El Dorado voters embrace slow-growth message

The two candidates who will face off in November in El Dorado County’s closely watched District 4 supervisorial race both promise to preserve the county’s rustic flavor. Otherwise, the two survivors of Tuesday’s primary election offer stark contrasts for voters in a district whose politics simmer over growth and development issues.

Howard Penn, who topped the field of eight candidates with nearly 22 percent of the vote, pledged “to preserve, promote and protect our quality of life.” And he underscored his promise to fight traffic-congesting subdivision projects with campaign billboards that screamed, “End Developer Influence.”

In the district that spans the eastern border of El Dorado Hills to the high Sierra, Penn was a leading slow-growth candidate in a region where the county general plan anticipates 21,000 new houses will be built.

Michael Ranalli, who finished second with 21.5 percent of the vote, also proclaimed he would “protect our rural lifestyle.” He argued that the county shouldn’t approve new subdivisions that exceed local water resources and traffic capacity.

But Ranalli otherwise attacked what he considered an anti-business climate in the county. He promised to cut government regulations and “defend property owner rights,” while promoting a diverse local economy, including housing and new local businesses paying enough so that residents can afford homes in the county.

Ranalli, a former Intel executive, Lotus wine grape grower and vice chairman of a county economic development advisory committee, picked up endorsements from conservative groups, including the Taxpayers Association of El Dorado County. He also received financial support from ranching, tourism and real estate interests.

Penn, a business management and investment consultant and former manager of the Sierra Nevada Hotel in Coloma, was backed by local whitewater rafting outfitters and environmental advocates. He is co-sponsor of a likely November ballot measure – the “Fix Highway 50 First/Keep Us Rural” initiative – that would ban subdivision construction that could gridlock any Highway 50 segment west of Placerville. Ranalli has not taken a position on that proposal.

A Sacramento commercial developers group, Region Builders PAC, is backing a rival November measure called “The Control Growth to Fix Our Local Roads” initiative. The District 4 candidate backed by the group, Cameron Park Community Services Board member Scott McNeil, finished fifth in Tuesday night’s vote tally with 9 percent of the vote – despite receiving $22,500 in contributions from Region Builders.

In the county’s other supervisorial contest, two school trustees will face off in November to represent the district that stretches from Pollock Pines to South Lake Tahoe. Sue Novasel, a board member for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, led six candidates Tuesday night to qualify for the runoff with 27 percent of the vote. She will face Kevin Brown, president of the El Dorado Union High School board of trustees, who won 19 percent of the vote.

In another race stirring local interest, Joe Harn was elected to his sixth term as the county’s auditor-controller. Harn who hadn’t faced an electoral challenge since 1994, defeated Mike Owen, a local winery owner and former chief financial officer of the county’s health services agency, 55 percent to 44 percent.

Supporters of embattled county Supervisor Ray Nutting had assailed Harn for alerting District Attorney Vern Pierson to alleged paperwork discrepancies by the supervisor. Nutting was acquitted last month on three felony charges of failing to properly report state grant income for brush clearing on his family. Nutting, who faces sentencing Friday on six misdemeanor convictions involving improperly raising bail money, campaigned openly for Owen.

Pierson, meanwhile, easily won election to his third term as district attorney, getting more than 70 percent of the vote to defeat Judson Henry, who was backed by Nutting but quit the race soon after filing.

In another local race, Cherie L. Raffety won nearly 70 percent of the vote in defeating retiring Supervisor Ron Briggs to win her eighth term as treasurer-tax collector.