Only Elizabeth Betancourt Can Restore Prosperity To The First Assembly District

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Elizabeth Betancourt

If you read the Record Searchlight’s coverage of the candidate’s forum for California’s 1st Assembly District held in Redding earlier this month, you might have walked away thinking all five candidates believe climate change is real and we ought to do something about it.

In fact, there’s just one candidate, watershed resource management scientist and Happy Valley farmer Elizabeth Betancourt, who believes that.

The only Democrat in the field for the Tuesday, Aug. 27 special primary election is in agreement with the Democratic-led super-majorities in the state Assembly and Senate, which during the past decade have embarked on an ambitious series of programs designed to reduce climate change’s impact.

Betancourt has grasped the scope and scale of the state’s response to the climate crisis—and the potential economic windfall it represents for the largely rural First Assembly District that has really never recovered from the decline of the timber industry two decades ago.

There will be much more on that later. Meanwhile, here’s the RS reporter’s take on the other candidates response to the climate change question at the forum:

“When questioned on climate change, each candidate started by saying they believe climate change is real. But their answers on approaching the issue were more nuanced.”

Having watched the video of the forum I’d say the four Republicans’ responses were more disingenuous than nuanced. Three appear to be climate-change deniers; the one who isn’t doesn’t believe any action is necessary.

Former Redding city councilman and gun-shop owner Patrick Henry Jones said he believes the climate has changed—since the last ice age—and claimed to be open to the possibility human activity might be responsible. In his next breath, he refuted the vast abundance of scientific data indicating that’s the case.

Lassen County military veteran Joe Turner, a self-proclaimed strict constitutionalist, blamed the warming climate on the giant fusion reactor at the center of our enormous solar system. You know, the sun.

Megan Dahle’s main claim to fame is she’s running for the seat vacated by her husband, Sen. Brian Dahle, who won the special election for First District State Senate seat in June. Like her husband, she’s slippery when presenting her views on AGW, which rarely occurs.

At the forum, she agreed the climate is changing, without elaborating on what she meant or what if anything we should do about it. She then complained about excessive emission regulations on weed eaters and the Dahle company’s truck before noting a single giant mega wildfire can spew more carbon into the atmosphere than all the state’s automobiles produce in a year.

I’m still not sure what what she’s proposing.

Earlier in the forum Dahle complained about subsidies for wind and solar energy, without noting that she and her husband’s trucking company benefits from just such a subsidy provided to the biomass energy industry, engineered by former-Assemblyman Dahle and funded by the state’s cap-and-trade greenhouse gas reduction program—which the assemblyman had earlier voted against.

You can read more about the Dahles hauling biomass ash here.

Redding business owner and former legislative staffer Lane Rickard was the only Republican whose response could be called nuanced. While he said he believes in the science underpinning AGW, he pledged not to support or propose any climate legislation if elected.

Betancourt seemed bemused by her fellow candidates’ answers. When her turn to answer the climate change question arrived, she knocked it out of the park.

“As a scientist and just a person in this world, I don’t know that climate change is something we believe or don’t believe, the science is real,” she answered. “More importantly, it doesn’t matter what you believe about climate change, the solutions we’re talking about are good for all of us.”

That last line bears repeating.

“It doesn’t matter what you believe about climate change, the solutions we’re talking about are good for all of us.”

The scientist isn’t pulling our leg. California’s going big on climate action. One part of the solution is the California 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan. It proposes to do what the free market has failed to accomplish: Put people back to work in the woods and other forestry-related occupations in large enough numbers that a critical shortage of such workers has already been forecast.

If the plan is fully implemented by 2030, billions of dollars will be spent over the coming decade to quintuple the number of acres under soil conservation, double the pace of forest management and restoration, triple the pace of restoring oak savannas in riparian areas and double the rate of wetland and sea grass restoration. The plan refers to the jobs that will be created from this activity as the “restoration economy.”

