Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

Calaveras County District 2 Board of Supervisors candidates Bryce Randall and Chris Wright drew sharp contrasts with one another in a forum Wednesday night at the Mokelumne Hill Town Hall.

Randall, a former computer chip developer turned store owner from West Point, proved more apt to go on the offensive against Wright, the former director of the nonprofit Foothill Conservancy.

When asked about their business experience by moderator Jeff Davidson, president of the sponsoring Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce, Wright said he did everything a business owner must do while heading Foothill Conservancy. He said payroll, hiring, firing, budgeting, contracts and even limited merchandising were all part of the job description.

"Chris is trying to pull out a lot of mileage from the Foothill Conservancy and the CHIPS (Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions) program," Randall said.

He said another CHIPS board member told him Wright, though a member, attended just five meetings and was a "nonparticipant."

"So let's tell the truth," Randall said.

He added that Amador County supervisors often found themselves at odds with Wright's environmentalist organization and "have had to battle the Foothill Conservancy to get anything done."

In his closing remarks, Randall said, "Chris works for the Foothill Conservancy. He cannot divorce himself from that agenda. I'm different that way."

Wright defended himself against that remark.

"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, the retiring two-term District 2 supervisor from Glencoe, has endorsed Wright to succeed him. Popular enough to garner more than 70 percent of the vote in winning his last term, he has also been a polarizing figure to many throughout the county.

The two prospective supervisors found some common ground, with each supportive of a retired East Bay machine shop owner's efforts to bring aircraft tool manufacturing to the county, campaigns to expand higher education offerings in the county, improving high-speed Internet connectivity, support for law enforcement and a livestock processing plant to boost the niche grass-fed beef industry.

They largely differed on matters of government influence, such as in land use planning and regulation.

Randall argued that the county should be more accommodating to developer Castle and Cooke, which is seeking approval for the 800-home Sawmill Lake development in Copperopolis.

"They have spent $6 million doing everything the county has asked them to do with their studies and everything," he said. "It's time to let this company come in ... and start creating jobs."

Wright praised Castle and Cooke's work at the Copperopolis Town Square but cautioned, "what we don't need to do is rush head-long into a project like Sawmill that may get held up in litigation," adding that the issues with the planned subdivision appear to be resolvable.

Randall opposes a lodging tax increase that may go to the county's voters next year.

"It's another tax," he said. "If we're going to tax the hotels and stuff, let's give the money (back) to them."

Wright said the proposal is a "no-brainer."

"There's been no record of it deterring more tourists coming to your county," he said. "It makes a lot of sense to increase it."

Cash-strapped programs such as libraries, the Calaveras Humane Society and parks and recreation could benefit from the increased revenue, Wright said.

Wright hopes to see "a very small stretch" of the Mokelumne River designated "Wild and Scenic" under federal law.

"It's well dammed right now. Let's leave just a few stretches," he said, adding that the designation could have economic benefits such as those anticipated by a three-year trial run of commercial rafting on the Electra-Middle Bar Run set to begin next summer.

Randall said such a designation would limit uses of the river and endanger water rights.

"Why shut out everything on the river?" he said. "If you want economic development, you need water. It's just more government control and we don't need that."

Wright said the first step to preserving water rights is to "stop infighting" among the county's various water agencies.

"Do you think the state is going to listen to us if we don't have the same message?" he said, adding a "united front against interests in Sacramento, L.A. and beyond, really" is necessary.

Wright favored the recently approved noise ordinance while Randall again described it as unneeded regulation.

"There's more than 12,000 people that live in the county now," Wright said. "It makes a lot of sense to me. It's part of the rational planning process."

While Wright dismissed a question about United Nations Agenda 21, a sustainable growth planning initiative, as a "non-issue," Randall insisted that "if constituents want to talk about 21, let's talk about 21."

"It's a socialist movement started in the UN. A lot of the language used in that is found in our county," Randall said. "I'm not saying there's UN people running around here in our county ... but if that thought is in our county, we need to stop it."