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Placer politics’ elder statesman heads water board

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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At 83, Alex Ferreira can take the long view on Placer County politics past. But he’s also a key, active player in its present and future. Born in Ophir and a lifelong resident of the county, Ferreira has been walking the Placer County corridors of power since the 1960s as an elected official. That total includes 24 consecutive years on the Board of Supervisors as Lincoln-area representative. Ferreira continues to serve, nearing completion of a third four-year term on the Placer County Water Agency board. Fellow board members recently elected him as chairman for 2010. Ferreira, the elder statesman of Placer politics, is one of the oldest office-holders in the region. Sonora Mayor Ron Stearn is one notable nearby contemporary. Stearn has been a City Council member there since 1964 and recently turned 81. For the most part, Ferreira has survived the sometimes-fickle nature of elective office. His lone major loss came in 1980, when he was defeated in a bid for a state Assembly post. A registered Democrat for many years, Ferreira more recently has run as a decline-to-state candidate in a county heavy with Republican voters. As a board of supervisors candidate walking door-to-door, Ferreira recalled being asked about his party affiliation and replying that he was a Democrat but the position was non-partisan. “Sometimes the door would slam shut,” Ferreira recalled, with a twinkle in his eye. A political survivor about to enter his sixth decade of elected life, Ferreira is also a cancer survivor. Ferreira, who beat colon cancer that was diagnosed eight years ago, said he’s healthy and plans to run for re-election next year. He turns 84 in May. Ferreira also survived one of the deadliest battles in U.S. history. He recalled marking his 19th birthday on Okinawa in May 1945 during an 81-day battle for the Japanese island. “My godmother in Benicia went to church twice a day to pray on my behalf,” Ferreira said. “I had people killed around me. Many, many people. It was hard to believe this could happen.” A sergeant in the Army infantry, Ferreira was poised to take part in the invasion of Japan. “I knew it would be my end – I never would have made it out of that,” Ferreira said. Instead, Japan surrendered after atomic bomb blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that summer. Ferreira ended up stationed in Japan but turned down a commission because he wanted to return home. Placer County was a place Ferreira felt comfortable, away from the crowded streets and hustle and bustle of cities like Tokyo. Ferreira said his feeling that areas of the county shouldn’t be crowded with suburbs has been a main focus over his time in office. And a major part of that focus has revolved around retaining water for agricultural use. Ferreira, who is basically retired from farming, grew up in Ophir and later had his own dairy on Wise Road. He’s long-ago turned responsibility for running a 1,000-acre ranch west of Lincoln he now lives at over to his wife, Bonnie, and stepson Bert Lefty. Retaining access to water for farming is something that was hard-wired into Ferreira’s psyche from an early age. “My folks had a fruit and olive ranch,” Ferreira said. “”Without water we wouldn’t have had anything.” In the coming year, Ferreira said he’s looking forward to playing a role in the re-licensing of the Middle Fork Project. 2010 is a crucial year for the re-licensing effort. While the 50-year federal license’s renewal deadline is 2013, the draft application fro the water agency is due to be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by next October. Einar Maisch, the water agency’s director of strategic planning, said staff is happy with Ferreira as chairman in 2010. The post is a revolving position and the vote by fellow directors is considered foreordained. “He’s a steady hand,” Maisch said.