Town council candidates square off in forum
The three town council candidates squared off in the Paradise Town Council Chambers on Thursday night in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Mayor Steve Crowder with challengers Ron Lassonde and Stuart Lee Bannister discussed issues ranging from how to bring business to Paradise to the potential construction of a sewer, and they even addressed the potential of the annexation of Magalia.
The three candidates didn’t really disagree on many of the topics raised except for the potential annexation of Magalia.
Lassonde, who is the chairman of the Paradise Planning Commission and a member of the Measure V citizens oversight committee, told the audience that he spent 21 years in the United States Air Force where he became a lieutenant colonel and said his priorities include delivering on the sewer to Paradise, attracting new businesses, and wanting to remove impediments to home building
He also said that he would like to make downtown Paradise more walkable and make Paradise the destination town instead of a bedroom community to Chico.
Bannister also said that he would like to make it easier for people to build in Paradise, particularly owner-builders; he also advocated for bringing new business.
“I want to make sure that my children and the children of Paradise have a town that they are proud to inherit one that has jobs waiting for them after they graduate,” he said. “One that has things for them to do on the weekends instead of going to Chico or Redding or Roseville as well.”
Crowder noted that he was elected to office just two days before the Camp Fire struck Paradise and said he spent that whole day helping evacuate the Ridge.
Crowder pointed out the progress the town has made since the Camp Fire and how fast it has grown.
“Prior to the fire we might have done 20 new homes a year,” he said. “Right now we’re doing 500 homes a year. We have a building resiliency center dedicated to nothing but rebuilding.”
Like the two challengers, Crowder voiced support for the sewer and said businesses are coming to town already.
“We’ve had new businesses come in, such as Tractor Supply, a new Grocery Outlet,” Crowder said. “And Big Lots is coming. We’re also the fastest growing city in California,”
The evening’s first question was set to Bannister about bringing new business to Paradise and Bannister said he would reach out to new businesses.
“I would just encourage the business personally, to come in and invite them to check out our town of Paradise,” he said.
In response to that question, Crowder noted the town has been successful in bringing in businesses, including a distillery and a brewery which are on the way. He also said the economic development director in Paradise is already reaching out to businesses to gauge their interest.
However ever he noted the best thing Paradise can do to bring businesses to town is to get the sewer constructed.
La s sonde echoed Crowder’s position on the sewer saying that downtown businesses were already suffering from septic prior to the fire and that it would be key in attracting businesses.
The candidates were also asked about the potential of bringing an emergency room or a hospital back to the Ridge following the fire.
Crowder said that he has been spearheading talks with Adventist Health in regards to the standalone emergency room which gained state support in 2019 with a bill that would allow Paradise to be the only municipality in California that could have one.
He said that he and Adventist Health are working on it, but noted they’re still waiting on their settlement from Pacific Gas and Electric. He also said that Adventist Health has done its own feasibility study that shows the Ridge can support a hospital, but if not, he is willing to reach out to other providers to gauge their interest in providing the hospital.
Lassonde said he believes that as Paradise continues to grow, Adventist Health will see the benefit to having a hospital return to Paradise.
Bannister also said that he appreciated Crowder’s work on the issue and agreed that it’s important for Paradise to at least get an emergency room reestablished on the Ridge,
The subject of annexing Magalia was also brought up in a question, Lassonde said it was something that he hadn’t thought a lot about, but he said that while there were some people who would like to be annexed by Paradise, he said there were still others who liked living in outside town limits in unincorporated Butte County where there were fewer rules to live by.
“First and foremost, they have to come and ask and beyond that it’s there’s a lot more to the town has to look at the numbers,” he said. “The town has to look at the ability to absorb that. The town has to look at all the ramifications of bringing something of that size into the town.”
And he said that it has to be something that benefits Paradise because that’s the council’s No. 1 focus and anything that would detract from that would be something he would not be in favor of.
Bannister said that he supported the idea of annexing Magalia into Paradise.
“I like to go big or go home. I think it could help this town economically,” he said. “I think the people in Magalia would appreciate it. I think we rip the bandaid off and go for it and do it.”
However, Crowder was less enthusiastic about the idea saying the town had different priorities at this point and such a proposal would be a distraction from that.
“I think right now our focus needs to be on rebuilding Paradise before we branch out and look at anything else,” Crowder said. “When paradise is built out, maybe that’s something that we could look at if they want it. But right now, we don’t have the personnel. We don’t have the police services.”