“The restoration economy—defined as jobs created through environmental conservation, restoration, and management—will be an important consideration for implementing this Plan and future research,” the plan states. “Actions on natural and working lands have the potential to produce economic benefits in California’s communities and create new job opportunities for farmers, ranchers and foresters.”

The plan estimates that for every $1 million invested, 10 to 40 jobs will be created in the restoration economy. If the plan is fully implemented in the north state, it will provide a tremendous boost to the economies of the struggling counties, cities and towns in the First Assembly District.

Now, I’ll ask the reader a question. Which candidate is more likely to support full implementation of the 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan?

One of the four Republicans, all of whom deny climate change is a serious problem?

Or Betancourt, the watershed scientist who understands the scale of the climate crisis and has spent most of the past 20 years working in the northern California Sierra with all the stakeholders involved, including local water purveyors, tribes, business and tourism advocates, environmental groups and timber companies?

The answer is obvious to anyone who cares about the future of the north state. Recently, I emailed Betancourt a series of questions about the state’s ambition plans and her role in implementing them should she be elected. As you shall see, she has deep knowledge of the district and the subject material and an inclusive approach to all of her potential constituents. That’s why I’m endorsing her for First District Assemblywoman in the special election Tues., Aug. 27.

Elizabeth Betancourt on the campaign trail with a supporter.

Q&A On Climate Change Action

R.V. Scheide: Let’s presume a best-case scenario: you are elected, the state secures the funding, the plan is fully implemented with all stakeholders on board including the feds. What will AD-1 look like in 2030 in terms of natural and working lands management? Be creative.

Elizabeth Betancourt: Oh my goodness, R.V., what an optimistic picture this is! I see it as exceedingly possible, but of course it will take concerted collaborative and holistic policies to ensure we can get to a future that includes the resources, the training, the specialists, and the optimism to address climate change head on. What I see is:

Exceedingly low unemployment, due to the majority of our working-age adults being employed in a variety of work environments: on-the-ground management activities in our forests and farms; technical applications in biomass energy facilities and on dispersed solar installations; economic strategizing and transportation planning on a local and regional level; and innovation hubs and think-tank centers where our best and brightest work with the resources we have to envision a productive and inclusive future!

A network of small local farms provides produce, meat, and other food products in a local foodshed, building the local economy at the same time as building soil carbon, water retention capacity, and local expertise.

California Native American Tribes are integrated into all that we do, and especially the work we do on natural spaces and in their heritage places.

There may still be cars on the road, but I see big changes in vehicular travel along the lines of an expanded sharing economy combined with self-driving and electric vehicles capable of the long travel distances we have in AD1—maybe powered by solar energy en route—so that emissions are avoided but individual direction and needs are still addressed.

Education options support the needs we have in this community, as well as providing for a diverse array of futures for our young people. K-12 and post-secondary education alike is provided locally, affordably, with respect for individual needs and the broader society, and in a way that supports the entire human.

Broadband is recognized as a human right to participating in our modern society and is provided ubiquitously throughout the district, facilitating remote workspaces, easy access to statewide and international markets, and social cohesion.

Our downtown spaces are robust, busy, and provide a diverse array of shopping and service options. This addresses the need for a robust local economy, but also addresses societal cohesion, community development and emissions avoidance.

Our communities provide not only places to live and work, but green spaces safe from wildfire and other catastrophes that provide places to play, clean air, cooling space for all, safety and security from wildfire and other natural disasters, and the aesthetics of a desirable community.

We recognize all members of this community–all members, including a robust and complete ecology– as essential to getting the work done to make our community whole, safe, and ready for the future.

As a result of inclusion, family-supporting wages, and a renewed faith in our region and in each other, our social ills dramatically drop: adverse childhood experiences, domestic violence, low-level crime, and other issues of our current society would be effectively dealt with in large part through a growing economy that includes every single one of us.

R.V. Scheide: In your work as a watershed resource management specialist, you encounter all of the stakeholders involved in this process. Some of these rural farm/timber/business interests are quite conservative, decry any sort of government regulation and believe climate change is a hoax. How much does this hinder progress? How can these people be convinced that responding to climate change means jobs, jobs, jobs?

