From the Hills, Good Government in Tuolumne County with Jaron Brandon

Jaron Brandon is Tuolumne County (CA) Supervisor. Housing is an issue that got him involved in politics back in his home county. He has continued to work to create affordable housing and sees housing as an issue that effects almost every other aspect of life. Listen to how he is hoping to improve conditions.


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Jaron Brandon: We joked that you would only get a house basically if you inherited that, and that was the path to homeownership.

As always, we’re trying to solve the housing issue and it touches every other issue. How can you do economic development? People that live there? How can you lower the cost of housing if you can’t address the fire risk in insurance? How can you be able to build projects if you can’t get the infrastructure in to do water and sewer?

So it’s a huge challenge. Give local government a little more authority and a little more flexibility, especially us in rural areas, because we deal with a lot more. I think complicated challenges. Set ambitious goals, but the best government for implementation is always going to be local government. And that’s what we fight for every single day.

David Martin: Welcome to a new podcast from the Hills good government in to Me County. I’m Dave Martin and with me is my co-host to all of Me county district five supervisor Jaron Brandon. Welcome.

Jaron Brandon: Thank you, I appreciate it. And, I’m really excited to talk to you about housing today.

David Martin: Yes, that’s housing is a is an issue near and dear to you now, as I recall. we’ve spoken in the past. This is the issue that brought you back to your county. So while I’m in county and this is sort of an issue that got you involved in politics, correct? Why is it so important to you?

Jaron Brandon: Yeah. I mean, people ask, what do you do? Before this, I worked in a retail shop. I was so motivated by the fact that our housing situation in our county, as a rural area outside Yosemite, it got so bad that people my age, growing up in that community, were being forced to leave. We joked that you would only get a house basically if you inherited that.

That was the the path to homeownership. And the scary thing is that our prices here are about half of the state, average. So it’s what brought me into politics, into campaigning and running in the first place, was realizing that of all the things out of our control, there’s so much that we can be doing at a local level.

And we needed housing champions. And importantly, I think we needed housing champions that knew what it was like to not be able to find a rental, struggle with even a decent paying job in it. Somebody from, I think a generational perspective to where we’re all, regardless of the area, saying, how am I going to raise a family?

How am I going to get into the city? How am I going to get a roof over my head in the state of California?

David Martin: Did you encounter that yourself personally when you moved back to Tuolumne County? That you know, where where do I live? Yeah. I don’t want a stable bedroom. Where can I move.

Jaron Brandon: To exactly that. Exactly. I mean, it was couch surfing for a little while with family, right? That’s that’s how people come back to the area. So before and then even during the campaigns, of course, we had the pandemic. We had a bunch of stuff happening. I struggled even with a college degree coming back. I was, you know, paid pretty well, but I was trying to figure out, what makes me happy.

And coming back home, I really found that I want to be near family and wanted to be near the area that that I love. There’s just nothing available. And it’s not even just a beautiful area.

David Martin: You’re in the hills of California. Yeah. It’s rural. Right.

Jaron Brandon: And and a lot of people think that too. So we have this local population that is trying to find housing while we have this huge influx of people from other areas that recognize what a beautiful community and a place to raise a family. and they’re right. And it is, but that’s increased the cost. So I’m proud to say I actually got to become a homeowner, which is awesome.

It’s not a lot of millennials saying they’re able to go out and purchase other.

David Martin: Art and other art.

Jaron Brandon: But I had to go buy it 5050 with a friend of mine. I rent out three soon to be four rooms, and that’s just to be able to pay the mortgage to pay the fire insurance. I deal with this every single day in a policy.

David Martin: So your story is kinda unique. Most people can’t do that right now.

Jaron Brandon: It’s, I figured out something weird that works, and a lot of people have, you know, they, have a bunch of people living together, or they’re living in substandard housing because that’s the only option available. There’s people working full time living in RVs up here, and and they cannot find a place to live. So this has been a very personal topic to me.

David Martin: As a county supervisor. The district five supervisor, what is the biggest challenge in creating housing stock or housing opportunities and availabilities for other people like yourself?

Jaron Brandon: The biggest thing is we’re dealing with, I think all these macro political, macro economic changes. So we see stuff in the state legislature coming through all these housing bills, right. we see the price of land going up, the price of nails and wood and everything, things that are out of our control. That is probably the hardest issue.

