Everyone in Guerneville seemed to recognize Efren Carrillo last week. He was in the Big Bottom Market drinking black coffee from a paper cup and sitting at a window counter looking out on Main Street.
People inside and passing by on the sidewalk waved and smiled. Carrillo returned all the greetings. “You be safe out there, OK?” he said to a woman going out into the rainy afternoon, “Take care.”
Carrillo’s presence in town seemed familiar and dependable, like a mayor or a village elder, even though he’s only 35.
We might not guess, by the affectionate public recognition, that Carrillo seems a little glad to be leaving public office after eight years as Sonoma County’s Fifth District Supervisor, a job many feel he could have kept had he chosen to run again this year. It would have been a rough campaign, with his opponents expected to dwell on his sensational sexual prowling arrest and trial three years ago.
Carrillo said at the moment he has no political plans. “I’m stepping out of the public arena in an elected office capacity for the time being,” said Carrillo. “I have a young family. So there is no plan to get back into elected office capacity.”
But he still hopes to be engaged, said Carrillo.
“Am I interested in policy and local government and interested in still being a community voice for priorities that are important to me? Absolutely,” said Carrillo. “I’m not going to shy away from those, but not in an elected capacity. I’m not interested at this point in running for office or being appointed to anything in an elected official capacity.”
What’s he going to miss, or not miss, stepping away from a prominent public role like district supervisor?
“This district,” said Carrillo. “I’m going to miss its uniqueness, and the opportunities it’s afforded me personally to appreciate the beauty we have. I’m going to miss the small hamlets and the opportunities to work with the communities in a very deliberate way to make it a better place.
“I will miss the can-do attitude from people in the West County. Look at Forestville, for example. The town coming together and working with local businesses and local government to purchase the downtown land for a town square.
“Last Tuesday, when it was effectively my last formal board meeting, I had some really nice visits from residents throughout the district. We had members from the Villa Grande community thanking me for Patterson Point. We received kudos and thanks for properties like Jenner Headlands and Buckeye Forest and the Kashia Preserve.” [These are all properties preserved as open space during Carrillo’s time in office.]
“I’m going to miss the opportunity to work with individuals who not only have a can-do attitude but are resilient in responding to challenges,” said Carrillo. “People here look out for each other and they are resilient. I will miss that.”
When it came time for him to decide whether to run for supervisor again, what went through his mind? Was it easy?
“Those decisions are never easy,” said Carrillo. “There are numerous variables that come into play when anyone decides to run for office or anyone decides to run for re-election. Do you still have the fire in the belly to do the work? Do you have the fire in the belly to run a strong campaign? Do you have the commitment from supporters? Are there things that you still have not achieved or you still would like to achieve?
“Given that I’m a young father, with two young boys, a 7-year-old and a 14-month-old, the time commitment — this year I served as chair, by the way, which adds a completely different element of work and time commitments — but the time commitment to run a healthy campaign — when I took all those things into consideration, including the personal mistakes that I had made three years ago, when I added that all into the mix it just did not makes sense at the time.
“It was not an easy decision,” said Carrillo, “but it was one that I knew was the right decision when I made it and I still feel that way today.”
Asked about this year’s rough-and-tumble campaign to replace him, “I did not expect it to be as divisive,” said Carrillo. “But it’s the West County, it’s an open season, that’s what happens.”
Carrillo endorsed young newcomer Lynda Hopkins, who soundly defeated Noreen Evans, her more experienced opponent.
“I think it came down to the fact that Lynda outworked her,” said Carrillo. “Lynda truly reached out and connected with the voters in a better way. The West County constituency wants to know that their representatives are going to get to know them, can support them when they need their help. West County voters are very educated voters. They know what’s important to their hamlets and their communities. I was not at all surprised that they felt that Lynda could be the best representative for them.
“Noreen had a lot of experience and she certainly brought her own qualities to the mix and to the table. Knowing what I know now, with the election outcome, I don’t know if I should say this publicly or not, but to a certain extent it was validating. I publicly supported Lynda, I publicly endorsed her, I liked the qualities she was bringing forward, and really the intelligence and the framework of bringing the community together.
“I don’t want this to be about me, because it’s not,” said Carrillo. “Lynda won the election and she’s going to be a fine supervisor. I think she’s going to be one of the best Fifth District Supervisors we’ve ever had. I certainly hope those folks who didn’t support her will give her a chance to prove herself.”
After eight years in the 24-7 role of county supervisor, Carrillo reflected on what he won’t miss about the job.
“I’ve never been one to complain about the long meetings, or the late night hearings or the sometimes uncomfortable town hall settings,” he said. “I’m not going to miss the very small minority of folks who are simply out to be negative without a true desire to provide solutions to the community’s issues and concerns. That I won’t miss.”
What’s West County all about? If he had to describe it?
“Vast. Diverse. I don’t know if I can describe the West County. I just don’t think you paint it with one color.”
One thing he does plan to do is stick around.
“Sonoma County is my home,” said Carrillo. “While I haven’t yet formulated exactly where my next professional endeavor will take me, I certainly have no plans to leave this county at this point.”
A thank-you breakfast for Carrillo is planned next month at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa on Jan. 21. It starts at 10:30 a.m. with a $35 admission fee. Proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity, in the name of the Carrillo family.