Every year during West Sacramento's local election season, the News-Ledger invites each candidate for local office to a sit-down interview for publication in our pages. This year was no exception. Over the past two months, the News-Ledger has published an interview with each of the candidates running for mayor, city council or school board. The only exception was Walt R. Bowman, a candidate for a trustee's seat on the Washington Unified School Board, who declined an interview.
If you're a News-Ledger subscriber, you've probably already seen these interviews. But if you are not, or you missed one, or you just want to reacquaint yourself with the candidates, scroll down for a look at the three people running for two seats on the West Sacramento City Council on Nov. 2, 2010.
And if you're not a subscriber, we invite you to consider a subscription to support local West Sacramento journalism. Just call 371-8030; the cost is just $20 per year locally.
ED HENSLEY, challenger for city council
From the News-Ledger, Sept. 29, 2010 (copyright News-Ledger 2010)
By Steve Marschke News-Ledger Editor
As a candidate for the West Sacramento City Council, Ed Hensley is a newcomer. But he and his family name are well-known to a lot of old-time West Sacramentans.
The family is associated with law enforcement: Ed Hensley retired as a local police sergeant, one of his brothers retired as a W.S.P.D. lieutenant, and another as a captain in the C.H.P. Ed’s son is now a West Sacramento police detective.
Then there are Ed’s parents, the late Roland and Jewell Hensley. They were well-known through a couple of local businesses, and Roland at one time served on the city council here – a feat Ed hopes to replicate.
“I talked to him a lot and helped him with some of the information,” says Ed of his father’s council term. “I think I got an insight into what a councilmember does.”
But mostly, it’s Hensley’s time in the community (he’s been in town since 1957) and his experience as a police officer that qualify him to help lead the city, he said.
“In my police work, I’ve worked all over the city,” Hensley told the News-Ledger. “I’ve attended numerous community meetings, and I’ve had to solve problems all over the community, so I have a good understanding of the city.”
Says an Ed Hensley campaign brochure: “I’m your neighbor next door, please vote for me.”
Hensley, 58, is married and lives in Southport. He’s a member of the local horse riding group, the West Sacramento Trail Riders Association. Although he says he has some concerns about a number of city issues, Hensley is not running a campaign of “revolution” against the current city council.
“I think they’re governing effectively,” he said of the council and mayor. “I’m not running against anybody or anything. There’s an opening on the council, and I think with my experience and qualifications, I’d be effective. . . We just need to let the people decide which two of the three of us they want on the council.”
Opponents on the fall ballot are incumbent Mark Johannessen and challenger Christopher Ledesma; another incumbent, Wes Beers, will step down from his seat to create a second contested seat.
Hensley told the News-Ledger he has concerns on a lot of local issues, but believes the city is basically on a positive track – and the city council is handling the current budget crunch pretty well.
“I think they’re doing a lot of good things,” he commented. “I like the Bridge District project. I’m a little concerned about the densities in Southport if we continue to build out there without solving the traffic problem.”
Hensley said that traffic problem seems to be on a lot of his neighbors’ minds.
“I have heard a lot of people complaining about the train blocking Jefferson, especially during commute time. I’d like to talk to them about getting them to do that not at commute times, or re-routing it. Also, we increased the (planned) densities in Southport, and I’m wondering if that’s the best way to go. I’d like to talk to some people and see if that’s really the best way to go. . . If we do get that new bridge across Broadway or Sutterville, that may help a little bit.”
What about the argument that more homes are needed in Southport in order to help share the cost of improving flood protection for the people already living here?
“I don’t know if it’s necessary to have more high density to pay for it,” he answered. But the city is “on the right track” in upgrading its flood protection.
“They’ve raised the funds and got matching federal funds (for levee improvements). It looks like a good plan, and I’d like to continue it.”
He said it is important that FEMA, the federal agency, not classify the city as too flood-prone when it completes its current reevaluation of flood dangers.
“If we wind up being considered a flood plain, that would stop all building,” said Hensley.
The News-Ledger asked him about a few other local issues facing West Sacramento, including the city’s plans to help build a new multi-story riverfront hotel north of the Tower Bridge. The project would use publicly-owned land, locally-issued bonds and private investors and developers.
“I really feel it’s on the right track, in that we need it,” said Hensley of the hotel. “It’s an interesting way to go about it, but we need an anchor point there, and having a nice hotel is a good idea. The only concern I would have is would we risk losing our bond rating if it falls through.”
And West Sacramento has high hopes for a local streetcar system, beginning with a connection from the civic center area through the riverfront to downtown Sacramento. The city tried, and failed, to get a $25 million federal grant this year to start construction.
“I think the trolley, at least in theory, sounds good,” Hensley commented. “My concern is we seem to be counting on it happening by getting the federal funds for it. My concern is we don’t have a backup plan.”
