve local and county issues. No other candidate brings this kind of experience.
What is the largest issue facing District 5?
I would say it is housing. The Tahoe basin faces a critical problem and has a serious shortage of affordable housing, while the west slope is experiencing pressures from urban sprawl. Many residents in the basin are finding it difficult to afford to buy a home and many cannot find a place to rent. South Lake Tahoe has a population of just under 22,000 and has a little over 17,000 housing units. Our housing stock cannot support our current population. More than half of these units are second homes or seasonal rentals (VHR’s) according to the US Census Bureau. Only 18% of our local residents can afford to buy the median-priced home, and 75% spend more than 50% of their income on housing. Currently to buy a median priced home in South Lake Tahoe, you need an income of $114,576. Even the Barton health system is having trouble retaining employees due to housing availability and cost. Currently, many work here but live and support the economy across the border in Nevada. Our workers commuting contributes to our traffic and pollution problems. Our county and city officials need to look at, abide by, and enforce existing zoning laws, ordinances and specific plans. These are a communities guiding documents, developed to avoid the problems we are facing today. They need to be kept up to date and changes need to occur only after proper studies and input from the local residents occur. This will prevent these neighborhood issues from developing in the future.
District 5 is made up of a handful of different communities. How would you represent all those interests?
As an elected representative, it is my duty to connect with each community and should be a priority to hear the voices of its residents. Though each area shares some common issues, many are issues are unique to area and need specific solutions. My commitment to the people of District 5, would be strong personal communication. I did this in the past when I was in charge of Sacramento County Transportation Authority. I made it a priority in the first year to meet with thousands of its residents, over 100 community groups and organizations in within the Count, over a six month period, listening to their concerns involving transportation, traffic management and infrastructure needs. I will will implement this in and do the same in El Dorado County on an ongoing basis. It is a great way to meet the residents, get to know their issues and concerns and feel the pulse of the community. It is what is severely lacking in District 5 right now.
How should the county address the issue of vacation home rentals? Do you support the idea of a temporary moratorium?
VHR’s are a complicated issue. Although I support the private property rights of all people, I also believe in a person’s right to invest money how they want. I believe our first step is to take a look at our current zoning laws and determine if they are being enforced and/or need to be updated. I believe that VHR’s need to be zoned with a special designation, not residential as they currently are. This would prevent residentially zoned areas from becoming a commercial center and having what is turning out to be mini-hotels in the middle of quiet residential areas. Without proper regulation and enforcement, too many VHR’s in an area can have a number of negative impacts, most notably excessive street use for parking, improper trash disposal and noise.
Though California has put redevelopment agencies out of business, one solution I would offer is to look at rezoning the areas that are in decline near the tourist core as VHR zoning. That would encourage investment into cleaning up our town, providing VHRs to tourists and reducing traffic and pollution problems due to the proximity of the attractions and recreation. Another solution I have proposed is that VHR’s should belong to a self-managed association that I will refer to as a Vacation Home Owners Association (VHOA). There would be a self managing board elected to police its members, requiring adherence to the rules and regulations set up by the county and the owners would pay the fees to maintain the association
I do support a temporary moratorium until we can look at proper zoning and regulations. The issue has gotten out of hand and keeps being kicked down the alley. It is time for the elected officials to listen to the residents and vote in favor of their concerns and not protect those that don’t even live in our district. It will give us time to get regulations in place, make adjustments to zoning laws and allow the industry to have a firm understanding of the costs and demands of the operating environment.
What role (if any) should the county play in alleviating the traffic issues in Meyers?
The elected officials are responsible for enacting policy and regulations to improve the quality of life and provide and assist with the management of a reasonably adequate infrastructure. The condition of our roads and congestion needs our full and immediate attention. We need to have a suite of options in order to manage this ever growing problem. As we have seen first hand, the transportation demand has far outstripped our supply. One simple fact is funding for our roads is based on our an area’s population. Though the population in the South Lake Tahoe area is around 35,000 , our seasonal population influx soars to 150,000 on the weekend which is nearly a 450% increase. We need to mitigate these impacts and we need a voice in the state to help us deal with our unique situation.
