Friday, January 28, 2005

Chamber/PD throw curves at County Open Space rules

A group called the Santa Rosa Minor League Baseball Task Force wants to build a 4,500-seat baseball stadium on 15 acres just outside Santa Rosa's northern limits, between Highway 101 and Old Redwood Highway. The Press Democrat reported Monday,

"The task force, working under the auspices of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, consists of [Chris] Lee, Petaluma Mayor David Glass, land use planning consultant Jim Olmsted, Hilton Hotel general manager Ken Murakami and Maureen Renfro, executive director for the Convention and Visitors Bureau." (1/24/05, "Baseball group dreams of SR field")

"Lee said he has lined up investors poised to invest up to $4 million to purchase an existing California League franchise - provided a reasonable long-term lease can be negotiated for the Alba Lane property and private financing can be arranged for the stadium."

PD columnist Chris Coursey commented the next day, "The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District bought the 56 acres in 1993 and 1994, recognizing the land as 'perfect community separator property,' said Maureen Middlebrook, the district's spokesperson. In 1996, the Open Space District sold the property to the Santa Rosa School District, which had agreed to maintain wetlands there as mitigation for wetlands lost when the district developed Maria Carrillo High School in northeast Santa Rosa. Along with the property transfer went the conservation easement, which keeps the property in agricultural and wetland use 'in perpetuity.' " (1/26/05, "Center field doesn't count as open space")

And the Monday PD news story said, "Maureen Middlebrook, community affairs officer for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which oversees the purchase of open space and conditions attached to such properties, said she has never heard of a change in zoning for land designated as open space community separator. 'I don't think it's ever been done,' Middlebrook said. 'The voters created the (open space) district with fairly specific intentions for its use.' "

Editorially, the PD came down squarely on the fence: "One of the criticisms of the Open Space District is that it has had too few acquisitions that are open for public recreational use. While the supporters of this plan say they hope to make the ballpark available for school and community use, it's unclear whether this will be enough for the project to attract the political - and public - support it needs." (1/25/05, "County ballpark proposal faces every obstacle except one")

PD editorial writer Ann DuBay supported the proposal with a Wednesday op/ed piece. She said, "it was only a matter of time until someone asked the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for permission to develop within a greenbelt. That time has now arrived. Chris Lee, who wants to bring California League (Class A) baseball to Sonoma County, is forcing supervisors to step up to the plate and hit the question head on."

DuBay said, "Given the site's advantages, it should be a home run. ... It's visible, it's relatively accessible (notwithstanding the already crowded conditions of the two-lane Old Redwood Highway), and the location isn't plagued by the chilly weather of the old Crushers stadium in Rohnert Park." (1/26/05, "Is a baseball diamond green enough?")

The PD's other columnist Chris Smith echoed DuBay Thursday: "Just to be contrary, I'd suggest that many of the taxpayers who have financed the preservation of open space throughout Sonoma County might think that building a gem of a public-private ballpark on a patch of green close in to Santa Rosa is one sweet idea."

The County Supervisors would have to make the ultimate decision, but the property belongs to the Santa Rosa School District. The PD reported Monday,

"Bill Carle, a member of the Santa Rosa Board of Education and a longtime advocate of open space, said building a school on the property would violate a number of land-use policies, but he doesn't see why 15 or so acres couldn't be used for a ballpark that the community could enjoy. 'The parcel we're talking about is higher than the rest of the property, so the ability to use it for wetlands is not as good as lower land closer to the freeway,' Carle said."

The PD's Monday editorial concluded, "The one question that does not appear in doubt, however, is whether, people will come if and when a stadium is built. The memory of the Sonoma County Crushers is not so distant that people have forgotten the joy of spending an afternoon at the ballpark - without having to drive to San Francisco. The Sonoma County Minor League Baseball Task Force deserves credit for at least keeping that memory alive."

It looks like the Santa Rosa Chamber, through its Convention and Visitors Bureau, is challenging the County Supes to allow more development in the remaining open space between north Santa Rosa and Larkfield. The PD seems to agree, except for Coursey.

