About the district

District 1 includes most of the flatlands of southeastern Madera County, including the communities of Madera Ranchos, Riverstone, Tesoro Viejo and Madera Acres.

About the candidates

Andy Wheeler is a senior financial adviser with the Rosch Group and has worked as a financial adviser for more than two decades. He was elected to the Golden Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees in 2016.

Jordan Wamhoff, a Fresno police officer, has served as the Fresno Police Officers Association vice president since November 2020. He is also the co-founder of SolarQuote Installation and Maintenance.

Michelle Stephens is a licensed real estate agent with Twiss Realty. She is a member of the Madera County Concerned Citizens for Waste Disposal.

Who is funding the candidates?

Business interests (mostly agriculture) and developers lead the way, although developers are split: Riverstone developer Tim Jones and Tesoro Viejo developer Robert McCaffrey are lining up behind Wheeler, while major suburban developers Darius Assemi (Granville Homes) and Wilson Homes are lining up their support behind Wamhoff.

Click and zoom through the interactive chart below to learn more about individual donations.

On the issues

We asked each of the candidates for their perspectives on issues facing the county. Wheeler and Wamhoff did not respond to our multiple requests to fill out the survey. Answers from Stephens are below.

What are your top three priorities for your community and why? How would you work to achieve those priorities?

STEPHENS:

Water, public safety and improving traffic flow are my top three priorities.

Madera County has a long history of water problems, from wells going dry to failing infrastructure within the water districts. We are currently the fastest developing area in Madera, and I understand that water must flow for residents and farmers. Water systems must be fixed and planned recharge projects completed. I will advocate for our county through partnerships with county departments and stakeholders.

Crime is rampant. We have the best sheriff deputies and CAL FIRE crews in the valley. I want Madera County to be the desired destination for our public safety officers. My loyalty is solely with our team, and I will make sure that Fresno does not have a seat at the negotiating table. Open communication with the experts, our sheriff and fire captain will ensure I am able to continue the great work they do.

Traffic around certain areas of District 1 have made some roads hazardous to travel on. Lack of infrastructure has created several dangerous thoroughfares for all who travel those roads. We need traffic to be diverted off Avenue 12 and barriers in areas to prevent certain behaviors.

Together we can make Madera better.

What do you think is the county’s role in keeping Madera County affordable? What ideas and policy solutions would you bring to the table toward that goal?

STEPHENS:

Madera County has a problem with affordable housing. A shortage of existing housing, and an increase in the short term rental market, has taken hundreds of homes out of the housing pool and builders cannot build them fast enough to keep up with the demand. We have to streamline the process for new construction, so that investor dollars are used more efficiently, which will then be passed down to the consumer. I believe we need to look into repurposing existing buildings through private partnerships. The county should not be in the rental business; however, we must look for opportunities to revitalize and improve what we have if it makes financial sense.

The other piece of the housing issue is that we need a variety of price points. We want our residents to make Madera their home for life, so we must be able to accommodate. Without adequate housing, we cannot entice companies to invest in our area. Commercial/Industrial growth increases tax revenue and brings in jobs for people who need housing. I will work with the planning department as we navigate California laws and strive to strategically develop housing goals that benefit our community’s long term plans.

Following a Fresno County Grand Jury report in 2020 that criticized the lack of coordination and oversight in the Fresno/Madera region’s homelessness response, what should the county do to better coordinate homelessness response in the region?

STEPHENS:

Homelessness is a multi-pronged issue. There are many types, but a few categories are: migrant/transitory, temporary, drugs/mental illness. Within these demographics, we can continue to break it down. As a county, we deal with the negative impacts of homelessness such as blight, high crime, disease, increased strain on services and public nuisance issues.

Our Madera County sheriff’s office has taken steps to develop specialized services to deal with many of the symptoms that come with homelessness. They often are the entity that deals with the issues caused from the rampant problem we have in our area. Drug addiction and mental health services can make a difference in a person’s life, when it is followed up with additional services to foster/support the desire to become independent again.

We must regain the ability to impose consequences for certain crimes. As California has reduced criminal penalties, we have seen crime and homelessness grow exponentially. I welcome a joint conversation with Fresno leaders regarding how we can lobby Sacramento while we work to clean up our streets, waterways, and public areas. Fresno and Madera must work together to provide services and housing rather than shift responsibility. We can make a difference!.

Do you support expanding industrial and warehouse uses near residential communities, like the proposed south Madera industrial park? If yes, how should local air quality impacts be addressed?

