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Johannessen: excited about streetcar, striving to be accessible

NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 29, 2014 —   EDITOR’S NOTE: During every West Sacramento election campaign, the News-Ledger invites every candidate to sit down for an in-depth talk on the issues.  This interview completes our series on November city council candidates. We’ve already brought you a look at Chris Ledesma and Jeff Lyon. Candidate Nancy Heth-Tran declined to be interviewed.

MARK JOHANNESSEN: seeking another term on West Sacramento's City Council. (News-Ledger file photo)

MARK JOHANNESSEN: seeking another term on West Sacramento’s City Council.
(News-Ledger file photo)

By Steve Marschke News-Ledger Editor Mark Johannessen is happy with the way things are going in West Sacramento, and he’s asking voters for another four years on the city council. “We’ve got a lot of unfinished business,” he told the News-Ledger this week. “We have the streetcar project we need to keep focused on, we have the transition of the Pioneer Bluffs we need to keep working on. The Washington neighborhood is going to be coming in fast, particularly with the streetcar coming in. . . and we’re going to have to continue to work with the port.” On the topic of the Port of West Sacramento, he added, it has been a good move leasing the whole troubled operation to SSA Marine: “We were bleeding before they came in, and now we’re in the black.” Johannessen, a family law lawyer, settled in West Sacramento in 2000 after what he calls a “nomadic” international career. He grew up in San Pedro and Redding, earning a college degree from Chico State and an MBA in taxation at Golden Gate University. He then worked for Price Waterhouse in accounting and went to law school. Price Waterhouse sent him from Newport Beach to Amsterdam. Then Johannessen sought out something even more foreign than Amsterdam: “I sent a resume to every law firm in Japan,” he recalls. “I got a job with a Japanese law firm and moved to Tokyo. . . Amsterdam is foreign, but it’s really kind of European. Japan is really foreign – you get off the plane and can’t read a thing.” But he discovered that “after six years or so out of the country, you kind of lose your base.” So he moved back to Sacramento and opened a general law practice – “whatever came through the door.” He transitioned into family law in 1993. Shopping for a new home in the region, he found West Sacramento in 2000. Johannessen now lives in the Gateway subdivision in Southport. “My wife is a forensic pathologist and my daughter is a UC San Diego student,” he said. “I wasn’t originally planning on running for anything at that point,” Johannessen remarked. “After a couple of years, I became involved with the Chamber of Commerce as a board member and also helped start the Neighbors Fair, a cultural fair that we did for eight or so years, and helped start the West Sacramento Community Theater, and just generally doing community benefit work in West Sacramento.” “Then I decided that if you want a seat at the decision-making table, you’ve got to run.” Johannessen, age 58,  lost his first bid for city council, in 2004, but won in 2006 and was re-elected four years later. Among the things he’s excited about is the Sacramento-West Sacramento streetcar project, which is slated to start in the next few years with a spur across the Tower Bridge to West Capitol Avenue. “I think the streetcar is going to be huge,” he commented. “One of the things I would like to see is wireless streetcar technology. We’re going to have a fuel cell public fueling station on South River Road. If we could get hydrogen-powered fuel cell streetcars that don’t need overhead wires, we could potentially get them as far as this Nugget shopping center,” Johannessen commented, gesturing around the parking lot near the site of this Southport interview. “Once you have that, you have a basic park-and-ride situation. If you want to go to (the new Sacramento arena), or you want to go to midtown, or you want to get to the airport when they have light rail out there, you come to this parking lot and park here.” Johannessen is also enthusiastic about the “Code for America” project coming to West Sacramento and the region, with the goal of providing programmers to help create new city government efficiencies through data and software. The councilman is himself handy with digital media. One example of a project that Code for America could tackle: “When you ship with UPS, you go on the UPS website and it shows exactly where the package is, and when it checked in and when it checked out. What if you did something like that with building permits, so you know exactly where that document is and have links to the appropriate documents?” Johannessen said he is supportive of the city’s major development plans so far – such as the master plans for Southport, the Bridge District and the Washington neighborhood. He does have some quibbles, but is hopeful that any planning glitches get fixed as time goes by. For example, Southport has been designed as a community of several distinct “villages”: “One of the things about the village concept is you have to make sure you put the shopping centers in the village centers, and that hasn’t happened.” But it probably will for future villages, he said. And Johannessen has been leading a “stakeholders” group tackling the issue of the homeless population in West Sacramento (see the related article in today’s News-Ledger). The group has come up with a strategic plan. “It’s pretty modest,” said Johannessen. “It’s not about ending homelessness, it’s about reducing the impact of the homeless on neighbors and helping some folks that are homeless. . . We’re doing a 120-day trial period to locate housing for 71 (homeless) folks in West Sacramento. We’re looking at different spots to do this with supportive services and. . . get them straightened out and then provide more permanent housing for them. It’s only 120 days, it’s a pilot program.” The housing project won’t make the city a “magnet” for the homeless, he believes. “The list is already closed for housing,” said Johannessen. “Anybody who comes into West Sacramento is pretty much subject to zero tolerance – move on. We don’t want to be a magnet.” In this council race, Johannessen faces fellow incumbent Chris Ledesma and challenger Jeff Lyon. Voters are asked to pick two on Tuesday. Johannessen has endorsed Mayor Cabaldon and said that he supports Ledesma, although the two are competitors in the race and he has given no endorsement. Johannessen believes he knows what it takes to serve on the council. “You’ve got to be engaged in the community,” he said. “People view you as the valve between them and the city. You have to be accessible and you have to answer your calls.”   Do you like what you see here?   You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledger newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.   You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605). Copyright News-Ledger 2014