Fire insurance is one of those, I think a lot of people in the state, of California, they might not realize that many properties up here, including mine, we pay more in fire insurance than we do in property taxes, even if it’s built. And that has no sign right now of going down. Actually, they’re talking about the insurance market.

To fix it, they need to have faster approvals on rate increases and more because we’re still considered under insured for their market. So that’s the most challenging thing. I think the second most of all comes.

David Martin: Flying with the issue of climate change, because as California dries up, the risk of fire goes up. The risk of losing your home to a fire goes up. So, you know, I guess you can’t really tackle the housing problem as you tackle the, environmental problems. Right?

Jaron Brandon: Right, right. You know, forestry is an example. You know, I think part of it’s, what’s happening with our climate and the drought. And, you know what? What can happen there. We’re also talking about a forest system that had fire removed, that had mechanical thinning from the timber industry, you know, decimated over the past several decades. And so it’s created this perfect storm of, I think, risk there that now we’re dealing with.

And again, a lot of that was things that are out of our control. We’re relatively low population. we can help the general kind of climate, but we’ve adapted to that. But the loss of, I think, traditional burning, the loss of mechanical thinning, as as always, we’re trying to solve the housing issue and it touches every other issue.

How can you do economic development if the people that live there, how can you lower the cost of housing if you can’t address the fire risk in insurance, how can you be able to build projects if you can’t get the infrastructure in to do water and sewer? So it’s a huge challenge. I think the second hardest thing there is what can we do about it?

so coming into office, I’m not a housing expert. At that time, I it was a lot of learning. California is incredibly complicated when it comes to housing. Right. the big thing was saying that, you know, there is some local culpability. We got what we planned. We had leaders that did not want to see growth, did not want to see housing built, want to keep it, as I say, postcard community.

They wanted it just like the postcard they bought of the area. Not the change at all. Not realizing that that’s the surest way to make sure that your kids can’t live there, and you can’t kind of maintain the continuity of growth and opportunity for for people.

David Martin: And let’s just set pay a little picture to Albany County. This is the Old West. This is the mining world.

Jaron Brandon: This is yes.

David Martin: You’re still panning for gold. And then there are hills. there’s green, there’s trees, there’s mountains, there’s fishing, there’s lakes, there’s streams. I mean, this is not Los Angeles. This is right. You know, the rural Wild West.

Jaron Brandon: Right at brick buildings and fire doors. We still got steam engines, you know, operating in some places. No, this is, gold.

David Martin: Stagecoach running today, I think.

Jaron Brandon: Yeah, right. Got the stagecoach running by my house. Yeah. It’s, it’s a weird and beautiful area. but definitely it’s a unique condition.

David Martin: And how much of, you know you’re in the great state of California with, you know, two of the largest cities in the country in San Francisco, in Los Angeles are the state laws written predominantly for places like San Francisco and Los Angeles and the rural counties like yours sort of get out lost in the sauce.

Jaron Brandon: At the risk of, upsetting some of my colleagues, maybe those areas. Yeah, absolutely. I think if you asked any rural area, even in in the suburbs area, Central Valley, a lot of areas of the state that are not those major urban population centers, I mean, it’s clear you just add up the people, you add up the money, interests in the areas, you add up the legislative votes.

The policy is generally not made for us. And I don’t think that’s always meant to be in a negative. It’s often that we’re just forgotten. So my community 55,000. We have many communities up here in many different counties that are ranging, you know, in that from 20 to 100,000 people. But there’s not a realization that these communities have existed since we were Mexico.

I think we we ended that in 1838. These are very old, historic communities that have been here the entire time. And yet the way that the state political dynamics are set up, we are often just begging to have a seat at the table in these discussions where a lot of the grants that come out from the state, I’m actually very happy with much of the housing policy reform.

some of it’s been accountable city to local governments, some of it’s been more resources to planning in that. But most of the time it’s not the right amount, resources not to the right problem. And it’s got so many restrictions on it. There were always doing something that is good, but it’s not what we really needed at that moment.

And that just reflects a long county state history, I think of at least since really prop 13, more state control, more money going to Sacramento, being allocated back with with strings attached, and a lot less local leadership, being given the ability to basically fix these problems. So it’s a real mix with the state and with these urban areas.

And we work very closely with our urban colleagues. But, it’s still it’s extremely difficult.

David Martin: And how many of these ordinances and laws go back to, you know, pre statehood, the Golden Bear Republic? I mean, is that an issue?