One suggestion I offered in a traffic meeting back in February 2016, was to initiate congestion pricing. At that time, Electronic Toll Collection with congestion pricing was supported by the CHP, the County Sheriff, and many citizens in attendance at the meeting. Other suggestions that I offered and could be immediately implemented was controlling flow by instituting alternating license plate departure times much like we did during the gas crisis. Another was initiating contra-flow. That is where Caltrans would stop traffic at certain locations traveling eastbound out of the basin. It would dedicate the use of all four lanes to alleviate congestion. This practice is very effective and used all over the country in emergency situations as well at peak commute times.
You have said that frustration, and more specifically the lack of progress on certain issues, motivated you to run. Do you realistically think you can quicken the pace of work at the county level and achieve positive outcomes? How so? (400 words)
Yes. I’ve been frustrated with the lack of solutions to our problems and the communication on finding a resolution. I have been present at many of the county meetings held in the basin concerning VHR’s and traffic mitigation as well as land use and zoning issues at TRPA meetings. I brought solutions and my expertise as far back as 2014 but like our residents, feel my suggestions have fallen on deaf ears. I feel the same as the residents of the county in that the pace of enacting solutions have been at a snail’s pace.
While attending these meetings, it seems all I ever hear as a response to suggestions made is “We can’t do that.” Communication is lacking or completely non-existent on issues, progress or solutions until a election year approaches. My solution is to increase communication dramatically as I have mentioned in a prior answer. No more once a year meetings in communities, but regular public meetings will be held to hear what is going on in our neighborhoods. I will hear and act on suggestions and solutions and I will always give regular updates as to the progress of recognized issues brought to my attention. Also, my environmental, real estate and planning backgrounds will substantially cut the educational curve to understanding issues and the roadblocks that are often present with people who do not have that experience. My connections throughout the state and federal governments will help to streamline the process to assist us in passing new regulations or funding to initiate change to resolve an issue. I also don’t ever end a conversation with “what I can’t do”. I always offer what can be done or what I ‘will’ do, then follow-up on the resolution by communicating back with any new findings. Having been a part of government agencies for 40 years, I also am used what is often called analysis paralysis which is when a situation is studied and restudied over and over again expecting different results. One of the statements I always hear is, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” That will never be one of my statements, as I always look to change as movement forward. I also plan to review all of the regulations relating to our current problems in District 5 and discourage any new regulations from being passed until the old ones are either off the books or enforced.
Is there anything else you would like the voters to know about you?
I’m a nationally recognized consultant in urban design and transportation planning. I retired in 2017 with 40 years of public service. Married to my wife Bridget for 20 years, I have three children. My passions are fishing, hiking and camping, but I love to ride my motorcycle when the weather cooperates. Throughout my life, volunteering in my community has always been a priority. I have dedicated time and energy to preserve and protect the environment and have proudly served as a Unit Commissioner for the Boy Scouts. Currently, I volunteer through my local church to serve the community.
I’m passionate about running for Supervisor, as I remember when our region of California, was actually an affordable place to live, had plenty of available jobs, clear lake water and had plenty of housing to rent or buy. I want to do my part to strengthen our community, unify the county, and identify common goals. My vision is to develop common sense policies to increase affordable housing units, reduce traffic problems, focus on bringing stable, year round employment to the area, as well as improving our quality of life and continue to make our economy stronger. I want to continue to build on our strong community, showcasing this world class destination that we all call home. With the right type of leadership, together we’ll arrive at solutions that will benefit our region. The residents of this county need someone who is experienced at managing large budgets, planning communities, and tackling transportation issues and values the interests and input from its residents. I’m asking the residents of District 5 to take back your communities. I bring a fresh approach, new ideas, and I am someone who has the tenacity to take on the state and local laws to resolve our growing issues.