If they have their way, Santa Rosa may continue to sprawl north to Windsor on the east side, and to the County Airport on the west side of the freeway. We can expect to lose greenbelts, open space, and community separators to continous urban sprawl along the Highway 101 corridor through Sonoma County.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Agenda masks last ditch effort for housing above White House lot parking garage

Item 11.2 on the Council's agenda for the meeting of 1/25/05 bears an asterisk, which means it wasn't on the advance agenda last week. The Council will have to vote to add it to the agenda as an emergency item. Here's the agenda description:

"BACKGROUND: The City has received letters from three (3) developers each requesting to enter into an Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ENA) process for residential development on the White House site. City staff has consulted with Keyser Marston Associates to identify a process that will allow the City to select the most qualified developer team to negotiate with while protecting the City’s interest in an aggressive time schedule, financial guarantees that the developer will be responsible for the City’s additional project costs, and assurances that the project will be constructed. The recommended approach is a Request for Qualifications process culminating in selection of a single developer team to proceed with an ENA period.

RECOMMENDATION: Whether or not to authorize a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process to select a developer with whom to negotiate a Disposition and Development Agreement for residential development on the White House site is a matter of Council discretion. Staff recommends that the Council, by resolution, determine whether to approve the described RFQ process, the time period in which to respond to the RFQ and whether the process should be open or limited only to the three developers. "

Now what the hell is all that about? What is the Council going to do?

Is the Council supposed to approve Keyser Marston's report? Is the Council going to hire a developer to build a residential project on the White House site? Who are the three developers who want the job? What do they want to build? How much will it cost? Who pays?

California's Brown Act requires the Council agenda to contain "a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting"; and the Attorney General's guide to the Act explains, "The purpose of the brief general description is to inform interested members of the public about the subject matter under consideration so that they can determine whether to monitor or participate in the meeting of the body." If the agenda description doesn't tell the public enough about the item to decide whether to monitor it or participate, it's not consistent with the Act.

I sent the City Attorney an email Sunday night, contending "the agenda description is unclear, confusing, deceptive--and ultimately inconsistent with the Brown Act." Cheryl Woodward, Deputy Director of Transit and Parking, answered Monday. She wasn't qualified to respond to the Brown Act issue, but she explained:

"Brien Farrell asked that I respond to your email regarding Item 11.2 on the Council agenda for January 25, 2005, as he is out of the office.

This item is being brought forward to receive Council direction regarding developer requests to negotiate for development rights of a residential project on the White House site. The City is currently in the process of designing a 700-800 space garage with ground floor retail space. Should Council wish to consider developer proposals for a residential component to this project, much of the work that has been completed to-date will need to be redone. Timely direction is needed to avoid incurring additional costs for the garage that don’t consider the structural requirements of a residential component.

Should Council direct staff to proceed with an RFQ, the RFQ process, as proposed, will require interested developers to submit a concise narrative regarding the development team’s initial project concept for a for-sale residential condominium development above the public garage. The City will consider the developer’s qualifications, as well as the developer’s initial project concept, in selecting a single development team with whom to negotiate.

The first paragraph is much closer to what the agenda should have said in the first place. Woodward explained the question is whether and/or how the Council wants to respond to the three still-unidentified developers, who each want to develop a residential component to the City's proposed garage/retail project. And she explained the decision needs to be made soon, because the City is spending money [about $140,000 so far] to plan the project without a residential component.

That's information the public needs to know, but wasn't told. The second paragraph also begs some serious questions.

It's clearer now that design of the current project may be stalled indefinitely, while the City chooses one of the three developers to negotiate with, and then negotiates the actual residential project with that developer. The agenda description also asked the Council to decide whether to receive proposals from other developers as well, which might take even longer. Time is money, and there's no estimate of how much the delay and any plan changes might increase the cost of the current project.

Woodward's staff report helps answer some of these questions, but the Brown Act doesn't require the public to read all the associated documents. I reviewed the 19-page staff report, and reorganized some points from Woodward's Analysis:

"8. Realistically, this is the last opportunity to consider a housing component as part of the White House Site Mixed-Use Parking Project."

