Two pols and a contrarian
Mark Jensen makes the District 4 supervisor race interesting with his blunt style
For a would-be politician, Mark Jensen is like the guy at the bar who bangs his glass down every time he gives an opinion. Smoothness isn’t his style. Neither, sometimes, is relevance.
Which may explain why, in his opening statement at the District 4 supervisor forum held Thursday (May 22) in the Chico City Council chambers, he surprised everyone by saying he wanted a total overhaul of the political system from top to bottom, making all terms for six years and six years only, including the presidency.
“Game over!” he then said. You could almost hear the glass hit the wood. It was a punctuating phrase he was to repeat often as the forum progressed, along with “Next!” That’s what he said when it was someone else’s turn to answer the question.
His opponents, Steve Lambert and John Byrne, looked at him in wonderment. The presidency?
Throughout the forum, Lambert—a former mayor of Paradise who owns a ranch in the district and a feed store in Oroville, and Byrne—a real-estate investor who like Jensen lives in Durham—tried hard to to appear thoughtful and concerned and eager to please. In their opening comments they talked rhetorically about wanting to make a beautiful county even better for the sake of their children.
In contrast Jensen, who said he’s paid by the state to care for his two autistic children, gave a series of terse responses that were surprising for their brusque bluntness.
District 4 covers the southwestern part of Butte County, including Durham, Biggs, Gridley and Richvale. The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Chico Enterprise-Record, saw the candidates answering questions from the audience and a panel of two journalists, veteran E-R reporter Roger Aylworth and CN&R editor Evan Tuchinsky.
Asked whether the county’s new general plan should contain a water element, Byrne said yes, it should, so the county can control its groundwater. Lambert, who’s on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the plan, said he wasn’t convinced one was needed—though he was willing to do more research on the issue.
And Jensen? “Tell Southern California the water’s gonna cost ’em a trillion dollars an acre-foot and they should stick a straw in the ocean and start desalinizing.”
On whether a special tax should be passed to fund the libraries, both Lambert and Byrne talked at length of the importance of keeping the libraries open as much as possible, especially so people who can’t afford computers can have Internet access, but neither was willing to support a tax.
Jensen’s response: “I will be at the library to talk with people—so much for shutting down the library.” When moderator Carol Burr reminded him that the question was about levying a tax, he stated: “If people vote for it, I’ll have to eat it, but I don’t agree with it.”
And so it went, with Jensen offering sometimes discordant but always interesting and surprising answers to the questions. Here’s how the candidates came down on the issues:
Cutting the county budget: Byrne and Lambert both pointed out that they didn’t have access to the full budget, so it was hard to say where cuts should be made. “Public safety is paramount,” Byrne said, adding he’d look at doubling up workers at the lower levels. Lambert, noting Paradise had to deal with similar issues when he was mayor, also emphasized the importance of public safety and said he’d look at grants and other sources of revenue. Jensen was as terse as usual: “Public safety is the No. 1 priority. It should be funded to the max. Otherwise cut across the board. Next!”
Asked if they thought the county was running “lean and mean,” Lambert said the current supervisors were doing a good job, and Byrne agreed. Jensen’s response: “I can’t fix it if you don’t send me, until I know what’s broken.”
Mechoopda casino: The candidates were asked whether they thought it was “prudent” for the county to sue to stop construction of a casino at the intersection of Highways 99 and 149. None of the three seemed to fully understand the situation, which is that the county objects to the proposed location, not the casino itself.
Byrne said that “in general” he supported any business that was in compliance with state, federal and local regulations, which skirted the question. And Lambert replied that he “had a problem with reservation-type shopping,” which wasn’t the case here. He did recognize, however, that the county objected to the casino’s proposed location, and in that respect he thought the lawsuit was prudent. Jensen thought, incorrectly, that the lawsuit was about the tribe’s historic territory.
Growth: Gridley and Biggs are growing, and there have been signs of tension over an “area of concern” between them. The candidates were asked how they would mitigate this tension and avoid open conflict between the cities.
Lambert said the issue had come up during general-plan discussion and he thought the cities “were going to work it out.” He noted that, with the housing slowdown, the pressure had lessened, giving both cities time to work on planning for the area. Byrne agreed with him. Jensen said, “The best thing government can do is stay the hell out of their way. They’ll work it out.”
Important issues: The candidates were asked which issues they’d be willing to fight for. Byrne said District 4 would be his priority, “but every issue is different.” Lambert noted that the district has gotten short shrift when it comes to some services—he mentioned “low-value housing” and a lack of bus service—and said he would go “toe-to-toe on some of these issues.” Otherwise, he added, “I’m one who works well with others.”
Jensen, who was asked how he’d get along with the other supervisors given his strong opinions, replied, “One thing is for sure, they can vote me down. There’s five people [on the board], and I just want to be one of the five … they can stare me down and vote me down 4-1—game over!”
M&T mine: Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors finally voted down a decade-long effort to locate a large gravel mine on the M&T Ranch west of Chico. The candidates were asked how they would have voted.
Lambert said he personally was in favor of the mine but would have voted against it because district residents opposed it. Byrne said he too would have voted no, for much the same reason. “It cracks me up that it took 10 years,” Jensen said, adding that he’d asked around Durham and people opposed it, so he would have voted no as well.
In his final statement, Lambert said he was in favor of “smart growth,” protecting the county’s water, and keeping taxes down to foster business. That’s the way to increase wages and, with them, property values. “We’ll raise the bar in Butte County,” he said, promising also to go to bat for ag interests.
Byrne also promised to support and attract new businesses by planning for them and not hindering them. And he would “work very hard to protect what we have.”
Jensen used his final remarks to broach some pet issues. He’d deal with crowd control on the Sacramento River by charging $25 and busing tubers to the put-in sites. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. He’d also get rid of the county’s prohibition on alcohol on Butte Creek, which he said was unenforceable and foolish. And he’d quit trying to build Highway 171, the escape route from Paradise to Butte Meadows, calling it a $13 million boondoggle.
“The road to nowhere is a dead issue. Next.”