Elizabeth Betancourt: Many of our resource managers–farmers and foresters–are on the front lines of climate change, seeing these changes come sooner than those in urban spaces. Certainly not everyone recognizes the science behind anthropogenic climate change, but, conveniently, many of the actions we need to take on the climate front are things that we need to do anyway in rural California.

Identifying new and renewable energy sources, managing our forests to ensure resilience, building the local economy to provide for more and diverse jobs, and preparing for extreme drought, extreme heat, and extreme precipitation events are all things that all of us can agree are needed. There is enough momentum in the science of climate change that most Americans, 50 percent to 70 percent, now “believe” in climate change; certainly that disbelief hampered action initially, and set us on a track where change is inevitable, and is now happening.

However, at this point, it is our word choices and decision matrices that matter most: Talking about climate change or global warming may not bring everyone to the table, but discussing the need to increase forest management activities, develop innovative local renewable energy options, and eat more local food is something everyone can value.

What real resilience–real change–comes down to is behavior change: It’s hard for every single one of us to make choices that are outside of our normal practices. Incentivizing things like energy conservation, electric vehicles, and biomass energy production, is what we must do on a policy level to nudge all of us toward making choices that are better for us, better for society, better for the economy, and better for the planet.

Elizabeth Betancourt on the campaign trail with a supporter.

R.V. Scheide: Because of the decline of the timber industry, there’s a critical shortage of people with the forestry skills necessary to do the work required. Where will these future workers come from, and who will train them? Would passage of the Schools and Communities First initiative next year aid in this regard?

Elizabeth Betancourt: These future workers are our neighbors, our children, new immigrants, long-time residents, former prisoners, veterans, Native American tribal members, us! People are looking for real, meaningful work to do, and forest and watershed management is just the beginning of developing a restoration economy that serves everyone.

A word that gets passed around a lot in policy circles is providing a “just transition” to all. This is a term coined by trade unions, and means that individuals working in more climate-cost areas of our economy (cement production or coal-fired power plants, for example) should not bear the brunt of the change to a climate-smart future. The term emphasizes “justice” in workers’ rights and family livelihoods that recognizes that past changes have left these individuals behind (consider the spotted owl catastrophe of the 1980s on the timber industry). We should never do this again. All or nothing, everyone or no one, is as much a reality of physical need as it is a reality of cultural demand.

New resources are essential to start this process, certainly, and the Schools and Communities First Initiative, an effort to provide some equity in the way commercial property is taxed when compared with personal property, would be an incredible shot of adrenaline into this new economy. This initiative would not hurt current businesses, as the tax rate is based on time of purchase, and most businesses in the District are small and were purchased relatively recently: their tax rate would likely not change. Further, commercial rents are set based on market rates versus the cost of taxes, so businesses on rental property would likely not be affected, either. For those larger businesses in AD1, property tax is such a small ratio of their overall business costs that it is unlikely to be a burden on their businesses. Agricultural and multi-family properties and rental housing stock would be preserved.

For too long we have been “outsourcing” the costs of doing business: to the environment, to the poor, and to the broader economy/society. Redistribution is not what I’m advocating for: I’m advocating for pure capitalism, where the beneficiary pays their fair share of the cost, and those bearing the cost also benefit from economic growth. Allowing 8 percent of the commercial properties in California to cost our society nearly $9 billion in lost revenue is not ethical and not helping anyone but that 8 percent of property owners.

R.V. Scheide: Your opponents say “thinning the forests” is the answer, when restoring resiliency to our forests involves much more than that. For example, it requires the removal of slash, forest debris and other fuels, most of which aren’t at present marketable. The plan advocates the increased burning of biomass to generate electricity as one possible solution, but critics like the Sierra Club say it’s not carbon neutral, especially given the state’s aging biomass facilities. Do you think the state should invest/support new biomass energy/carbon storage technology to address this issue?