"6. The garage and retail space that is being developed on the White House site is currently in the preliminary/schematic design phase. Approximately $140,000 has been spent to date on geotechnical analysis and design. Much of this work will need to be redone if a housing component is added to the project."

"7. The preliminary timeline for the RFQ process and ENA period is expected to add approximately eight (8) months to the current project schedule, pushing completion of the garage into the latter part of 2007. Project delay will result in unknown increases in design, construction and financing costs."

"1. From the outset of this project three years ago, Council members expressed interest in a mixed-use development that included 50 to 60 residential units (including a mix of market rate, affordable and inclusionary units); retail/commercial space; childcare facilities; a performing arts center; and public parking. ... Given the constraints of the site, Council reached agreement that the project must include, at a minimum, a housing component, parking, and ground floor activity other than parking."

"3. Three (3) developer teams have now come forward [just last month, December 2004] with requests to enter into an ENA period to develop housing on the White House site."

"4. City staff has consulted with Keyser Marston Associates to identify a process that will allow the City to select the most qualified developer team to negotiate with ..."

"5. The recommended approach is a Request for Qualifications process culminating in selection of a single developer team to proceed with an exclusive right to negotiate period."

Woodward's analysis makes clear that it's the Council that wanted a "mixed-use" project, to include retail and residential components with the parking garage. What's not stated here are that the parking garage itself is primarily to enable private development of a high-rise project on the adjoining site; and that the "mixed-use" components are intended to further "revitalization" of the downtown business district.

I think staff is telling the Council that for this downtown revitalization project, it's time to put up or shut up. Unfortunately, the agenda description wasn't as clear.

I asked Woodward, the City Attorney, and the City Manager to have Council postpone the item, and describe it consistent with the Brown Act on a future agenda. My best guess is the Council has already decided to tell staff to issue RFQs to the three developers, and will do as it pleases.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Pierce (and Bender, Martini, and Sawyer) can thank the Sonoma County Alliance

Following the election last November, the Press Democrat reported "Sonoma County business, labor and other leaders are heartened by this week's election results that showed voters more inclined than ever to tax themselves to pay projects like highway construction, street repairs, hospitals and public safety." (11/6/04, "Vote heartens local leaders")

The story continued, "Along with business interests, several labor organizations got out the vote on local measures, including the Operating Engineers, the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association and the Santa Rosa Employees Association, which represents most of the non-public safety city workers."

"Tony Alvernaz, a Sonoma County Alliance leader who heads the union of Santa Rosa city government employees, said his members felt they would reap the benefits of many tax proposals. 'People are figuring out that Sacramento is not going to be responsive to their needs,' Alvernaz said. 'It improves our quality of life to fund police programs that fight gangs, construction that creates jobs and roads that are too crowded. They were tangible things they could see that could get done.' "

Like Sonoma County Alliance and Employees Association leader Alvernaz, new City Councilman Lee Pierce is concerned about the quality of life. He wrote in a PD letter to the editor, "I am also thrilled to be joining Santa Rosa's six other elected officials on the City Council--to begin charting the city's path for an improved quality of life over the next four years."

He said, "I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to: the voters, my campaign steering committee, my campaign consultant, the persons and entities who publicly endorsed my candidacy, most notably former Mayor Sharon Wright and Councilwoman Janet Condron and The Press Democrat (for the second time). " (1/5/05, "Thoughts for 2005")

Pierce had reason to thank the voters who barely gave him the fourth seat of the four that were open. When all the votes were finally counted, 22,186 voters chose Pierce by just 552 votes over fifth-place Veronica Jacobi. Jane Bender, Mike Martini, and John Sawyer each got more than 27,000 votes, and easily won the first three places. [See below: "Voters pick three pro-business hacks and--Jacobi?"]

Pierce had even better reason to thank Sharon Wright, Janet Condron, and the Press Democrat. Wright was pictured in a 10/11/04 PD ad headed, "I'm asking you to join me in supporting Lee Pierce for City Council", and Pierce featured Condron in his own campaign brochure.

