This November La Plata County voters will elect candidates to fill two seats on the three-person board of county commissioners. In District 3, two candidates are vying for the position: Harry Baxstrom, a longtime Bayfield veterinarian, and Julie Westendorff, a real estate agent and lawyer, former tribal prosecutor and former Bayfield town judge. Wally White, the eastern La Plata County district’s current commissioner, is term-limited. Commissioners must live in their district, but are elected to their seats by all of the county’s residents.
The Durango Herald sat down with the District 3 candidates to dig deeper into issues facing the county today.
These responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What is one action taken by former or current commissioners that you admire?
Westendorff: One that comes to mind was the regulation of medical marijuana growers in the county. The reason I admire or respect what they did was, the Planning Commission had made a bunch of recommendations that would apply only to these medical marijuana growers, and they were things that, in another industry, we would have said, “Hey you as a business owner, you decide if you need this or not.” I felt like it was not equal treatment for these marijuana growers.
(Note: The commissioners nixed certain security requirements for medical marijuana facilities, such as specific fencing requirements, when they approved land-use regulations for those facilities in June.)
Baxstrom: I think the development of our energy regulations have been good for the county. Fighting to maintain our energy impact funds here, I think that has been really good for the county.
If elected, what are two initiatives you would like to tackle within the first two years of your term?
Baxstrom: I would like to see a comprehensive plan, a good functional workable comprehensive plan. I’d like to see county government change in the manner that it would become way more business friendly.
Westendorff: I would like to see a business park. The thing I like about a business park is it will provide an area where businesses that want to expand from their current location or that want to move here can look at an area and say, “The infrastructure is there, and the land use has been established and either we’re in or we’re out.” The other thing I would like to see happen is the completion of the transitional standards (for areas just outside the city of Durango, such as Grandview) the commissioners are working on now.
What general philosophy would you bring to the job of reviewing land-use changes?
Westendorff: I think if you own a piece of land ... your voice is going to be the one I listen to first. Within that limitation of compatibility, I’m going to look and see how you impact your neighbors and what is your neighbor’s right not to be impacted. Another thing that I really pay attention to is externalization of costs. That is, are you taking one of your costs and putting it off on your neighbor.
Baxstrom: As long as it doesn’t hurt your neighbors, I believe you should be able to do it on your property within the code that we have functioning at the time.
How will you address the comprehensive plan that commissioners shelved last year?
Baxstrom: I think we spent too much money hiring outside consultants. I believe, right now, through involvement of the community, we could come up with a comprehensive plan.
We need more public education. At least, in my situation and that of so many other people I have talked to (who attended the meetings), they never got feedback about what happened to this? Where did this go? Why did my idea get incorporated and why didn’t my idea get incorporated? We didn’t reach out with information back to the public.
Westendorff: I think it should be revived. The role of the comprehensive plan is the guide. I think it’s still a valuable document from the data standpoint and I think it did a good job of identifying challenges and opportunities for this county. It seems really foolish to just ignore it.
What issue(s) should get more attention from the commissioners?
Westendorff: Veterans. We have a veterans’ services office, and I think commissioners need to make sure that is a priority.
Baxstrom: I think we are going to be faced with some economic realities or shortcomings in funding for the county. We’re not going to be as solvent as we are. We (also) need to figure out a logical progressive way to report things back and keep the community advised of what’s going on (in the county).