It took just one political forum for Tom Lynch to decide he wasn’t hearing what he wanted to hear.
That’s when the West County resident decided to pay his money and create his financial statements — just in the nick of time — to run for the open Fifth District Supervisor seat left open by Efren Carrillo.
Old time West County folks may remember Lynch from 1986 when he unabashedly became known as the Manure Man, the comic populist hero who used a broadcast manure spreader to cover four downtown Santa Rosa city blocks with cow dung in protest of the city’s illegal release of sewage into the Russian River. It was his first dig into West County history, and he hopes, not his last.
This is not Lynch’s first foray in the political scene. He ran for Senate, against Noreen Evans, in 2010 and for Assembly in 2012. He’s had years of experience holding positions on the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and the Russian River Redevelopment Oversight Committee. For the past seven years he’s been Carrillo’s appointee to the Sonoma County Planning Commission.
His role in the Planning Commission has provided him a good background for what district supervisors deal with on a daily basis, Lynch said. And it’s given him good insight into how well the county functions — and doesn’t.
What doesn’t work, according to Lynch, is a government that tries to solve all of its problems by itself.
“I’m for reinventing local government,” Lynch said. “We need to bring more conveners together, bring resources together and enlist the community to solve problems.”
One problem that would benefit from such an approach is safety, Lynch said. The Sheriff’s Department, especially in Guerneville, is stretched tight with the substation’s deputies being reduced from eight to six. Lynch said that setting up a system where community volunteers, private security and technology all interact with the police could be an additional way to provide public safety to the neighborhood.
But Guerneville is an issue current candidates —Evans, Lynda Hopkins, Marion Chase and Tim Sergent — are already talking about. Lynch entered the race after hearing the front-runners talk at the first political forum of the season last Wednesday, March 9, in Santa Rosa about the issues they’re most passionate about.
“I have issues which are not going to be raised that I have a deep understanding of,” Lynch said. “And I have a deep experience and commitment and passion for improving the Fifth District.”
Lynch’s main issue is pension reform.
“I have been a leading advocate of sustainable pension reform and will continue to explore solutions,” Lynch said.
Lynch said the decision to give unfunded, retroactive, 50 percent pension increases in 2003 and 2006 to newly retiring employees “is the worst breach of Sonoma County official’s fiduciary obligations and responsibilities since the County was incorporated in 1850.”
And nobody else is talking about it, he said.
“I welcome the other candidates to talk about the pensions,” Lynch said. Lynch believes the decision jeopardized future pensions of the 2000 employees who retired before 2003 and the next generation of Millennials and GenXers who are currently contributing, as well as the retiring Boomers, themselves.
“Sonoma County is in the midst of the greatest fiscal disaster in its history with the County unable to provide the essential services once able to for generations,” Lynch said, citing upwards of $1 billion in unpaid liabilities.
“What’s important is that we acknowledge we have a problem so that we can go on and solve that problem,” Lynch added.
Lynch’s experience in the Planning Commission has enabled him to harvest concrete plans for the issues at the top of many other candidates’ top priority lists, including affordable housing.
“I support and encourage the creation of accessory dwelling units, with adequate parking, water and sewer, in existing owner occupied residences throughout the county, with zero impact fees and reduced permit costs,” Lynch said.
Currently, the County has affordable housing fees but they are used to “build $400,000 one-bedroom apartments in large complexes,” Lynch said.
“We need more rentals and housing opportunities for people that work in our communities, whose children attend local schools, who volunteer at local fire departments,” he added.