Former Councilman Dave Berto was featured in a similar PD ad last October. Then Wright, Condron and Berto appeared again, in a full-page PD ad the day before the election. That ad also featured former Councilman Mike Runyan, and former appointed SR officials Wally & Ellie Lowry [Wally is now on the School Board].

The PD story last November reported, "'Voters were willing to foot the bill to satisfy local needs and go with local leaders they trust,' said Jim Chaaban, president of the Sonoma County Alliance of business, government and labor interests. The 220-member organization assumed a leading role in the local election, funding mailers for the Sonoma County transportation tax and the Santa Rosa sales tax, as well as mailed pieces supporting the group's endorsed city council candidates."

A slate mailer from the Sonoma County Alliance PAC endorsed Pierce and Sawyer, along with incumbents Jane Bender (now Mayor) and Mike Martini. The card said, "What does the Sonoma County Alliance PAC have in common with the Press Democrat, the Santa Rosa Police Officers and Firefighters Association? We all support these four candidates for Santa Rosa City Council!"

The Press Democrat and the Police and Firefighters Associations also have a lot in common with the Sonoma County Alliance. Both the Police and Firefighter associations belong to the SCA. The PD is not a member, but the Santa Rosa daily usually speaks for the local developers and business leaders.

The Santa Rosa Police Officers Association is a member, and its representative Eric Goldschlag is on the Executive Committee. The Santa Rosa Firefighters group is also a member, and its rep Mike Jones is on the Board of Directors. And as the PD reported last year, the Santa Rosa City Employees Association belongs to the SCA, and Tony Alvernaz is on its Executive Committee.

Former Mayor Wright was the SCA's paid Executive Director when she was elected to the Council in 1992, and she held the job from the mid-'80s to 2001. The SCA hired Councilman Martini as Executive Director when he was Mayor in 2002, and he worked there until last year.

The SCA website identifies Bob Blanchard, Condron, Martini, and Pierce himself--a quorum of the seven-member Council--as current members. Mayor Bender is not currently listed as a member, but I made a note that she was listed last April when the new SCA website appeared.

PG&E PR man Jim Chabaan was SCA President last year, and the SCA site is "sponsored by a generous donation from" PG&E. Bender and Ellen Bailey used to run ReLeaf, a project that planted trees and did community relations work for PG&E. Now Bender's on the Council and Bailey works for the City, holding a Recreation & Parks Department position the Council created in January 2002.

Former Councilman Runyan and School Board member Lowry are SCA members. Former Councilman Berto used to belong, but he and his company are not on the current list. You can check out the SCA and its current membership here: .

Pierce also thanked his political consultant, but not by name. Prominent local political consultant Herb Williams owns a company called Delphi. Pierce's campaign finance report of 10/20/04 listed $4,769.31 due Delphi, and another dated 10/29/04 listed a $2118.75 balance paid. But both were coded as being for "campaign paraphernalia/misc.", not consultant services.

Williams ran the Yes On Measure F campaign last March, for which Condron was Treasurer, and the Measure O campaign in November, under the name Rescue Santa Rosa. Both Yes On Measure F and Rescue Santa Rosa gave Williams' Parker Hill Road home address.

The SCA, Police, and Firefighters strongly supported Measure O. The PD reported 10/7/04,

"Three donors gave $10,000 each: the Santa Rosa Plaza, Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401 and the Santa Rosa Police Officer's Association. Five other contributors gave $5,000 each: Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Codding Enterprises, the Santa Rosa Police Management Association, the Sonoma County Alliance's political action committee and an arm of the North Coast Builders Exchange."

The SCAPAC mailer last November asked, "What does the Sonoma County Alliance PAC have in common with the Press Democrat, the Santa Rosa Police Officers and Firefighters Association?" The immediate answer is the Police and Firefighters Associations belong to the SCA, and the PD spoke for all of them when it recommended Bender, Martini, Pierce and Sawyer.

Thanks in good part to them, a quorum of the City Council belongs to the SCA and shares its agenda for Santa Rosa. We don't have to ask, "What does the City of Santa Rosa have in common with the Sonoma County Alliance?" The obvious answer is, almost everything.

