It’s that time of year when the leaves begin to fall, a distinct chill can be felt in the air and campaign signs begin to pop up on street corners and yards across the county.
In Sebastopol, three longtime council members— Una Glass, Sarah Gurney and Patrick Slayter—are preparing to hold on to their seats, hoping voters will be looking for experience, while first-time candidate Vaughn Higginbotham hopes voters are looking for a fresh perspective.
Una Glass, 65, describes herself as a “bleeding heart liberal who pays attention to money.” She said helping people get down to the real issues of a problem and then addressing it is what inspired her to run again for a second full term.
“I have been involved in politics, public policy and activism since I was in my teens,” she said. “Doing this is a culmination of 50 years of interest.”
Glass plans to be out on the pavement with volunteers, knocking on doors and running a grassroots campaign to keep her seat on the council.
Glass was first appointed in June 2014 to fill the position left by her late husband, Michael Keyes. She then went on to campaign and win an election of her own later that year.
Glass said the network of resources she has developed through her work as former executive director of Coastwalk California and as an aide to former 5th District County Supervisor Mike Reilly is an asset she would like to continue to provide to the council.
“I know who to call to solve a problem,” she said.
Traffic is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues on the minds of members of the community.
“It’s been traffic for 40 years,” Glass said, noting that traffic in Sebastopol is a complex issue.
“The traffic is the result of our living at the intersection of two state highways. Most of the traffic comes, not from people who live in town, but from people who live further out in west county. They all drive through Sebastopol to get to work.”
Glass mentioned the safety measures (lights and flashing crosswalks) that the city has put in place to protect local pedestrians. She also mentioned, as a traffic mitigation, the free shuttle bus (#24) that the city is subsidizing to encourage people to get out of their cars.
Another big issue for the community is affordable housing. Getting grant money to create moderate-income and multi-family housing is a goal Glass would like to see fulfilled as a councilmember.
She said one of the things she is most proud of as a city council member was putting away city money for future capital improvements.
“We went from zero reserves to a really healthy reserve in five years,” she said.
“It’s really important to look to the future.”
Sarah Gurney, 65, said that, after 14 years on the council, she is absolutely ready to continue her work.
“There is a higher level of importance for the projects that are impending that I’m involved in and also for the priority work we can go forward on,” she said.
Gurney is a retired lawyer from Sacramento. She moved to Sebastopol more than 40 years ago and has served on the city council since 2004. She said she has been hitting the pavement in an attempt to gather support from the community.
“I’m accountable to the voter,” she said. “Hearing their experiences — that’s the fun part of campaigning.”
The housing shortage, traffic congestion and parking are the main concerns she has heard about from the community.
“This town has a pretty clear agenda where we want to go,” she said.
In order to solve these concerns, Gurney said the city must identify opportunities, be more assertive and, in the case of housing, reach out to developers, with a clear vision of what the town needs.
Some of the projects Gurney would like to see come to fruition are improvements to Ragle Road and continuing to improve the local shuttle service (Shuttle 24).
Gurney said sticking with the agreed safety improvements to Bodega Avenue continues to be a priority.
“That was a campaign I started in 2016 as the mayor, and it is now toward the end of 2018, and we still don’t have the HAWK (a pedestrian crosswalk warning system) on Nelson,” she said.
Emergency preparedness is also a priority for Gurney. She said she would like to help the emergency response team have what they need in case of a large-scale emergency. She plans to help local citizens also be prepared by creating neighborhood programs.
Making a way for businesses to thrive in Sebastopol is another area Gurney said she would focus on if re-elected to the council.
“Our reality is we are one big business that can work in collaboration,” she said.
Gurney said Sebastopol is a unique community with real people. Bringing people together to come up with a way of marketing business opportunities is one way to boost vitality, she said.
Patrick Slayter, 52, said building relationships and listening to ideas is the best way for Sebastopol to succeed as a city.
“Coming up with a way we can succeed together, that’s how you get it done,” he said.
Slayter, an architect originally from Napa, has lived in Sebastopol since 1997. He has served on the city council since 2010 and is the current mayor.
During his time in public service, Slayter said he has seen many ideas come to life, including the city’s new general plan and bike master plan.
“It’s just been a long, yet wonderful process to rediscover who we are and what’s important to us,” he said. “It feels like we are actually seeing plans being put into action. The difficult part of implementation is starting now.”
Slayter said the housing committee is the most important work he is involved in right now with the council. The development of the new zoning ordinance and updates to housing regulations related to the general plan have been a major focus of the council.
“We’ve made really good progress towards substantial improvements on affordable housing,” he said.
Slayter said traffic is a concern he often hears about from the community.
“Sebastopol’s population hasn’t increased,” he said. “It’s the regional traffic, we don’t make, but we have to deal with it.”
Utilizing partnerships with the county and Sonoma Clean Power is one way Slayter said the city can look at the “bigger picture” when it comes to traffic.
If re-elected Slayter said he would like to see more “quality of life issues” come into focus.
According to Slayter, those include expediting traffic safety studies on the north, south and middle sections of the city.
Pedestrian safety is another part of Slayter’s focus. He said working on sidewalks to give residents a safe walking route around town, especially near Burbank Heights, is a priority.
As far as a campaign strategy, Slayter said elections are still local. “Campaign budgets are very modest. I’m proud of that,” he said.
“Getting out there and talking with people one-on-one,” is Slayter’s plan to gain support in the election.
Vaughn Higginbotham, 22, said the time is now for a transition in the city council.
“When the incumbents retire, who’s going to inherit the city? The younger generation,” he said. “It would be nice to learn from them now, so when they do retire, it’s not five new people who don’t know what the heck they are doing.”
Higginbotham said he wants to give the community a different option to pick for city council and plans to knock on doors and host meet-and-greets to gain support in the community.
A 2014 Analy graduate, Higginbotham considers Sebastopol his home. He volunteers for the Bodega Fire Department and owns an iPhone repair business in town.
Some of the priorities Higginbotham would like to see the city take action on involve traffic, emergency response and bringing in new businesses.
Higginbotham said what he has heard from the community is a plea to address traffic and parking issues sooner rather than later because “things are only going to get worse.”
As a volunteer firefighter, Higginbotham said he has gained experience and understanding of the importance of local fire departments. One goal he would like to achieve as a councilmember is to put more funding into the Sebastopol Fire Department in order to staff a full-time firefighter.
Another area Higginbotham would like to concentrate on is economic development.
After starting his own small business in Sebastopol, Higginbotham said he would like to see the city update its business-licensing process.
“When I did it, it wasn’t user friendly,” he said. “It was confusing, and I had to ask for assistance.”
One improvement Higginbotham suggests is to create an incentive program, which would include streamlining the process of getting business licenses.
The most important way to serve the community as a councilmember is by listening to the people, Higginbotham said, even when they’re being critical.
“I will listen to what they have to say and know that this is their way of expressing themselves,” he said. “It may not be nice, but it’s the truth, and that’s what I like about local politics: people don’t like to sugar coat stuff.”