Hensley is a former police officer and a resident of the southern city. What does he think of the city’s gang injunction, which puts curfews and other restrictions on suspected gang members in part of the city’s north?
“The way it’s written, I think it was effective,” Hensley said. “My real question now is whether we should take a look at it and see if it’s still needed. There are so many volatile flags on both sides, as to whether it’s racist or not, and I think (District Attorney Jeff Reisig) was careful to make sure it’s not.”
How bad does he see the city’s gang problem?
“I think the people who live in the community tend to understate it, because there were a lot of issues.”
Putting a gang injunction onto a community creates an “image” problem for them, he said.
“I can understand that, but at the same time, I look at some of the crimes that occurred, like the kids standing on the railroad tracks and beating up a train conductor. Things have gotten better, so my question is whether we need to continue (the injunction). I think the most important thing to do is get involved so kids don’t get into gangs. I’d like to see more things like the Collings Teen Center.”
“Police work, by nature, is reactive,” added Hensley. “I think we need to be proactive.”
Hensley and the other mayoral and council candidates plan to be at a city council candidates’ forum at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at 1275 Starboard Drive. A public forum for school board candidates is scheduled for the same location, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
CHRIS LEDESMA, challenger for West Sacramento City Council
From the News-Ledger, Oct. 20, 2010
By Steve Marschke News-Ledger Editor
City Council candidate Chris Ledesma has worked in banking since 1995, with ties to both small businesses and to economic development in West Sacramento.
“One of the things I’ll do on the council is bring some focus and support to partners like our chamber and our economic development team,” he told the News-Ledger. “That’s how we can help businesses that are doing well, and get them the resources they need to expand.”
Ledesma, 43, is a married resident of Southport, with two school-age daughters. He grew up in Sacramento, attended Christian Brothers High School and then Chico State, and has lived in West Sacramento for about 15 years. After working for a small business right out of college, he went to work for the Money Store when that lender occupied the “ziggurat” building on West Sac’s waterfront.
In 2001, city councilman Oscar Villegas appointed Villegas to the city planning commission – a place, he said, that’s been an excellent training ground for a possible future city council member.
“It’s given me a great experience in knowing our plans, knowing the procedure these (development) projects go through and really knowing what our city envisions as it grows. It’s been exciting watching West Capitol Avenue be reclaimed a bit. My first meeting (on the commission) was on the Southport Town Center design – what it was going to look like. Now, to go through there on a Nugget wine tasting event night is really fun.”
“Being on the planning commission, you have to make tough decisions, do your homework and be engaged,” said Ledesma.
He’s seeking a seat on the West Sacramento city council this year, after unsuccessfully running in 2006.
What does he think of the current council?
“I think it’s actually pretty functional,” said Ledesma. “I can’t remember in the last year that there’s been any real infighting – nothing like what you’d see on the other side of the river.”
Does he think the city as a whole is in good condition?
“I think it’s in good shape, and we’re definitely headed in the right direction,” he answered. “We’ve laid the groundwork for opportunities going forward. The council did the right thing in making budget cuts. They’ve lost some good people (due to staff reduction) but the budget is balanced.”
“Revenues are absolutely the key to avoid future cutbacks in services,” he continued. “(Revenue) comes from working with existing businesses and bringing in new ones.”
Does he agree with current plans for the city to help build a hotel on the local riverfront?
“The best part of the deal is the city has no money in it,” he said. “I think the city needs to keep it that way. I’m not privy to the details, but I’m in lending, and hotels are a tricky business. If you have the right operator and right deal, it should be a good project.”
(Editor’s note: the city is negotiating with Marriot to operate the publicly-owned hotel.)
What about the plan to build a streetcar line connecting West Sacramento to Sacramento?
“It has to be pursued,” Ledesma answered. “The potential it brings to lure jobs here is huge. The state and other employers are looking for transit-oriented areas where people can move around efficiently. It’s cheaper than light rail.”
Is the city doing a good job upgrading its levees for flood protection?
“We’re going in the right direction,” he commented. “When standards were changed, the city addressed it immediately – that was the best thing to do. We know (the levees) are not where they need to be, but we’ve taken the right steps to get there. We are dependent on future development (to help pay for improvements).”
Is the city’s anti-gang injunction in the north area a good idea?
“Crime is down, so you can say that’s a good thing,” he answered. “The injunction is a tool the D.A. has handed down and asked the police department to enforce. It’s all about how the police force enforces it and uses it. The fear is about racial profiling, and I haven’t seen that.”
Ledesma said that if he is elected, one thing he will work on his a better partnership between city government and the school district.
“”The schools aren’t where they need to be,” he said. “We can do more things like the (city) Recreation Center, which gets kids excited to be at the high school campus. We can use cheerleading and the ‘bully pulpit.’”
Ledesma’s fellow council candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot include are Mark Johannessen and fellow challenger Ed Hensley. Two seats are available on the ballot.