STEPHENS:

The expansion of industrial/warehouse areas must be vetted by looking at the general plan. If it is being done near housing, whether existing or proposed in the future, the impact on both must be considered. Warehouse/Industrial areas are vital to the economy of a city/county.

Certain areas are going to potentially require some mitigation efforts in order to maintain good relationships, but it is possible for both to coexist. As we continue to grow, we must be proactive versus reactive in the process. Reactive measures will ultimately cost cities and counties millions in wasted taxpayer dollars. Protecting your monies are one of my highest priorities,

California has some of the strictest air quality standards in the country, so regulations imposed on businesses are in place. It is our job to ensure rules are being followed, and communities are not negatively affected in the daily operations. Desired growth areas must include room for all types of industry, as our communities need jobs. Decisions based on highest and best use must be the standard by which we plan. Personal favor or gain cannot be the measuring stick used. We must balance developing business and resident friendly relationships to succeed!

Do you think the county should encourage new town growth (like Riverstone or Tesoro Viejo) or push housing towards places where infrastructure and communities already exist? Do you think current Madera taxpayers should pay for water or transportation infrastructure to support new growth?

STEPHENS:

We have a housing shortage here in the Valley and California as a whole. Growth is part of the changing needs within developing areas. For Madera, growth areas, such as Riverstone and Tesoro Viejo, the benefits to the local economy are tremendous. Increased tax revenues positively impact schools and public services. Those areas were designed to pay for their own water systems, as are other areas of Madera County. Water districts are the way of the future in California, and development is in line with that goal. Other independent areas will move in that direction as well. The key to successful transitioning of other infrastructure is the ability to keep tax dollars in the area they are generated.

Public transportation is a challenge that Madera County is currently facing. The sprawl of the county does not provide for cost effective mass transportation services. As we continue to develop, it will be imperative that community needs be evaluated so that we can ensure services are being provided. We are in the middle of a tremendous growth spurt and innovative leadership is needed. South East Madera County is the gem of the area, therefore we must carefully determine our next steps forward!.

What is the county’s responsibility to mitigate the effects of climate change?

STEPHENS:

California is taxing and regulating our businesses right out of this state. We live in the state with the strictest rules and regulations regarding climate change UNLESS you are large enough and have resources to buy your way out of the endless restrictions. Climate change is real. As stakeholders, we understand that protecting the environment must be a priority for everyone. California has an exhaustive compilation of laws and regulations that are supposed to be adhered to by all who want to live and do business here in our state. Cities and counties are forced to deal with the fallout from conflicting regulations and ineffective policies. At the city/county level, we do not have the resources to micromanage the problems created by the state/federal government.. We need to elect leaders who will support our businesses while working to achieve climate goals.

This can be done by community and industry involvement. When we make our voices heard and participate, the outcome is more effective. I want our communities to be clean and safe for everyone, and. I believe the majority of our business owners want the same.

Do you think the county should subsidize employers if they bring new jobs? What types of subsidies are appropriate, or are not appropriate?

STEPHENS:

We are always looking for new job opportunities to bring to our counties. Economic growth positively impacts our communities. Subsidies are a way that businesses can be enticed to open up shop in certain areas. I am not opposed to subsidies that will not affect the county in the event that the business fails. Any local assistance should not be a permanent thing. I believe we can sometimes partner with incoming businesses to encourage growth, but success is ultimately on the shoulders of the enterprise. Too often cities/counties end up wasting taxpayer dollars or giving away needed revenue. We want to support our local and corporate industries in an equitable way that encourages diversification.

What do you think the county should do to improve wages for workers?

STEPHENS:

With the continually rising cost of living, it is harder and harder to make ends meet here in California. The many layers of taxes and bureaucracy increase the cost of employment from the lowest levels of unskilled jobs to highly skilled jobs. Madera County has to provide opportunities for more skilled jobs so that as people develop additional skills, we have jobs for them to transition into. The people to backfill can continue to advance as well. In these times, labor is hard to come by as COVID has wreaked havoc in the workplace.

At the county level, we need to get positive messaging into the community that bridges the polarization. A successful community is based on its economic stability, and many of our businesses are struggling. A roundtable with stakeholders and employees is step one to reestablish the relationships and open communication. The economy is changing and if we want to remain financially viable as a whole, we have to come together to determine solutions. We have a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and we all stand to feel the impact of the upcoming years. My business experience will be an asset as we navigate this issue.

What projects do you think should be prioritized for state and federal infrastructure dollars? How can local workers and communities benefit?