The City website lists four campaign contribution reports for Pierce--actually three, because one appears twice. The one dated 10/20/04 is for 7/1/04--9/30/04, and the one dated 10/29/04 is for 10/17/04--10/28/04. There is no report for the period 10/1/04--10/16/04.

Go here to see who contributed to Pierce's campaign: . And if you'd like to know why there's no campaign finance report for 10/1--10/16/04, ask City Clerk Sue Stoneman. While you're at it, ask her why her office censors contributors' addresses and phone numbers from the public documents.

For more background on Pierce and Sawyer, see also below: "Forget the politics, they're gay and black"

Friday, January 21, 2005

No pay, no stay, says Stone

The Press Democrat quietly announced Supe Chairman Tim Smith's "State of the County: Annual Report to the Community" breakfast, in a brief Around the Empire item Wednesday (1/19, "ROHNERT PARK 'State of County' breakfast"). [See: "Supes invite 'Community' to $30 breakfast" below].

The PD hasn't reported on the issues raised in connection with the Supes' $30 hotel breakfast meeting, but Spencer Soper's item did quote Ben Stone's denial: "Smith's speech will be posted on the county Web site for those who can't attend the event, he said. 'There will be no insider information and no business is done there,' Stone said. 'It's a ceremony.' "

I wrote below a week before, "It's clearly an official Board event, even if only Tim Smith and one other Supervisor--less than a quorum--attend their breakfast forum. And if three Supes are present, it's arguably a 'meeting' of the Board, as defined by the Brown Act.

But local politicians have demonstrated a sneaky way of violating the Brown Act, and getting away with it. If private citizens show up and demand free admission to an event like this, they are ushered in. They may not get breakfast, but they can attend the meeting."

Stone says citizens can forget about standing against the wall to hear Smith speak to the "Community", while an anticipated 500 businesspeople sit and eat their $30 bacon and eggs:

"Attendees must pay to cover the cost of serving breakfast, and there likely won't be room for people to attend who do not pay for breakfast, said Ben Stone, director of the county's Economic Development Board, which is hosting the event."

Sunday, January 16, 2005

No "Rocky" salute for the Greenway boondoggle

"We celebrate the Prince Memorial Greenway. There IS a creek walk. It exists." So wrote columnist Gaye LeBaron in today's Press Democrat (1/16/05, "Persistence pays off with restoration of Santa Rosa Creek"). She said, "It's hard for some of us to stand on the bridge near City Hall and look down Santa Rosa Creek without raising our arms over our heads in the classic 'Rocky' salute."

She didn't say just who the "some of us" are, but she wrote, "Citizens groups met to talk it over and, by the early 1990s had formed the Committee for Restoring Santa Rosa Creek, led by Bill Carle, Steve Rabinowitsh and Bill Knight." Attorney/businessman Carle is on the School Board, Rabinowitsh is a Councilman, architect Knight is a former Councilman/Mayor, and all have been downtown business boosters.

LeBaron said, "Civilization is hard on a creek. You only have to walk along Santa Rosa Creek, from its headwaters on the McCormick Ranch in the Mayacmas range above Los Alamos Road to the Laguna de Santa Rosa, to see how much better it is where human contact is at a minimum."

"The ultimate assault on nature came in the '60s, when the county flood control agency, with a war chest of government money, decided to bury a portion of Matanzas Creek and Santa Rosa Creek in a tunnel, creating new land on which both City Hall and the Shea Federal Building stand today. Fishermen protested. Garden clubs protested. City officials protested. But it was no use.

If anyone's property flooded, the city was told, the city would be held liable because the solution had been offered. Insurance carriers do not stand firm in the face of such threats. The deed was done.

Where the creek emerged from its tunnel, the agency cut down the trees and foliage, poured concrete into the creek bed, encased the banks and went away. So did the fish, the birds, the bugs and, most assuredly, the people."

That was just one result of Urban Renewal beginning in the '60s, which led to the razing of much of Santa Rosa's historic downtown, including the central courthouse, and construction of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall. The downtown business interests who demanded Urban Renewal got it with a vengeance, and City Hall is still spending millions today to "revitalize" Downtown/Railroad Square for their successors.

