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District 2 hopefuls go head-to-head

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Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 9:07 am | Updated: 8:40 am, Fri Oct 5, 2012.

District 2 supervisor candidates Chris Wright and Bryce Randall pitched voters on their business bonafides last week, sparring at an economic development-heavy Q-and-A hosted by the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce.

The packed house at Mokelumne Hill’s Town Hall saw the pair debating sharply different means to roughly similar ends Wednesday, agreeing on the vast majority of development goals – including a need to attract proposed aircraft fabrication and livestock processing plants – only to depart widely on how those aims should be achieved.

Those differences were never more apparent than when Chamber President Jeff Davidson reached for audience questions on a proposed 4 percent bump in the transient occupancy tax, a measure that could make a ballot appearance as early as next year. The TOT is collected from lodging businesses on each room rented.

Wright, a former community planner and now executive director at the Foothill Conservancy, offered his wholehearted support for the TOT measure, one he said would give a revenue boost to budget-strained programs like the Calaveras County Library and the Humane Society.

“There’s been no record of (TOT increases) deterring tourists coming into your county,” Wright said, “It’s a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned, and I hope everybody supports it.”

Randall, a former computer software engineer and owner of the West Point Trading Post, urged a different approach, explaining that equal revenue gains could be had through cutting taxes and streamlining the county’s permitting process.

“It’s another tax,” he said. “If we’re going to tax the hotels and stuff, let’s give the money back to them.”

Both candidates found they shared support for broadening access to higher education and improving high-speed internet availability, though that agreement broke down on a variety of land use and conservation topics, areas in which the two offered sometimes bitterly different views.

“The first thing we have to do is stop the infighting,” Wright said when asked about area watershed development. “We have to get all our different water agencies on-board with the Board of Supervisors. We’re a small county of 47,000 people, roughly, do you think the state of California is going to listen to us if we don’t have the same message? No way.”

“I would put it a little bit different,” Randall replied. “I would say let’s get the Board of Supervisors on board with all the water districts rather than trying to get all the water districts on board with the Board of Supervisors.”

“It’s interesting that Chris is for flowing streams when the Foothill Conservancy supports the Wild and Scenic Mokelumne,” he added. “The Foothill Conservancy’s website brags that they pulled out three dams on the Mokelumne, so I don’t know how you want to have water rights when you won’t let us use the water.”

Wright, who earlier advocated setting aside parts of the Mokelumne River under a Wild and Scenic designation meant to encourage commercial rafting, shrugged off the jab in his closing remarks.

“I am an individual person. I will listen to everyone in this room. There is nobody, not the Foothill Conservancy, not the Republican Party, Bryce, that I will listen to more than my community,” Wright said. “Just as Steve Wilensky has done, I will work to make this place better for all of us.”

Wilensky, who garnered 70 percent of the District 2 vote in 2008, may provide a significant bump to Wright, though not among the more conservative voting bloc addressed by Randall during a late audience question aimed at Agenda 21, a United Nation’s sustainable development initiative adopted in 1992.

“Agenda 21 is not something Chris likes to spend a lot of time talking about,” Randall said, pointing out that some in the district fear the plan threatens their property rights. “It’s a socialist movement started in the U.N. and a lot of the language used in (the resolution) is found in our county,” he said, adding, “I’m not saying there’s U.N. people running around here in our county, but if that thought is even in our county, we need to stop it.”

Wright later circled back on that remark, calling the topic a “non-issue” in the run up to his closing statement.

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