Want to help West Sac? Join one of city’s boards or commissions


By the City of West Sacramento

Applications are now being accepted for service on various City of West Sacramento commissions.  These commissions work directly with City staff in developing goals and advising the City Council on many issues.
•    Agriculture & Natural Resources Commission:  Members of this commission provide recommendations in the areas of tree and habitat conservation, open space, and energy policies.
•    Arts, Culture & Historic Preservation Commission:  This commission evaluates and identifies needs in the area of cultural enrichment, the designation and inventory of historic resources, and placement and use of art throughout the City.
•    Board of Appeals:  These members review the workings and finances of the Fire Department hazardous materials program as well as provide interpretation pertaining to uniform codes and City ordinances.  Membership preference is granted to those with backgrounds in architecture, civil engineering, building trades, or fire protection.
•    Commission on Aging:  These individuals examine and evaluate programs and services targeted to the elderly and identify specific areas of need.
•    Disaster Council:  The Disaster Council meets at least once each year to review the emergency preparedness status of the City and reports their findings to the City Council.
•    Economic Development Advisory Commission:  Commission members review and comment on economic studies, marketing strategies, business retention and recruitment, and work with the Chamber of Commerce on programs of mutual interest.
•    Housing Advisory Commission: Members of this commission review and make recommendations regarding housing policies, affordable housing, and identify sources of housing funds.
•    Library Advisory Board:  The Board acts in an advisory capacity to the Board of Supervisors and the County Librarian and includes the review of library operations and services, budget policies, and programs and priorities for the Yolo County Library. The Board is comprised of a representative from each Yolo County district, as well as one member from the Board of Supervisors.
•    Parks & Community Services Commission:  These individuals act in an advisory capacity to the Council in matters affecting the well-being, enhancement, and enrichment of the citizens and in matters pertaining to use, maintenance, improvement and development of City parks.
•    Planning Commission:  This commission is a decision making body as designated by state law.  Members are heavily involved in planning and zoning law, and land use policy.
Applications are due by November 28, 2014.  Applications and more detailed information about each commission are on the City’s website (www.cityofwestsacramento.org) or by contacting Kryss Rankin, City Clerk at 617-4500.

Copyright News-Ledger 2014

Job Fair in West Sac on Wednesday

Visit a job fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 29 at the city hall galleria, 1110 West Capitol Avenue. Employers will be present. If possible, bring copies of your resume.  Free resume review, and talk to job counselors.

Copyright News-Ledger 2014

Ledesma sees city on ‘tremendous run’

NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 22, 2014 —

  EDITOR’S NOTE: The News-Ledger’s interviews with those running for local office continue. Here is the result or our conversation with City Council member Chris Ledesma. It was first published in our Oct. 22 print edition.

CHRIS LEDESMA (News-Ledger photo)

(News-Ledger photo)

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

“To be a good, effective council member, it’s work,” reports Chris Ledesma, who has been on West Sacramento’s city council for one four-year term. He’d like some more of that work.

What has Ledesma learned from that first stint on the council?

“The first two years, I was a sponge,” he answered. “I tried to be effective on things I knew most. The last year and a half or two years, I kind of found my footing and figured out how things work and how to affect small changes and how to work on things in the neighborhoods.”

“I have learned that the city is on a tremendous run,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of success.”

Ledesma joined the council in 2010 after the worst recession the city government had ever experienced.

“When I came into office in 2010,” he commented, “the budget was the main focus. We were still coming out of the recession. The prior council did a remarkable job of trying to keep services intact, trying to keep fiscally sound until whatever the ‘new normal’ was established itself. We were able to continue doing that. The budget’s in balance.”