Speaking of millions, who's paying for the Prince Memorial Greenway? LeBaron wrote, "Without the Prince money, it would never have happened."

"While enthusiasm was contagious, money was in short supply. Then, in the fall of 1992, came a windfall. An elderly woman who had not lived in Santa Rosa since 1901 died in San Francisco. Santa Rosa and Petaluma city officials were notified that the two towns had come into some money." The ultimate bequest to the two cities was $1 million. "When the cities were notified, in '92, the $1 million, plus the proceeds from the sale of the house, had become more than $6 million - $3 million each for Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

Petaluma's Prince Park is that town's tribute. Santa Rosa hung on to the money, made a stab at buying Kawana Springs for a regional park, and, as the cry for creek improvement grew more shrill, decided on the Greenway."

As I recall, the City reportedly invested about $4 million from the Prince bequest in the Greenway. Lebaron wrote, "Never mind that it will cost at least $23 million when it's finished (none of it city money, officials are quick to point out)".

None of it is "city" money? So where did the other $19 million come from? There's no such thing as free money. If it came through the City from state/federal grants, it's still the taxpayers' money.

Yes, local civilization has been hard on the urban reach of Santa Rosa Creek. And yes, there is a creek walk now. But the Downtown/Railroad Square boosters would be wise to postpone the "Rocky"-style self-congratulation.

Thanks to the powers that be at City Hall, today the Downtown/Railroad Square businessmen have a City-subsidized Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel, Spa & Conference Center, on the bank of a City-subsidized Prince Memorial Greenway. And so far, the combination looks like a multi-million-dollar boondoggle.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Terry Francke's new organization CalAware

Terry Francke quit the California First Amendment Coalition last March. So did Executive Director Kent Pollock, and past President Rich McKee. Respected open government advocate Francke had been CFAC's general counsel for 14 years, and counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association for ten years before that.

The CNPA Bulletin reported at the time (3/22/04, CFAC undergoing changes),

"'With the loss of Terry Francke, the California First Amendment Coalition loses much of its attraction for me. As an activist working closely with Terry for the past 11 years, he’s the resource that I’ve relied on,” McKee explained last week. “There’s a lot more to this than simply Terry’s leaving ... a lack of understanding by the board of directors ... and a completely different view of how to accomplish our mission.' "

CFAC is primarily a coalition of seven newspaper, radio, and television journalism organizations. Francke resigned to organize a new public interest group, Californians Aware: the Center for Public Forum Rights. The Bulletin said,

" 'I’d like to try out some ways and means of doing things, getting attention to the efforts that CFAC’s involved in from an independent base that allows a little more flexibility and inclusiveness,' Francke said. 'What I’m talking about is have a more integral presence on our board of directors of at least a few individuals' from the public sector who can provide insights into the challenges that government agencies face in providing more open government."

Time will tell whether CalAware is a better public watchdog than CFAC. Go here to learn about Terry Francke's new organization:

McKee pointed to "a lack of understanding" by CFAC directors, and Francke called for an "independent base" and "more flexibility and inclusiveness". According to the list of directors at its website, CFAC's president-elect is Paul Gullixson, Assistant Editorial Director of the Press Democrat, who works for Editorial Director Pete Golis and Publisher Mike Parman. Press Democrat Managing Editor Bob Swofford is also a CFAC director.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Supes invite "Community" to $30 breakfast

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has invited the Community to have breakfast with them January 26, at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park. Chairman Tim Smith will describe "The State of the County" at the second annual "Report to the Community" breakfast forum. The invitation at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board webpage [] reads,

"Dear Community Member

Highlighting the key opportunities, challenges, and initiatives facing Sonoma County in the coming year, the 2005 State of the County: Annual Report to the Community breakfast forum is a chance for you to learn how the major issues facing Sonoma County may affect your life and work. It is our hope that the information presented at this event will assist you in your own work within our community. In addition to the "State of the County" speech by the Chair of the Board of Supervisors, the event will feature a report of numerous local economic indicators, a Q & A session, and exhibits by county agencies.

