With only 60 seconds to answer each, the five Fifth District Supervisorial candidates were grilled last Thursday night with 16 questions on topics ranging from well-known West County issues like affordable housing and road maintenance to countywide controversies including water fluoridation, medical marijuana, composting and rent control.
The forum was hosted by Preserve Rural Sonoma County, KOWS Community Radio and the Sonoma County Growers Alliance and held at the Sebastopol Center For the Arts last Thursday, April 28. More than 100 Sebastopol residents filled the auditorium to hear what the candidates — Marion Chase, Tom Lynch, Lynda Hopkins, Noreen Evans and Tim Sergent — had to say on questions drafted by the event’s hosts and and attendees.
Most newsworthy Thursday night was each candidate’s confession to his or her endorsements and financial backings — paperwork that was due earlier that day.
Hopkins revealed her backings paperwork was 61 pages long because she had more than 350 individual contributors. For the period of January 1 to April 23, Hopkins raised $117,763, two-thirds of which she says are contributions of $250 or less. Her endorsements include the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma County Farm Bureau, North Bay Association of Realtors, Santa Rosa City Council member Ernesto Olivares, the Sonoma County Alliance and current Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carrillo.
Evans unveiled a long list of supporters, including a coalition of environmentalists and labor organizations, such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and North Bay Labor Council. Current Board of Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin have also endorsed Evans. So far, Evans has earned roughly $6,000 less than Hopkins, recording $111,615 from January 1 through April 23.
“I’m very pleased about my support,” Evans said. “I didn’t seek support from people whose values I don’t share. It’s very important to see who supports us.”
Sergent, Lynch and Chase are all the largest contributors to their own campaigns.
“This is my passion,” Chase added. “To ask others to fund this is not responsible.
Money was a common topic during the forum, with questions revolving around how the candidates might pay for programs or infrastructure improvements.
Some of the candidates saw medical marijuana as a possible new source of revenue, while others staunchly opposed taxing a medicine.
Evans believes her “pot for potholes” plan can help pave the way for infrastructure improvements and will set the county up for a taxation system for when recreational marijuana is legalized in the state.
“Medical marijuana is the only new source of revenue and Sonoma County is one of the biggest producers,” Evans said.
Hopkins, however, thinks its wrong to tax a source of medicine and is worried about pushing the small farmer out of business with high tax structures. She suggests increasing the transient occupancy tax (TOT) for infrastructure improvements, like fixing the county roads.
Both Lynch and Sergent hammered the need to reform the skyrocketing pension costs that are eating into the county budget.
Money was also at the forefront of the discussion regarding affordable housing.
The high permitting fees are the most prohibitive aspect to secondary and granny units, Hopkins, Sergent and Lynch said.
“The permit pricing is too high,” Sergent said. He added that “housing comes to supply and demand. We create more housing to bring the price down.”
Lynch, Hopkins and Evans also discussed and favored an inclusionary housing ordinance, which would require real estate developers to set aside a certain percentage of affordable housing in developments.
“We need units for families now,” Evans said.
Affordable housing is slim in Sonoma County, especially in Sebastopol where the average median house price is $619,500 yet the average family income stretches to reach a tenth of that at $61,837. What may help is the Fair Wage Act of 2016, which increases the minimum wage from $10 to $15, set to go into effect by 2021. However, the law allows counties to set the raise into effect more quickly than state law.
Sergent did not think a quicker adoption was “a good idea,” voicing concerns that small businesses would not be able to adapt to the raise in expenses. Chase and Lynch thought that smaller businesses should be tiered into the wage increase at a different rate than larger businesses, which would likely shoulder the burden more easily.
“My concern is for restaurants, too,” Lynch said. “Do they add tip on top of the $15 too?”
Evans, however believed that more money going into the county employee pockets would make for a more robust economy.
“Money in is money in,” Evans said.