Sebastopol, Cloverdale and Sonoma mayors provide update on house and climate action progress, answer attendee questions
For the first time in Sonoma County there are five female mayors in office and three of them — Sebastopol Mayor Neysa Hinton, Cloverdale Mayor Melanie Bagby and Sonoma Mayor Amy Harrington — gathered at the Lewis Opportunity School in Santa Rosa on Oct. 14 for a panel discussion on women in politics and county-wide issues. The trio also discussed affordable housing, climate change and minimum wage.
The event, organized by Wine Country Young Democrats, kicked off with a series of questions curated by one of the group’s members Alan Ramey.
Also in attendance were several other county luminaries such as Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli, Ukiah Mayor Maureen Mulheren and Windsor town councilmember Esther Lemus.
Questions focused on a few large-scale topics such as climate change and women in the sphere of politics, but were also narrowed down to questions about how Sebastopol, Cloverdale and Sonoma are addressing the housing crisis and whether or not minimum wage should be increased throughout the county.
“I want to start the night by asking some questions about why we’re here and feminism. Historically and around the world, we take it very for granted that we have women in power in this community, but that is not everywhere in the world,” Ramey said, asking the trio what their view on feminism is.
“To me, being active and saying your opinions and being pro-choice and being pro-women and being pro-business was part of how I was raised and it probably informs every decision I make in everything I do. I think my politics have shifted a little bit to the left since then … but to me it underscores the importance of making sure that kids are really involved in the democratic process,” Bagby said, noting that her mom always took her to polls on Election Day to see the voting process.
Harrington said she hopes both men and women can have access to pursue the things that they are interested in and that people should “have the most amount of possibilities available to them,” whether they want to raise a family, become a lawyer or start their own business.
Hinton, who mentioned being raised in a pro-choice, Democratic, Catholic household, said, “There was a lot of discussion about choice in my household in the late ’60s and early ’70s … and I have a daughter who is 26 who is pursuing nursing and I raised her to be a very strong woman.”
In terms of what each city is doing to address affordable housing, each area had a slightly different approach, however, all three mayors mentioned making it easier for residents to create Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as one of their goals.
Hinton touched on the proposed condominium development behind the old O’Reily Complex along the north end of Sebastopol as a potential source for affordable housing.
The project is currently in preliminary review with the city’s planning commission, but Hinton pointed out that while the site could provide a lot of much-needed housing, it is also the location of the Ceres Community Garden, which is a point of tension for many Sebastopol residents.
She did say, “We are encouraging people to put up ADUs,” since the city lowered the associated fees.
Bagby said having more mixed-use developments would be good for Cloverdale specifically since she said the city doesn’t have a lot of tax revenue.
In regard to other housing work in Cloverdale, a senior living project that will have 58 units is nearing the end of its completion.
The project at Vine Ridge and Treadway Drive is slated to have its ribbon cutting on Oct. 26.
Housing for Sonoma is a bit more tricky since there is an element of retaining the city’s historic integrity, however, Harrington said the city wants to come up with a housing action plan and has also made it easier for folks to build ADUs.
The next question posed was, “What can small cities and individuals do in response to climate change?”
“I am very concerned about our future,” Harrington said in response.
She said that the city of Sonoma has switched to Sonoma Clean Power and residents are also encouraged to sign up for Sonoma Clean Power’s “Evergreen” plan, which uses solar and geothermal energy.
Hinton stressed that making a difference in the environment starts with one thing at a time, such as getting used to using a compost bin or signing up for the aforementioned “Evergreen” plan.
Hinton said Sebastopol’s weekly farmers market also has recycling education programs and that the city has also switched to Sonoma Clean Power.
“Sebastopol has always been a leader in the environment and we have strong goals for zero waste,” Hinton said.
Bagby’s take on what individuals can do involved talking to their local officials and urging them to take action.
While there wasn’t much time for the slew of questions from guests, the three did get to discuss whether or not councilmembers or other officials should be regularly paid with a living wage rather than just receive a stipend, as well as the possibility of increasing the county minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Those on the panel agreed that having a regular wage for elected officials may be helpful in terms of diversifying who can hold an elected seat, since it can be difficult for people with younger families or with a 9-to-5 job to commit to working on an elected board.
Bagby said it results in de facto segregation since really only folks with their own flexible schedule or people who are retired can make the 20 hours a week time commitment without having to worry about their day job or getting their kids to school.
Hinton agreed, saying it really prevents having a diverse council.
“I can’t imagine doing this, running kids to Little League and balancing a job,” Hinton said, calling Sonoma County District 5 Supervisor Lynda Hopkins a “superwoman” for being on the county board of supervisors and raising three kids.
In regard to the minimum wage, all three mayors said they would like to see it raised, but do not know when that would feasible.
Bagby said of raising the wage to $15, “Heck yes I’d like to, but I don’t know if we will.”