We look forward to sharing our vision with you for the coming year and cooperating with you to achieve positive results for our community. Information on reserving seats or tables of 8 may be found by [sic] on the link below. Reservation deadline is January 19."

The webpage link takes you to a copy of the actual fancy invitation, which bears the official multi-colored Sonoma County seal: .

The Supes didn't send me a personal invitation, and they probably didn't send you one either. Not many ordinary citizens can afford to spend $30 for a hotel breakfast--or sponsor a table for eight, at $300--to hear Tim Smith talk about the County economy.

Yet it appears that anybody who has the money and registers by January 19 can attend their breakfast forum. Make your check or credit card payment to the EDB Foundation. What's the EDB Foundation? Good question--the EDB home page doesn't say, and neither do the search features at the County and EDB pages.

California's Brown Act requires that meetings of elected and appointed public officials be open, public, and free; and members of the public who might attend can't be required to identify themselves in advance. Thus it appears the very invitation, not to mention the private breakfast forum itself, may violate the Brown Act.

The Supes can legally attend many public and private events together where they don't do the County's business. They can all attend the same church on Sunday. They can attend the symphony, shop at the mall, and play golf together. They can even go to local political events, so long as they aren't participating as officials.

But in this case, it's quite clear the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is inviting "Community Member(s)" to its "2005 State of the County: 2nd Annual Report to the Community". Sonoma County's principal elected officials are sponsoring an exhibition and forum, at which their Chairman will report to the Community on their activities. The event is under the auspices of the Economic Development Board, a major Sonoma County Department.

It's clearly an official Board event, even if only Tim Smith and one other Supervisor--less than a quorum--attend their breakfast forum. And if three Supes are present, it's arguably a "meeting" of the Board, as defined by the Brown Act.

But local politicians have demonstrated a sneaky way of violating the Brown Act, and getting away with it. If private citizens show up and demand free admission to an event like this, they are ushered in. They may not get breakfast, but they can attend the meeting.

Never mind that most citizens never hear about the meeting. The Press Democrat may report the "State of the County" forum as news, but the story won't mention the Brown Act issues. Never mind that private citizens who might have attended didn't go, because they weren't invited--or because they couldn't afford a $30 breakfast.

I suspect the fundamental problem is the Supes think of the EDB as private--a sort of Sonoma County Chamber of Commerce, run for the benefit of private business, but paid for by the taxpayers. 2005 State of the County: Annual Report to the Community appears to demonstrate that when local politicians talk about "The Community", they mean the business community. This event looks like a classic example of local politicians defining "The Community" as only the special interests they know personally, communicate with, and represent.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Voters pick three pro-business hacks and--Jacobi?

(Updated from The Other Santa Rosa 11/3/04)

Let's take a look at last November's SR City Council election numbers.

There were nine candidates on the ballot, four seats up for grabs, and only two incumbents in the race: Jane Bender and Mike Martini. The Press Democrat's coverage had made it fairly clear there was a difference between the five-member majority of the Council, and Noreen Evans and Steve Rabinowitsh. The most visible difference was that developers and business interests, and their lobbies the Sonoma County Alliance and Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, contributed to and supported the Council majority.

Evans and Mayor Sharon Wright were out of the race--Evans running for Assembly, and Wright retiring from office. Bender and Martini were the majority incumbents running for reelection. The majority advertised that Lee Pierce and John Sawyer were the majority's choice for the two open seats. Candidates Veronica Jacobi and Caroline Banuelos were more like Evans and Rabinowitsh.

Candidate Don Taylor, owner of the Omelette Express in Railroad Square, and a major Downtown/Railroad Square booster, appeared to be working both sides of the street, and ultimately persuaded neither one. Candidates Joe Romano and Harry Troutt were little known and had little chance.

The Press Democrat endorsed "Jane Bender and Mike Martini, incumbents, and Lee Pierce and John Sawyer". Their names came out in alphabetical order. The Sonoma County Alliance PAC (SCAPAC) slate mailer for those same four candidates also showed them in alphabetical order.