“We are on a run because we were able to diversify,” he added, “and we have been able to grow in the Bridge District, we have been able to establish the Washington neighborhood as an emerging neighborhood with really huge growth potential. Southport has been really stable. Our retail segment at Riverpoint shopping area has been a really great provider of sales tax (for the city), with Ikea and the other stores.”

But you still have to “mind the store” of city government, he said, and there’s still not a lot of daylight between a break-even city budget and a deficit. For instance, there are personnel costs:

“You still have health care, for current and retired (employees). You have PERS (public employee retirement systems) obligations.”

But on the more exciting side of the ledger, said Ledesma, you have some ambitious development and some good news at the Port of West Sacramento – which had been hemorrhaging city money.

The northern Washington neighborhood, he said, “will be the next cool neighborhood, along with the Bridge District.” And:

“We’ve made huge inroads at the port, being able to lease the operations out and being able to get out of the port business, which we weren’t really good at.”

Now a private company pays the city a flat rate to lease the port, and that company carries the responsibility of finding cargo.

Sometimes on a city council, you have one person who promotes grand urban visions and another who concentrates on fixing the potholes reported by his constituents. Which kind is Ledesma?

“That’s a good question,” he answered. “I think I’m somewhere in between. I see myself as a pragmatic, operational, quasi-visionary person but I like to get my hands dirty a little bit. I like to talk to staff about the direction we’re going in on budget issues, . . . on hotel deals and Washington projects.”

As an example of a neighborhood issue:

“I was really trying to push to get sidewalks and improvements in front of Our Lady of Grace School and across the Clarksburg Branch Trail at Linden,” said Ledesma. “I said to staff, we need to include this in our grant proposals for some of the Clarksburg Branch Trail, because it’s really very dangerous for kids.”

Some kids are riding to school along the busy Linden Road corridor, he said, and others were crossing Linden to get to school on the trail. All those kids mixing with cars wasn’t safe, he said.

Ledesma said he also played a role when the state abolished local “redevelopment agencies,” taking away a valued local tool used for financing development. The city has found a pretty good “workaround” for that problem, he said, as evidenced by the new infrastructure financing mechanism created for the grand plans of the Bridge District along the city waterfront.

Ledesma chaired the city task force that helped create the new local mechanism and win approval of it from the legislature and governor.

“We were basically able to say that in this area, it’s going to work somewhat like redevelopment, except that it’s only going to affect the portion (of tax revenues) that’s the city’s,” he said. “We can create a fund and basically reinvest in ourselves.”

Ledesma said he believes is he is part of an effective and collegial West Sacramento City Council.  He agrees with the council’s current choice of top priorities, which starts with flood control and goes from there:

“We have a streetcar which is a huge priority, and bridges are a high priority.”

Has he any regrets from his first term?

“What could be done better?” responded Ledesma. “The hotel project (on the riverfront) – we still haven’t made that happen.”

But that project still isn’t dead yet, he added. Hotel operator Marriott would still like to take on that project if the right developer and the right time ever come together.

What about the criticism from city council challenger Jeff Lyon that the current council is too soft on crime?

“Look, there are problems in every city,” answered Ledesma. “No city has figured out homelessness, there are crimes in every city. . . I believe we are doing well, but I do know the work that has to be done. I don’t believe that tearing down the city is the leadership the city wants.”

The new police chief, Tom McDonald, is “terrific,” he said. The department has added more community policing, as well as programs to put officers and volunteers on bike patrols.

“I’ve seen them at work,” Ledesma said of the bike officers. “It totally disarms people because (the officers’) feet are on the ground, and they’re not hidden behind cars.”

Ledesma grew up in South Sacramento (“a tough part of town”) and Greenhaven, and earned a degree in information and communication studies from Chico State.

Ledesma, 47, officially became a resident of West Sacramento in 1996 when he married Maria Simas (current president of the West Sacramento Foundation). After living in the Park Boulevard area, they moved to their current home along east Linden Road. The couple has two kids at Our Lady of Grace private school.

What’s Ledesma’s “day job”?

“I work as a senior manager at Wells Fargo,” he reports. “I help oversee our small business lending division. I oversee a bunch of groups including technology, marketing and government relations.”

Before joining the council, Ledesma spent nine years on the city planning commission.

He and fellow council member Mark Johannessen are both running to keep their seats during next month’s election. Joining them in the race is challenger Jeff Lyon.

For more information on Ledesma, visit www.chrisledesma.com.

  Do you like what you see here?

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Copyright News-Ledger 2014