In the mid-'80s, when a county supervisor resigned, backers suggested Streng run. It was a hard-fought battle among nine candidates, followed by a runoff. Streng's backers included builders, supporters of the proposed Auburn Dam, and a fair number of Streng homeowners. During the race Streng insisted he wasn't a 'developer,' but a 'home builder.' The district, then entirely unincorporated, included the fast-growing communities of Fair Oaks, Orangevale, Citrus Heights, and half of Carmichael.
Streng's election marked the end of Streng Bros. Homes. "Pretty much when I got elected, I abandoned Bill, and we didn't build much more," Jim says.
A straight-talking, affable man, Streng won a reputation for fairness, working hard, and avoiding bombast. He proved so popular that he ran unopposed for his second term. On the board he was a swing vote, sometimes siding against builders. "One of my colleagues said Jim Streng has never seen a compromise he didn't like," Streng says.
The magazine 'California Executive' profiled Streng in a cover story, under the headline 'Mr. Nice Guy,' and asked "is Jim Streng a methodical mediator or political wimp?" Both, it concluded. "He may well set a record for any politician in saying 'please' and 'thank you' to absolutely everyone and sounding almost apologetic for taking someone's time when he calls them on the phone," reporter Bob McCafferty wrote.
Streng is proud of spearheading successful efforts to pay for transit improvements through a sales tax increase and developer's fees (his building industry friends didn't appreciate that), making Sacramento one of the first jurisdictions to ban smoking in restaurants and workplaces (Jim, who has never smoked, is a longtime board member of the American Lung Association), and Bikeway, where he still bikes most days.
But, he admits, he failed to accomplish his major goals—speeding up government decision-making, or building a network of new highways and series bridges over the American River ("things that are not popular with my American Lung Association friends," he says). He's still pushing plans for the Auburn Dam, which proponents say would supply water and power and protect against floods, but environmentalists say would destroy pristine habitat. "It won't be built in my lifetime," Streng admits.
Streng, who quit politics to spend more time with his wife, lives in a townhouse overlooking the American River, after having lived for 29 years in a small Streng-built subdivision. He keeps fit with Nordic Track, and by biking, skiing, and hiking in the Sierras. Mary Jo sings jazz with several local big bands. They have three sons, all of whom live in the area.
Known for his integrity and lack of pretension, Streng remains a highly respected figure in town. Larry Vrieling, who bought a home from Streng in 1971, says, "I trusted him 100 percent then, and still would."
"He was rare as a county supervisor," Vrieling says. "He had no ego, and he just wanted to do a good job."
Streng, who is 75, owns and manages several light-industrial complexes, doesn't hesitate to push a broom when needed, and is working with his brother and other partners on a number of subdivisions and mixed-use projects, none of them modern in style. Jim and Bill still meet for lunch perhaps once a week, and often discuss business.
One development in Davis is particularly controversial, and Jim wonders whether it's worth his time. "At this point," he says, "I don't want to work that hard or worry that much."
All photos by David Toerge; historical photos courtesy Jim Streng
Discover more about Sacramento's Streng homes at the Eichler Network's Streng Homes Headquarters.