Elizabeth Bethancourt: Forest resilience is the classic “all of the above” answer, and a resilient forest absolutely requires the removal of slash and small-diameter trees that aren’t marketable. We know, based on our recent experience, scientific modeling, and common sense, that all forests will burn at some point. We want healthy forests for many reasons, but two primary reasons (for this question, anyway!) are for safety and to avoid emissions.

Thinning the forests and removing the understory helps with safety, in mitigating the risk of stand-clearing wildfire, but we also must avoid emissions. Burning this biomass in a controlled facility will always result in fewer emissions–much of the pushback to biomass energy is due to facilities in the San Joaquin Valley burning garbage and resulting in really dirty emissions; wood is different–and if we can burn it in modern facilities, the emissions are even further reduced.

Yes, I advocate for increased investment in biomass energy development, but those facilities should always be co-located with new technologies creating value-added products to increase economic development, jobs availability, and providing for the “highest and best use” of all of our resources. These new facilities must include technologies like cross-laminated timber, co-generation for dimensional lumber production, and development of product lines specifically designed to use small-diameter trees. Most biomass energy facilities are already co-located with railroad tracks, providing a natural way to transport materials. Biomass energy production would be a product co-created with these new additions to California’s economy.

R.V. Scheide: One casualty of AGW is the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta and the state’s water conveyance system from north to south, which is threatened by ongoing deterioration and sea level rise. The plan to address this has now gone from Twin Tunnels to a Single Tunnel, and faces significant opposition. Does it make sense to invest in new water storage projects in the north state, financed by southern California water districts, when we can’t be sure if we can even deliver the water in the future?

Elizabeth Betancourt: The tunnel decision must be decided prior to some of the projects envisioned in the North State, but other projects could operate without the tunnel. Sites Reservoir, though not the best storage location, is being discussed actively on a number of levels. In a drought, it is likely that any and all options will be welcomed–remember the cutbacks of the last drought–so carefully considering all options is important.

Ensuring that we’re considering operations under all possible future scenarios is also important: climate science is to the point where we can consider a range of emissions, and thus weather conditions, and complete reservoir and system-wide operations projections under that variety of scenarios. That must be done, and considered in line with all possible future benefits—water supply, fresh water for the Delta—with costs: water temperature, public funds for a project that doesn’t operate as planned.

Our opportunity in the north state is in the restructuring of the Delta tunnels project by the current California administration. Because of this renegotiation, we just might be able to advocate for increased investment in our water supply network: more than hard infrastructure, getting increased state investment in the green infrastructure of our rivers, forests, and meadows could add resilience to our system in greater measure, with greater employment numbers, and with a longer and more diverse lifetime of benefits.

R.V. Scheide: Worst question last: What happens if the north state stays with the status quo politically and ends up doing nothing to address the climate crisis?

Elizabeth Betancourt: Doing nothing to address the climate crisis cannot be an option. While the majority of California’s emissions may not come from the north state, it is unlikely that the state will invest in north state needs if we don’t work hand-in-hand with everyone else.

Climate change effects mean that: More of our communities will burn in fires like the Klamathon, Carr, and Camp; investments in agricultural processes and products will be lost due to extreme weather patterns that don’t allow for operations in the ways to which we’ve become accustomed; potential innovations, resulting in new jobs, educational opportunities, and community development, will be lost or ignored; and outside investment will be even more difficult to come by due to risk aversion.

It’s likely too late to avoid these terrible outcomes completely. However, we can work to mitigate their severity and their effects.

Added to these physical effects, AD1’s absence from the climate effort as California moves toward a more active and positive approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation will make us even less likely to benefit by state investment than we currently are.

Right now we lack investment because of population, in part, but also because the Legislature and administration don’t recognize that we need increased investment or would benefit by it–or that the state would benefit by it. Making this case requires real and effective advocacy on a level that develops trust, confidence, and momentum. Collaboration and knowledge of the issues is essential to moving this district forward.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.
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