Jaron Brandon: we we still technically we got some that are how you have to score your black powder. Your Hercules powder for mining is still on the books there at this point. I don’t want to remove it. Right. Because that’s that’s just so cool that, that’s in there. but a lot of them rid of the gold. So think of this.

You got the state since the 1970s with all the environmental laws, the labor laws, the planning restrictions, and then the last five years of these housing reforms, local governments are always stretched. I mean, whatever they approve, we have to do, right? We’re on the earthworm level. We are the ones that implement it for law enforcement, with our sheriffs, with major health, with planning, with infrastructure, planning, roads, every single thing.

And so that makes it very difficult. Our ordinances have sometimes been years, if not decades out of date with the current state legislation. And a lot of that is going back to what I was just saying. It’s well intentioned in what they’re trying to achieve, but it’s not always what we need at that moment. For a community like mine, where there’s not, for example, a lot of new growth right now, though, I am shooting for the moon to try and increase that.

We’re talking about how do we maintain our housing stock? people have to consider there’s a lot of seniors, as a lot of veterans, as a lot of students living in housing that maybe substandard needs renovations, needs fire hardening to be protected. Those moneys aren’t there. We look on one adjacent issue over here related to homelessness, which people not being able to sign affordable housing or having their house be condemned, or not being able to pay the fire insurance because they can’t keep up with the maintenance, is directly leading into increasing homelessness in the state.

And yet, in this category, it seems like there’s manna from heaven. There’s infinite money to be able to do whatever you want. Sometimes it feels like a lack of accountability on that. And yet on the housing front, so little just to make sure that our planning ordinances are up to date, we’re easy to work with developers. We’ve got a great inventory of properties.

Or if you want to build something, we’ve actually got the water and sewer hookups. We’re always just playing catch up. I think that’s one of the things that the state can really do a lot better, and we can ask for support from other areas, give local government a little more authority and a little more flexibility, especially us rural areas, because we deal with a lot more, I think complicated challenges and sometimes the valley or other well-resourced area areas, my deal with we, we not only have relatively low resources, but we’ve got a very challenging geography, to basically do.

And yet we have a right to exist, we have a right to thrive. And even if we don’t have a lot of people, as I say, land doesn’t vote. but land speaks. So all those folks in Sacramento or San Francisco, you might not know how to pronounce our county where we’re at. Exactly where the water that you drink, where the forests where a lot of the lumber is milled.

The marble in those buildings came out of our area. And it’s probably an area that you might recreate yourself in. So we’re connecting the site.

David Martin: Not too much of a place where you go hiking, camping for the weekend. Rafting, I mean, that’s all happening.

Jaron Brandon: In your place. Yeah, it’s a good, good gambling. Good eating too. it’s a beautiful place. You got to come visit Warming County if you have and I be. And if I didn’t do a shameless plug right on on my own show for it. It’s absolutely wonderful. Weekend retreat.

David Martin: I just want to come because I want to, I want to I want to make my day, I want to, I want to get down there and get to go.

Jaron Brandon: Yeah, I was that we’re going to go gold panning are we.

David Martin: That’s right, that’s right. Get rid of spike rates and, pay for the weekend. That’s my plan. I want to I did want to ask you a little bit about because you are a rural county, are there are there the workers to build there or do you have the labor there? Do you are is that a problem as well?

Jaron Brandon: It’s kind of a chicken or the egg. Right. So if you’re in a rural community, do you build to get jobs first or do you build to get housing that will create jobs and economic activity? Well, we’ve got resorts. We’ve got a bunch of economic development projects. there’s a great local tribe that’s doing some very ambitious work there.

And so we we kind of chose, okay, we’re doing the chicken. We’re talking about who’s actually going to construct it. It’s the same problem. So whether it’s the government, we have a 20% vacancy rate. That is not uncommon. So I want to go higher. Deputies I want to go hire firefighters. they need a place to live too, right?

We want to bring in these resort projects. They need to have workers in the hospitality industry and entrepreneurs. Same with construction. We do have a local sector of folks that are very handy work, blue collar type community. I think a lot of people can identify with this, but unless you might be in kind of the elite trades, within that, being able to rent or work here is becoming unaffordable.

I, I, I put it like the frog in the boiling pot for a long time. Used to be able to buy a home up here. Right. husband is working to raise, a couple, couple kids have a wife. One single family, kind of income paying for it. Then it became you could do it if both were working.

