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Meet the candidates: San Benito County Supervisor, District 1

Six candidates on the ballot to complete term that ends in 2024

The June 7 election for San Benito County Supervisor for District 1 will determine who will complete the current four-year term, which began in 2020 with the election of Mark Medina. Medina resigned from the board in June 2021, and in October the governor appointed Betsy Dirks to replace him until the upcoming election. 

Dirks, a longtime educator and consultant, is running as the appointed incumbent in the June 7 primary. Also running for the District 1 seat are nonprofit administrator Elizabeth Zepeda Gonzalez; Kim Hawk, a retiree who worked for San Benito County for 36 years in various departments, including Health and Human Services, County Clerk’s office and Public Works; business owner and former law enforcement employee Sandra Gail Patterson; Mark Starritt, a general construction contractor and commercial pilot; and Dom Zanger, an estate manager. 

The top two vote getters in the June 7 balloting will vie for the seat again in the November election. The winner of that balloting will complete the existing District 1 term, which expires in 2024. 

District 1 includes the northeastern portion of unincorporated San Benito County. 

The Free Lance sent the same set of questions to all six candidates’ email addresses that are posted on the county registrar of voters’ website. Gonzalez and Patterson did not respond. The other four candidates’ answers are below.

All candidates filed candidate statements with the county elections office. These statements can be viewed on the county elections website at https://tinyurl.com/ymc8cv35

Betsy Dirks

Why are you running for the District 1 supervisor’s seat?

I was appointed by the Governor in October of 2021, because the incumbent quit four months into the term. I have only been in the seat for seven months and I have been able to make some inroads to help steer San Benito County in a direction towards success. I want to continue the work that has been started. All things take time and I would like more time so that efforts I have been putting forward move towards actualization.

San Benito County Supervisor Betsy Dirks

What do you think will be the most pressing needs for San Benito County over the next two years, and how would you address these needs as a supervisor?

One issue is our long term water storage needs, especially for District 1. As a supervisor, the best way I can address this need is through 1) Supporting the Ag community by making sure they have information; 2) Advocating for the Water District and the Ag community at the State level and with Santa Clara County regarding the Pacheco Reservoir Project; 3) Continue to educate myself and look at what other counties are doing so that we are all working together to make sure we are addressing long term water solutions in the face of our current climate crisis.  

Another issue is employee retention, and I have helped to get this issue addressed, along with the support of the rest of the board, by advocating for Leadership Training of the BOS, CAO and Department heads so we are all working from the same playbook. We are also in the process of vetting an Organizational Culture Review. 

A third issue is the fentanyl Issue facing our youth. I worked with Behavioral Health to have a community event on June 11 to provide resources, Narcan training and options for youth activities. I hope everyone attends. 

Our infrastructure—this is one of the primary goals to address for all the supervisors. Our growth has outstripped our infrastructure and now we are looking at ways to fund and then address getting our roads fixed in a systematic way. We have begun the process and it looks like we may be able to secure about 20 million to get started.

Homelessness has become an increasing concern in San Benito County. As a supervisor, how would you aim to address concerns related to local homelessness?

I am currently on the homeless committee along with Supervisor Kosmicki and we are looking at different solutions. The whole board has talked about some ideas as well. We have met with the Homeless Service Providers Committee and are listening to what is going on and looking at how other communities are approaching this issue as well. 

We are exploring long-term storage solutions for those that have RVs. This isn’t an easy problem to fix and the solutions are individualized to the person you are trying to house. You want to make sure to keep the dignity of each individual and serve the whole person who is homeless. The ultimate goal is for permanent housing and to try to support the unsheltered, so that they can have access to any services they need to prevent them from being homeless again. 

San Benito County is also a rapidly growing community. How would you use your influence on the board of supervisors to ensure the benefits of commercial and residential growth are balanced with the potentially harmful impacts?

Everything needs to be balanced. We have safeguards in place through the general plan and we have the use of EIRs—Environmental Impact Reports. All of the things will allow for thoughtful decision making, as well as input from the community. We need to make sure that we can mitigate impacts, while at the same time improving the quality of life for all in the county. 

We need increased revenue so that we can continue providing expected services, such as safety, behavioral health, health and human services, and the list goes on. 

For residential growth, we need to make sure our infrastructure is going to support additional strain. When it comes to the RHNA—Regional Housing Needs Assessment—handed down from the state, we are obligated to build a certain amount of housing every eight years. In this cycle that has currently been presented, between the county, City of Hollister and City of San Juan Bautista we are being required to build 5,000-plus homes. 

As the Board of Supervisors and with COG—the Council of Governments—we are pushing back on these numbers because of our infrastructure needs. 

The condition of public roadways is notably bad in San Benito County, and the county’s regular sources of revenue are not enough to improve and continue to maintain the roads. Do you have any ideas on how to seek more funding for roads, or do more with the funds that are available?

As the current board, we are looking for a way to leverage existing money to secure outside funding of around $20 million to focus on the needs of our roads. We have identified roads that are the most traveled and have the least operational function, along with safety issues to begin to address this issue. Ongoing funding will be considered as there may be funding in the infrastructure bill passed by the federal government. We will also be looking at how we can provide additional funding through creating new revenue opportunities by way of commercial and industrial development and tourism.

Kim Hawk

Why are you running for San Benito County Supervisor?

