Five candidates competing for two seats on Butte County’s Board of Supervisors faced off in a sedate and largely civil forum Wednesday evening in Chico. Though representing different points on the political spectrum, and despite some past acrimony, there were considerable points of agreement about priorities, and the challenges facing local government. NSPR’s Marc Albert reports.
Organized by the local League of Women Voters chapter, the forum at Marsh Junior High School, featured all five candidates in a round robin format. Three of them: Bob Evans, Tammy Ritter and Norm Rosene are seeking to succeed Maureen Kirk in district 3. Meanwhile, incumbent Larry Wahl is trying to hold back newcomer Debra Lucero in district 2.
In a mix of statements and questions, candidates weighed in on issues common throughout the North State: public safety, marijuana, poverty, economic development, housing prices and water policy.
They all agreed Money is in short supply.
Without more of it, don’t expect faster response time from deputies, fewer potholes or major improvements in any of the on-the-ground government services the county delivers on a roughly half billion dollar annual budget.
Bob Evans kind of summed up the mood, saying there isn’t money for new initiatives.
“The county’s on a very, very tight budget. In fact, it’s getting tighter as the year goes on, revenues are going up, but expenses are going up faster.” he said.
Newcomer and dentist-vintner Norm Rosene acknowledged that scarce revenue is forcing tough choices.
“It comes down to prioritizing every single item in the county budget. Right now, we’re pretty much bare bones. Where do you cut when you’ve already cut so much?” he said.
Nevertheless, Rosene proposed that financial issues could be at least partially alleviated by digging even further on the same side of the ledger.
“Some programs maybe you could cut them back. I don’t know if you have to eliminate a program to gather another program, but perhaps you can reduce a program and make it more efficient.” Rosene said.
Despite laments about law enforcement response times, seemingly annual battles over keeping fire stations staffed and libraries open, the candidates certainly have a read on voters. None of the three competing for district 3 even mentioned taxes.
Like Evans and Rosene, Tami Ritter talked about finding efficiencies.
“I don’t suggest that we cut any programs, regardless of whether we want to add new ones” Ritter said.
Instead, she suggested, finding and eliminating programs that duplicate services already provided by municipalities within the county.
Housing prices and scarcity, long a topic of lament elsewhere in California, has become more of an issue locally in recent years. Asked how they could realistically impact broad economic forces, and whether that involved easing development restrictions, candidates mostly pointed fingers and hedged, with conservatives Evans and Wahl blaming Sacramento.
“The price of the homes here in Butte County is already approaching $315,000.” he said.
Incumbent supervisor, Larry Wahl. “And the reason for that is that not enough land being utilized for building for homes. We need to make more land available. I don’t support changing the greenline, but we need to find other areas where housing can be done.”
Evans largely echoed Wahl’s point, and Rosene called for repurposing marginal grazing land. Debra Lucero called for the production of some lower cost smaller dwellings along with encouraging more apartment buildings within existing towns to limit sprawl.
“I think we need to go up in Chico and not continue to spread out, we are running out of land and I am a protector of the greenline. I absolutely believe in the greenline.” Lucero said.
It’s almost certain that the Lucero-Wahl contest will be resolved June 5th. The other race, featuring Evans-Ritter and Rosene may not be resolved until November. But if one of the three achieves a majority in next month’s balloting, they’ll be no November run-off.
The election, which could signal a slight change in course for local politics here and elsewhere, will be held June 5th.