And then at least you could get an apartment. If that was then eventually became that you’re living in a room of somebodies house or living in an RV park, we’re at that point where there’s not another option to move to. When the price has gone up. You’re out of the market, and now they’re moving to some of these other cheaper areas and actually having to commute in to what is a relatively, low income community in, in kind of the same way, or in a, in a different way than a lot of the state.

So it’s been, it’s been a challenge to actually to build housing. One of the things we have to do is build housing for people that are everyday workers that actually can construct it. And the people above that, to that are development where a lot of our rural counties, have had a difficult time retaining these people who actually want to go do a 100 unit project or even a ten unit project.

Many of them have left. It’s a lot easier to build into that Central Valley than it is up in our area. And so we’re working on our reputation to to say, you know, the 20 years when, when I was 12 years old, that that period of time started, it’s a whole new system. It’s a whole new mantra.

We are all about construction now, but please come back up. Give us another chance to. So it’s all interconnected.

David Martin: So, in the last few minutes here of the conversation. Yeah, let’s, let’s, let’s give the, our listeners a little bit of optimism. What have you been able to accomplish and what’s your wishlist? What are you working on?

Jaron Brandon: I love that. So housing has been my top priority since day one. And I think, any rural government person in particular or anybody that just cares about, you know, bottom up, good policy making, good planning, listen to strong towns, listen to the good government show, too, because you get a lot of really great speakers on there across so many different issues.

Shout out, shout out to you too, because that that’s been, that’s been eye opening for me as well. there’s a lot of good resources talking about better planning where we’re trying to. And I think this brings the left and the right together and a lot of ways where we’re looking for affordable housing, somebody has to build it.

So we’re streamlining our planning ordinances. This has taken several years, but to basically bring everything into compliance with the state, we’re doing exciting things like, allowing for accessory dwelling units. We’re doing some concrete printed, 3D printed homes in collaboration with habitat for humanity so that seniors can Asian place. I mean, how how innovative is that? We have suburb projects coming in.

We’ve got mixed income projects coming in. We’re putting money into the infrastructure. And so inherently local government, you got to be creative. We’ve been doing a lot on that front. We’ve been also working on taking advantage some of those homeless, funding sources to provide a housing recovery pathway and two public housing projects. But all that said, there is still we need hundreds, if not thousands more units.

And, and so we are really have been focused in three years and changing the momentum. Right. It was a dead stop. Now, at least we’re moving in that direction. And I actually just won reelection for a second term. It’s another four years committed to this, pretty difficult position because I think that momentum needs to not just keep going, but it needs to increase.

we’ve got so much more. So there’s a case for optimism that I think across the country we hear a lot about rural decline. I think, we’re also seeing a rural renaissance in adaptation. We’re seeing these economic systems are so connected that, again, our forest industry is coming back. Our tourism industry is becoming very strong where healthcare industry and folks kind of coming up as a retirement community that’s creating economic activity.

What we need is just a little peace and quiet from the state, give us the resources and give us the flexibility to to do what you want. Set ambitious goals. But the best government for implementation is always going to be local government. And that’s what we fight for every single day.

David Martin: So here’s a silly question from an Easterner. Yeah, there are, if not ghost towns, towns in your county that are very, very lightly populated. Is there any effort underway or practical practicality to sort of reviving some of those towns and turning them around?

Jaron Brandon: We mentioned the old town that I live next to. Right. Columbia is part of my district, so I’m two blocks from those brick and, you know, fire door, old West Town right there. What do you think shootouts happen? And a poker game in the saloon? I think I have three saloons within about a half mile of my house.

Old school one’s perfect now, Columbia. Way back when it was almost the capital of California, back in 1849. This area was booming. We had 50,000 people, which then was a huge amount, just within probably about a mile of where I live. So we have these entire lot.

David Martin: That was all mining and forestry.

Jaron Brandon: Mining and forestry. Right. And then and then the people who really made the money, which was the merchants. Right. You know, selling, selling you for, for an ounce of gold, these communities, they built up shantytowns, eventually to wooden structures. Every couple of years it would burn down. The ones that succeeded became these kind of brick metal.

ones that were able to survive. But we the areas up here that had 9000 people that there’s not a trace of, we’ve got other ones where there’s maybe only a couple hundred residents living there. I think there’s a huge desire to see that identity. I mean, first we have to preserve the communities that sometimes are on that path.

