Quiet ambition – John Spencer advocate of property rights
On a recent afternoon, John Spencer stood at the side of a small south county road, watching his 27-year-old son hack through mangled manzanita and blackberry brambles with a machete.
The younger Spencer was hunting for a metal post, the marker of a property corner left from a long-ago survey.
As his son Jeff sweated and swore, Spencer studied a map, looking every bit a 37-year surveying veteran in a faded orange pocketed vest and sturdy boots.
Suddenly, his son shrieked. Nails from a rotting fence post had sliced through his sneakers, piercing his skin. After it became clear help was needed, John Spencer sprang into action, scrambling up the embankment to help Jeff.
Spencer is like that. Clearly more comfortable on the sidelines, he enters the fray only when necessary.
His presence on the Board of Supervisors is now necessary, he believes, to ensure that area residents are best served by the county government.
“I’ve heard nothing but horror stories,” Spencer said. “The processes are too cumbersome. [We need to make them] user friendly and less expensive.”
And it’s his link to the land – to property – that is driving his political bid. He is running against former Supervisor Bruce Conklin and Grass Valley City Councilwoman Linda Stevens.
“I don’t strive for personal control, I just want (the Board of Supervisors) to do the right thing,” Spencer said.
The right thing, according to Spencer, is to protect property rights.
“People’s property and what they do with it is the basis of our whole community,” Spencer said. “What benefits one individual transfers to everybody.”
From his years of working in the county’s land use section – where he checked that subdivisions and developments were in compliance with zoning laws – to his hands-on boundary-hunting experiences, Spencer knows property.
So he got involved, helping out with the 1995 General Plan and subsequent zoning ordinance update and volunteering to serve as county Supervisor Drew Bedwell’s appointment to the Planning Commission.
And he’s been meaning to run for the Board of Supervisors for quite some time.
“I’ve got something to offer that’s valuable and because I care about the community,” Spencer said. “It’s something I just need to do.”
But other things came up.
He recently married Grass Valley Mayor Patti Ingram, whom he had been dating for almost a decade. And he has two children from a former marriage: Jeff, who is employed with a rival surveying company but sometimes is hired by his father, and his daughter, Jessica Werntz, 28, who is the secretary for Spencer’s company.
“This candidacy has verbalized John’s love for this community,” his wife said. “He’s always cared about this community but the campaign has really solidified that care.”
When he’s not surveying, Spencer enjoys backpacking, camping and cross country skiing, or bonding with his “best buddy” Jake, a 3-year-old springer spaniel.
Or eating sushi at his Brighton Street area home with Ingram, his cat, Blacky, and her cat, Whiskey – a pair of distrustful felines who have been hardest hit by the marriage.
Spencer started out far from Grass Valley. Born in Long Beach, he was talked into taking a civil service exam by his father, also a surveyor. After passing, he was hired by the city of Long Beach as a chairman, the lowest rung on a survey crew.
After a military stint in Vietnam, he returned to Long Beach and worked his way up the surveying ranks. But in 1976, he visited friends in Grass Valley with his former wife and two young children.
“It was nice then,” he said. “It’s still nice, but more crowded.”
With few stoplights or sidewalks, the new home surprised city-raised Spencer.
They bought 10 acres in Alta Sierra as an investment, planning to build a home someday. Someday came only a year later. After several close calls surveying on the busy streets of Long Beach, Spencer was ready to get out of the city. They moved to Grass Valley, and he’s never looked back.
“[Southern California] is too crowded,” Spencer said. “It’s almost not even a nice place to visit.”
And if western Nevada County becomes too developed? “I’ll move to a less crowded place,” Spencer said.
But some people feel that Spencer could allow the area to become more crowded. Backed by the Nevada County Contractors’ Association, Spencer supports ways to make land subdivisions easier and less expensive.
“His voting record (on the Planning Commission) raises concerns whether he is prepared to defend the community that is here … and not sacrifice our interest solely for the purpose of building new houses,” said former county supervisor Izzy Martin.
Spencer’s political affiliations are clear, as well. His candidacy for the nonpartisan seat is being supported by several of the region’s Republican legislators.
According to recent campaign finance disclosures, Spencer received more than $2,000 each from the campaign committees for state Assemblyman Rick Keene, State Sen. Sam Aanestad and U.S. Rep. John Doolittle.
But unlike the often-vocal conservative politicians supporting him, Spencer is usually silent while serving in his public role, currently on the Planning Commission. While the other four commissioners question potential developers and philosophize, Spencer usually speaks only before final votes, generally agreeing with the person proposing a project.
And when he does speak, “it comes genuine, it comes from the heart,” said his longtime friend and associate Mary Ann Mueller, the president/CEO of the Grass Valley-Nevada County Chamber of Commerce.
“When he speaks and says those few words, they’re worth listening to,” said Doug Donesky, who serves on the Planning Commission with Spencer.
Mueller recalled Spencer’s help creating Grass Valley’s skateboard park, for which he surveyed the area.
“I’ve never thought John was somebody with much of an ego,” Mueller said. “He just does things because he believes they’re the right thing to do.”
BIO IN BRIEF: John Spencer
Born: Feb. 7, 1947, in Long Beach.
Family: Married to Grass Valley Mayor Patti Ingram and has two grown children from previous marriage.
Occupation: Licensed land surveyor.
Civic experience: Nevada County planning commissioner.
Activities: Backpacking, camping, cross-country skiing.
Bumper stickers on his car: “Trustworthy John Spencer for Supervisor” and “W” on maroon Ford Ranger.
Web site: http://www.electjohnspencer.com
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