MARK JOHANNESSEN, incumbent member of the City Council
From the News-Ledger, Oct. 13, 2010
By Steve Marschke News-Ledger Editor
West Sacramento is getting a reputation as “the Sacramento that works,” said Mark Johannessen, who is campaigning for another term on the local city council.
“I’m running again because a lot of good things have been happening in West Sacramento,” he told the News-Ledger. “We’ve been getting huge press on new development in the city, and our reputation has taken a drastic change for the better. We’ve got low crime.”
The state of the city is “really good,” he added.
“We’ve got a $110 million budget and a $40 million general fund, and about 16 percent in reserves. We’ve got a rainy day fund. This state of the economy could go on for 20 years, and as long as we don’t take any more hits from the state government, we’re going to come out of this thing flying.”
Johannessen is finishing his first term on the council, after being elected in 2006. Born in Southern California (to a father who was later a state senator), he attended Chico State and has an MBA and law degree. The 54-year old is married with a college-age daughter. He practices family law for a living.
His “collaborative” approach to family law, said Johannessen, has helped make him an effective councilman.
“Basically, there’s a trend in family law now to move cases out of court and into collaborative negotiations,” Johannessen explained. “That has a direct implication on stuff I do on the council. In a group of arguing people, yelling people, it’s important to find out what people are saying – my job is to create an environment where collaboration can occur.”
“The biggest example of that,” he added, “was with the Bridge District. I worked with the development community and with staff to set up a technical advisory committee to work on the problems as they came up. For instance, the fire department wants wide streets for their trucks, but people want narrow protected streets to walk on. We came up with narrow streets with park spaces that can serve as turnarounds for fire fighting vehicles – fire trucks can go over the landscaping, which can be replaced.”
The West Sacramento City Council has done a serious round of belt-tightening in this recession.
“We’ve had some layoffs,” Johannessen acknowledged. “Employees and staff have shared the pain pretty equally. We didn’t have any labor strikes. The employees’ relationship with the city is as a team. We’ve lost some major department heads (encouraged to take early retirement). We’ve had to reduce counter hours for building permits, and there are some minor inconveniences to people. But I think (city manager) Toby Ross has done an outstanding job.”
The current city council is “great,” said Johannessen. “One of the problems a lot of other cities are seeing is dysfunctional councils, or bickering or gamesmanship. We all have our disagreements, but we have a cohesive council. Discussions are open, and we can differ.”
Johannessen wants the city to keep working to attract upper-end employers.
“Minimum wage jobs are okay, but what I’m seeing is that when higher-paying jobs come in, white collar jobs come in. . . they’ll spend money here.”
That helps sales tax revenues, which helps city services.
Is the current city government taking any wrong turns?
“No,” said Johannessen. “We still have issues in Bryte and Broderick, and we’re paying attention to traffic – we have issues we have to keep an eye on. Everything we’re doing is on the right track.”
How’s West Sacramento handling its flood control challenge?
“Money from the state and federal government is not all there yet (for levee upgrades), so we’re going ahead with the work and expecting to be reimbursed later, and we will be reimbursed.”
The city has worked with FEMA, he said, to slow down the re-categorization of the city’s levees and give more time for improvements. Had FEMA downgraded West Sacramento’s levees, he said, construction could have halted and new fees would never come in to pay for the fixed levees.
“This is really the only way to do it – if we stop building, we don’t have the fees,” said Johannessen.
What does he think of the planned downtown streetcar system?
“It’s absolutely a good idea,” he answered. “I’ve been working with the development community because the development community is going to foot the bill for a lot of it.”
Johannessen added that he is pushing for the city to look at alternatives to the planned power-line streetcar system:
“I’d like to see self-propelled streetcars put on those rails – basic streetcars that are battery powered or operate off some sort of biodiesel, propane gas, or, most interestingly, fuel cells. It drastically reduces the construction cost because you don’t need power lines.”
What about the city’s plan to help get a large riverfront hotel built?
“It would bring a lot of good jobs and it’s at a prime location,” he said. “It would be a real boon to West Sacramento, with a first-class restaurant and additional conference facilities. Whether it’s doable remains to be seen. There are benchmarks (before the city commits to the project). We have the opportunity to get out with the least risk to the city.”
And the north-area gang injunction?
“I think it’s a fact of life,” said Johannessen. “It’s about looking at why we needed the injunction, and addressing the implications it’s having on our residents. “The two things that led to a gang injunction are a breakdown in communications between residents and the police, and a lack of opportunities for kids. I’ve been working on those two things.”
More parks will help, he said. And Police Chief Dan Drummond and his staff have been doing a good job with community outreach, particularly in the north-city areas covered by the injunction.
Johannessen’s is one of two seats up for election on Nov. 2. The other will be vacated by retiring city councilman Wes Beers. Challengers for the two available seats are Chris Ledesma and Ed Hensley.