We’re seeing with vacant homes. As an example, a quarter of the structures in our county are second or third homes. That creates a an immense pressure on our local area for housing and for workforce. Even, as you know, we want people to come up, spend their money. that makes it for a huge challenge. So the first thing is to stop that from happening to any more communities.

I would love to see a resurgence in building some of them back up, but this has been one of the challenges where I think state codes have been in conflict. So you get all this row housing, governor, pro housing, legislature putting a lot of money into it. And, and they have and a lot of legislation to make it easier to build.

But it’s in direct conflict with what we’re seeing with sometimes environmental regulation that is analyzing any net new carbon emissions coming in. So if we want to rebuild that town, the the town of 100 people, but back to 2000 where it was, we can have a market, you can have a gas station and a main street again, we’re suddenly having to go basically toe to toe with an environmental impact report and massive kind of mitigation strategies and what that does is it favors urban counties far more than it does us on roads, on water and sewer infrastructure.

And it makes that dream very difficult at the end of the day, if they live in our county or they live in the valley, if they’re living close to work, they’re telecommuting, it should be one or the other. And and it’s time yet for us that environmental reporting makes it very difficult. We have a system of laws that makes growth and makes housing and makes much of the economic development kind of projects we could pursue almost prohibitively risky and expensive.

And I think the state, for all of the good things that are happening in some areas, we are seeing that it is harder to do business over time than applies to housing, too. So I think we can see that resurgence, but we’ve got to have more flexibility in.

David Martin: The things are happening. Things are moving in the right direction. not fast enough for you. And with enough, deregulation for you.

Jaron Brandon: And exactly. You know, where you know, where we the any any. Listen.

David Martin: Well, have you have your culture friends that you grew up with and said, hey, it’s okay to move back now. We got we got space, we got stuff.

Jaron Brandon: Right, right, right. Yeah. No, the few, the proud. But it’s always a trope. We love to come back because it’s a beautiful area. It’s our home and we should have a right to basically do that. I’ll say to any listeners on the podcast out there, you know what it really needs. We don’t have a lot of people. We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a story to tell, right?

We need everybody stepping up to do local advocacy because I’ll tell you, the urban areas, they’re highly organized and they’re fighting for their interests as they should. They’ve got the chambers and they’ve got the housing sector, they’ve got labor working together with housing activists and tenants unions. We don’t always have that in rural areas. And so as much as I can do as policymaker to be able to push these things forward when there’s scarce resources, scarce time, everybody’s overburdened with stuff.

What we really need are grassroots movements. Anybody, even not a housing expert who just is saying, you know what, I need shelter. I need a roof over my head. I need an affordable rental. Show up to your meetings, get involved, join a planning commission, especially if you’re a younger person. it’s really time to step up. Do it.

we’ve seen what activism in the past has been able to do, even from a very small group of student organizers, or community organizations or Mothers Against Drunk Driving that have had profound impacts. And so don’t ever underestimate what you can do on this issue, because it makes it a lot easier for me to be able to do my job and supporting that.

But more importantly, it makes sure that we get local leaders that recognize the importance of this. It holds them accountable for the promises that they make, and it moves things forward. So if I could leave on two sets there, everybody needs to step up. Everybody needs to get involved. You need to talk about on Facebook, show up to meetings, whatever it is.

You can do something. And we should hopefully, probably anybody listen to this podcast is, at least a little interested in, I think, the best form of government, which is, which is local. I think it’s most interesting.

David Martin: And it’s closest to the ground. And you hear the most that you get stopped the most by your by your fellow citizens. Well, thanks very much for this. This is a great conversation about housing issues and especially in rural California. And the show is called From the Hills Good Government in Ptolemy County, California. I am your co-host, Dave Martin with me is Jaron Brandon.

Jaron Brandon: Tuloumne County supervisor. I’m grateful for all your help, Dave.

David Martin: Thank you. Thank you. And we will talk again. Great.

From the Hills. Good government into all of me County is hosted by Dave Martin. I’m also the host of a Good Government show and County Supervisor Jaron Brandon. Please like us and our viewers for you’re listening to us and share us with your friends. It’s a good government show is a Valley Park production executive producers are Jim Ludlow, Dave Martin and Dave Snyder.

Jason Stershic is our producer and editor. Join us again and be sure to listen to The Good Government Show wherever you get your podcasts.

**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.