I am running for County Supervisor because for several years I have watched our county leadership decline. There is not the working relationship between the county, cities and other agencies that there was in past years. I want to bring that back to the board. To get things done you have to be able to work together. 

Kim Hawk

I feel my experience and knowledge with county government will help other board members.

What do you think will be the most pressing needs for San Benito County over the next two years, and how would you address these needs?

There are several pressing needs for San Benito County, but one priority is transparency with finances. The people of this community have a right to know where the funds are going and what they are paying for. Our infrastructure is behind, and we can’t keep up with the housing developments. We don’t have the staffing to provide much needed services. We need to recruit people to work in this county and stay. We are a training ground and then they move to other surrounding counties. No incentive to keep employees and the wages are not good.

As a Supervisor, how would you aim to address concerns related to local homelessness?

We do have an increasing concern with homelessness, and I would work with the other agencies to find solutions. There could be grants we could apply for. We have some housing that we could use. I feel one problem is these people do not want to follow the rules for housing. It is a community problem, and we must find the help that is needed to resolve this problem. 

San Benito County is also a rapidly growing community. How would you use your influence on the board of supervisors to ensure the benefits of commercial and residential growth are balanced with the potentially harmful impacts?

Our housing community is growing rapidly and unfortunately, the houses do not bring in the revenue. I am not against growth, but we must grow at a smarter pace. Our infrastructure cannot keep up with housing. 

We also need more businesses in the community to raise our tax base, provide jobs in the community so people do not have to commute. It is important to have the businesses help better our infrastructure instead of relying on our taxpayers.

Do you have any ideas on how to seek more funding for roads, or do more with the funds that are available?

Yes, the roads are bad, and I believe we have the funding but it’s not being used for roads. We have gas tax money—where is that going? There is other funding for road repair, and I would look into where the money is or where it is going. I worked at Public Works and knew about the funds available. This is about transparency.

Mark Starritt

Why are you running for San Benito County Supervisor?

San Benito County is floundering but has tremendous potential. It is a great place to live and raise a family. We need to make it a great place to work. I can bring the leadership needed to make these changes.

Mark Starritt

What do you think will be the most pressing needs for San Benito County over the next two years, and how would you address these needs?

The roads are a mess, crime is on the rise and the homeless have found a new home. We need to get back to the basic purpose of government instead of complying with unfunded mandates.

As a Supervisor, how would you aim to address concerns related to local homelessness?

We are a compassionate people. Governor Newsom is going to throw a lot of taxpayer money at this problem. It will be my job to see that the money is spent correctly with accountability.

How would you use your influence on the board of supervisors to ensure the benefits of commercial and residential growth are balanced with the potentially harmful impacts?

We have taken on the burden of providing reasonably priced housing for Silicon Valley. We need to put maximum effort into attracting clean industry which will provide the jobs and revenue our community needs.

Do you have any ideas on how to seek more funding for roads, or do more with the funds that are available?

Our roads are becoming a safety issue. As everyone knows, deferred maintenance only costs you more when the day of reckoning comes. By developing industry we can increase and diversify our revenue stream. We need a much more aggressive Public Works plan.  

Dom Zanger

Why are you running for San Benito County Supervisor?

I am running for county supervisor because I see the changes taking place that are steering our county in the wrong direction and diminishing our quality of life. These changes are so significant that the charming and unique farm community that I grew up in has been transformed into something entirely unrecognizable. I want my future children to have the opportunity that I had: to grow up in a community that they love.

Dom Zanger

What do you think will be the most pressing needs for San Benito County over the next two years, and how would you address these needs as a supervisor?

The most pressing concern is the development. As supervisor I will use my vote and my influence to halt and deter this unsustainable residential growth.

Rising crime is another major issue facing the county. As supervisor I will work in tandem with our District Attorney and our Sheriff to attack this problem head on with the full force of resources and law available.

Homelessness has become an increasing concern in San Benito County. As a Supervisor, how would you aim to address concerns related to local homelessness?

I think we need to be honest about this problem. Yes, I have compassion for the homeless. Yes, I feel for them and want to help them. But we need to stand up for our community and address this issue. As supervisor I will work with our Sheriff’s Office to find community resources and legal recourse for addressing the homeless population that is not abiding by our county’s rules and regulations. Additionally we must disincentivize tangential homeless populations from positioning themselves in San Benito County.

San Benito County is also a rapidly growing community. How would you use your influence on the board of supervisors to ensure the benefits of commercial and residential growth are balanced with the potentially harmful impacts?

Regarding residential growth in the county, we are past the point of balancing benefits and harms. Continued residential growth at or near our current rate would be a net negative to the county. As supervisor I will work tirelessly to put a stop to this explosive residential development.

As far as commercial growth, I agree with the majority of the residents in stating that we need more of it in our cities and our commercial zones. Proper commercial growth brings not only revenue into the county, but also a stronger sense of community.

The condition of public roadways is notably bad in San Benito County. Do you have any ideas on how to seek more funding for roads, or do more with the funds that are available?

I strongly support recent efforts to use a combination of reserve funds and capital bonding to fund road improvement. The county could reasonably allocate $30 million for the project this way and I believe it would be a disservice to the residents to oppose this. We all recognize that this issue is of paramount significance. 

As supervisor, I would be eager to utilize the funds we have at our disposal to fix our roads and take this step to improve our quality of life in San Benito County.