The Kutz factor

Candidate adds uncertainty to District 3 race

THREE’S A CROWD <br>The presence of Chuck Kutz, right, in the supervisorial race makes a runoff possible. Also pictured at last week’s candidates’ forum: Steve Bertagna and Maureen Kirk.

The presence of Chuck Kutz, right, in the supervisorial race makes a runoff possible. Also pictured at last week’s candidates’ forum: Steve Bertagna and Maureen Kirk.

Photo By Robert Speer

The most interesting question that might have been asked at the District 3 candidates’ forum last week never got asked: What impact will Chuck Kutz have on the race?

Kutz (pronounced “coots") is a novice candidate running for supervisor against two familiar politicos, Steve Bertagna and Maureen Kirk, both longtime members of the Chico City Council.

If only Kirk and Bertagna were running, the race would end on Election Day, June 6, when one of them would win, but Kutz could pull enough votes from Kirk and Bertagna that neither gains a majority, forcing a November runoff. Or he could make the runoff himself, or even win.

Interviewed after the forum, Kutz said he “would love to make the runoff, but I know it’s an uphill battle.” Besides, he added, “I don’t have that kind of money.”

He was referring to Bertagna’s statement during the forum that he expected to raise $70,000 for his campaign, because “that’s what it takes these days.” The only money Kutz said he’d raised came from his family or out of his own pocket.

He said he figured he’s going to draw votes from both candidates, but probably more from Bertagna than from Kirk. A number of people who had said they’d help him financially backed out when Bertagna entered the race, he said.

Kutz, a spa contractor who also owns a retail spa business in Chico, is a self-professed conservative, “fiscal as well as social,” he said. He’s the only one of the three candidates who lives outside Chico—his house is on Doe Mill Road, between Forest Ranch and Butte Creek Canyon—and at the forum he said his “main issue” was to improve conditions, especially roads, in rural areas.

Neither Bertagna nor Kirk would predict what impact Kutz’s candidacy might have on the election. Bertagna said he was prepared to endure a runoff, while Kirk said she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Like Kutz, Bertagna labeled himself a conservative at the forum, touting his “close relationship with the majority of the Board of Supervisors.” He said he’d entered the Dist. 3 supervisor’s race when former candidate Anthony Watts dropped out because he “didn’t want [the board] to go in a liberal direction.” He also boasted that he’d been endorsed by “[Republican Assemblymen] Rick Keene and Doug LaMalfa.”

“I hate labels,” expounded Kirk, who told forum attendees that she thinks of herself as a “moderate individualist,” not a liberal. Attempting to reframe the terms, she said she was in many ways a conservative because she wants to conserve certain areas of the county by not allowing development there.

And so it went, with the candidates staking out positions on the political spectrum as well as on a wide range of issues. The forum, hosted by the Chico Chamber of Commerce, featured questions posed by a panel of journalists, including this reporter, as well as audience members. Here are some of the responses:

Supervisors’ pay hike: The candidates were asked whether they would rescind the supervisors’ controversial vote to give themselves a 56 percent pay hike and, if not, whether they would give up their day jobs to work full-time as supervisors. None would turn down the raise, and only Kirk, a dental hygienist, said she would give up her job. She noted that she’d entered the race before the hike was made, “when it was still $30,000.” Bertagna, who owns a car stereo company, said he’d work six days and nights each week doing both jobs, and Kutz said his business was at the point where he could devote “20, 30 or 40 hours” a week to being a supervisor.

Growth and development: Bertagna, who no doubt will get much of his funding from developers, said development should go only in areas planned for it—in and around cities. Kirk spoke of the need to upgrade the county’s General Plan before making development decisions. She said she didn’t want to see any “leapfrog” development. Kutz urged citizens to get involved in the process of updating the General Plan. He also said he saw future growth occurring along the Oroville-Chico corridor.

Greenline: Kirk insisted that the 24-year-old line around Chico’s west side protecting farmland from development be left alone. Development should go northward, not westward, she said. Kutz said the line should be changed only with a vote of the people. Bertagna indicated a willingness to consider developing some areas outside the line that lack strong natural boundaries or are already partially developed. He cited the Bell-Muir area in northwest Chico, which already contains a number of houses and ranchettes.

Economic development: Asked how they would help Butte County attract business to the area, the candidates had differing responses. Bertagna said he would take a “regional approach,” explaining that “a job that happens in Oroville is good for Chico.” He’d also try to “get the bureaucracy out of the way,” he added. Kutz emphasized the need for good schools, recreational opportunities and sound planning to attract companies. Kirk stressed that the biggest success stories nowadays are locally created businesses that have grown. Citing examples, she said “a lot of things are going on; people just don’t realize.”