STEPHENS:

ROADS. Madera County roads are in varying stages of disrepair with many down to gravel. Resurfacing by a reputable tradesman is key. We have seen roads resurfaced that begin to crumble within a short time. These precious dollars must go to competent contractors. Horrible accidents occur weekly at several key places within the county. These roadways cannot remain the way they are. People continue to lose their lives and suffer major injuries due to the dangerous roadways.

Traffic has increased dramatically in south east Madera County, but our roads have not been upgraded to properly move traffic. Some improvements are on the books to begin shortly, but it is not a sufficient solution. We must start the conversation about how to get traffic between Freeway 41 and Highway 99. Avenues 9 and 12 are prone to accidents weekly and are unsafe. Commuter traffic needs an option to efficiently get between the two, while our residents deserve a safe way to move around the community. As new development continues, traffic problems will continue to escalate until we resolve this safety issue. Safer roads would open doors for potential bike paths as well!

What should the county do to improve job, services, and health care accessibility for those who do not have access to a reliable vehicle? Where would you like to see more transportation dollars spent, and why?

STEPHENS:

Here in Madera County, we have to become aggressive in attracting businesses and services to our area. We want to become a destination and somewhere that our current residents want to stay! In order for that to happen we need more jobs. Now is the time to recruit. Currently we have very few corporate and industrial businesses. Housing, although we do not have enough to meet the demand, has projects in varying stages and locations. Many health care facilities have popped up over the last couple of years in the city and county in an effort to increase access to care. Jobs have to become the focus! As housing comes in, we need the jobs to keep people spending money in Madera. Currently we lose a lot of sales tax revenue to Fresno and Merced.

Public transportation can be utilized to get around Madera City, but options are very limited when it comes to access between the county and city. Outreach is needed to see what the community needs actually are so we can work to find an equitable solution.

Within the next year, what should the county’s role be in reducing the impacts of rising gas prices on people?

STEPHENS:

Madera County has to push state and federal elected officials to advocate for us. Gas should NOT be this high. We must fight to get the annually increasing gas taxes repealed or greatly reduced as a first step. With the $100 billion budget surplus that California has this should have already been done, Then we have to fight the environmentalists to allow drilling here in the Golden State. We are a state rich with resources, but governed by autocrats who are killing our once thriving economy.

The effects of the astronomical gas prices will be staggering. As we head into the summer months, travel will decrease which affects private industry all the way up to county revenue. People cannot afford to drive and it is all directed by our current state government. At the local level we have little control over this issue, however, as concerned citizens, we must consider who we elect very carefully and change the direction of the state’s economy before it gets to a point where it will take years to correct. I will be a loud voice here locally, in our state/federal elected officials’ ear.

What should the county’s role be in making sure rural communities like the Ranchos or Fairmead do not lose access to safe drinking water and keep water affordable during the drought?

STEPHENS:

As the drought continues, access to water remains a concern for many areas. For many years, Madera County was reactive versus proactive when it came to water. All of the water districts in Madera Ranchos were in less than satisfactory condition, many private wells have gone dry, and Fairmeads wells were going dry. There has been progress in both areas, but the issue still faces some. There is an organization called Self Help that has partnered with Madera County to get storage tanks and water to those who’s wells go dry. This program has helped many.

Reliable water systems are the desire of our state versus private wells and there are grants out there that can offset costs, but the reality is that we as a state have to do a better job with managing our water. The amount that is flushed out to the ocean would support large cities alone. Environmentalists do not want to increase current water storage facilities, and California has refused to invest in additional storage facilities for too many years. These circumstances have all led to the dire situation we are in. Madera County is working diligently on improving water quality for all residents.

How should the county work with growers who are adjusting to SGMA implementation?

STEPHENS:

Counties are going to have to work with growers as SIGMA comes into enforcement. Depending on the crops, the dramatic reduction in water allocation is forcing growers to take out 20%-50% of their crops. As a consequence of these new rules, growers will have the county reassess those acres that are no longer in production. The revenue lost to the county will be significant. Additionally, jobs will be lost, supply companies, farm equipment suppliers, and chemical companies will all feel these changes.

Reduced water usage must be the end goal, but we need to look at what is going on in Sacramento as well. Current stringent policy changes are hitting our farmers, while water continues to flow out to the ocean daily because Sacrament continues to prioritize the non-existent Delta Smelt, along with their efforts to flush dumped sewage out of certain waterways. SIGMA rules will put many small farmers out of business. We cannot allow Sacramento to impact our counties with this overreach. While farmers are some of the most adaptable businessmen out there, this is an overreach. We must work together to increase recharge, reduce water use and not destroy the country’s food basket in the process.

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