Keene ambition

Assemblyman Sam Aanestad, R Grass Valley, has announced his intentions to run for the 4th District Senate seat that will be vacated by a termed-out Sen. Maurice Johannessen, R Redding, next year. Aanestad would be termed out two years from now if he ran for re-election next year. In this age of six-years-and-you’re-out, that would make Aanestad a lame duck in his final two years. So he’s looking for greener pastures, like those in the Senate. He’ll go up against Assemblyman Dick Dickerson, R-Redding, in the March primaries next year. This opens the door for Chico City Councilmember Rick Keene, who’s long harbored political ambition. A few weeks ago I suggested in this column that Keene could be looking to run against Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan next year. Keene strongly denied my suggestion. The same day that column came out, Keene spotted me walking along Third Street on my way to lunch. The councilmember parked his car, got out and followed me all the way to my destination, pointing out the supervisor’s job is a “dead end” for anyone with political aspirations.

Right now Gov. Gray Davis has on his desk a redistricting plan that would alter the legislative districts, giving Aanestad a distinct advantage in the 4th Senate District because his own Nevada County would now be included. “Both of these guys are out in two years regardless,” Keene said, referring to Aanestad and Dickerson and their term limits. “It takes two years to find your place in the Assembly, two years to make any progress and then in your last two years you’re a lame duck,” Keene said. But he’s not deterred. “Let’s just say I’m giving it strong consideration, depending on how the lines are drawn. If the governor signs [legislation approving the redistricting], I plan to give it a shot.” Keene was first elected to council in 1994 and since the beginning has acted as a consistent conservative ideologue whose votes and comments regularly bring criticism from this paper. His current term ends in December of next year. “Can I count on your support?” he asked. Then he laughed.

There is a huge deposit of gravel collected in the Sacramento River that is affecting the operations of irrigation pumps that siphon water to the nearby M&T and Llano Seco ranches. Downstream, the same bar of gravel is beginning to clog up the city water pollution control plant’s outfall diffusers—seven pipes that extend from the city’s sewage plant into the river to discharge treated wastewater. The gravel needs to be removed soon, before the winter rains come, say both the ranch folks and city staff. That short-term solution will cost about $400,000. The long-term solution is another story. Just a study into a more permanent fix would cost $500,000. The City Council this week agreed to pay 50 percent of the cost for a short-term solution, with the ranches splitting the remaining $200,000.

When Councilmember Coleen Jarvis asked why that M&T was paying only one-quarter of the cost of the project, ranch manager Les Heringer protested, “How many people flush their toilets?” Councilmember Keene defended M&T, saying the ranch had already spent a lot of its own money for studies and other considerations in connection with the problem. He made it sound like M&T was doing this out of the goodness of its heart. Fact is, water makes up a substantial portion of the ranch’s lifeblood. It has to remedy the situation. So does the city; at least it would seem so. However, John Merz of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust cast some doubt on that assumption. Instead of “chasing” the river with its seven diffuser pipes—two of which are currently buried—the city could elect to create a wetlands next to the river and drain the effluent from the sewer to a place where it wouldn’t have to worry about the river’s natural tendency to meander. The council voted 6-1, Jarvis dissenting, to appropriate the $200,000 for the city’s share of the short-term fix. Initially, City Manager Tom Lando suggested that M&T was looking for grant money to help soften the financial blow to both parties, the theory being that once the grant money came in the city would be reimbursed. But Heringer told the council that grant money for a short-term solution does not exist. Jarvis remained skeptical and wanted to know why other sources that depend on water at that part of the river—California Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—weren’t kicking in money.