The nine candidates' names were in this random order on the ballot:

Veronica Jacobi
Mike Martini
Joseph "Joe" Romano
Lee Pierce
John Sawyer
Harry Troutt
Don Taylor
Jane Bender
Caroline Banuelos

And the final vote was as follows:

Jane Bender 27,634/14.3%
Mike Martini 27,345/14.2%
John Sawyer 27,193/14.1%
Lee Pierce 22,186/11.5%

They were followed by:

Veronica Jacobi 21,634/11.2%
Don Taylor 20,995/10.9%
Caroline Banuelos 17,909/9.3%
Joseph Romano 15,516/8.0%
Harry Troutt 12,622/6.5%

The Press Democrat recommended the same slate as the Sonoma County Alliance PAC, and the voters elected all four candidates the PD and SCAPAC supported. But what's interesting is that the voters clearly didn't just hold the PD's chart in one hand, pick out the four recommended candidates in alphabetical order, and fill in the boxes by each name.

They may have done that for Bender, Martini, and Sawyer--but not for Pierce. No, between 27,193 and 27,634 of them voted for Bender, Martini, and Sawyer. But only 22,186 voted for Lee Pierce. Given the choice of a total of four candidates out of nine, at least 5,007 voters skipped Pierce.

Maybe they voted for somebody else, maybe they just settled for three out of four. So why did 5,007 voters rubber stamp a pro-business slate of two incumbents and Sawyer, then skip Pierce? Because they didn't know Pierce, because he was from the West side, Black, or what?

Why didn't they complete the slate of four the PD and Sonoma County Alliance recommended? Did they even understand it was a slate?

And then there are Jacobi and Don Taylor. When it came to their fourth choice, the voters chose Pierce over Jacobi by just 552 votes, and over Taylor by just 1,191. If some of the voters who skipped Pierce then chose Jacobi, Taylor, Banuelos, Romano, or Troutt for the fourth open seat, why did they do it?

Did they vote to preserve the pro-business majority, and then for Jacobi as a balance? Did they vote for two men and two women? These are the conundrums that make local politics interesting.

I don't know what everybody else did, but I know what I did. I couldn't stomach the pro-business slate, and I judged Taylor to be little different. So I voted for Jacobi and Banuelos, and gave my other two votes to Romano and Troutt.

How did you vote, and why did you do it?

Tsunami SR tsewage?

The Press Democrat publishes the syndicated Seismo-Watch column every Saturday. The column for 12/23--29/04 said [edited],

"With the Earth ringing like a bell from the epic Sumatra M9.0 earthquake on December 26, many scientists looked in distant lands for other geologic effects, like induced seismicity and turbidity in wells. One candidate for an induced temblor was a M 4.3 at 2:36 a.m. Monday, December 27, in The Geysers geothermal area."

"Local residents reported the ground shook vigorously for an unusually long time (6-7 seconds), jarring them from sleep and frightening many. Felt reports were received from as far away as Fort Bragg and the San Francisco Peninsula.

Some reported a loud roar that accompanied the shaking, something like a freight train racing through their home. Three Calpine production units tripped off line and some rockfalls and landslides were reported."

"This was the second M 4.0+ jolt in The Geysers this year and the fourth in the last four years. Eleven M 4.0s have occurred since 1982. Eighteen M 3.0+ earthquakes have occurred in The Geysers this year, three less than last year, but close to the average annual number."

Seismo-Watch has commented before that increased seismic activity at The Geysers is the result of Santa Rosa's Geysers Recharge Project, which pipes millions of gallons of treated sewage 33 miles to The Geysers, so Calpine can inject it into its dying steamfield.

Did the giant Sumatra quake trigger the 4.0 at The Geysers? There has been one 4.0 a year for four years, and seven others before that, apparently without a major seismic event elsewhere in the world.

Was the devastating Indonesian tsunami actually a killer wave of Santa Rosa's discarded tsewage?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Forget the politics, they're gay and black

(This is an updated version of an item posted 11/6/04 at The Other Santa Rosa)

White businessmen who lived in the Northeast quadrant dominated the City Council for many years, and appointed their friends, neighbors, and business associates to City boards and commissions. But all that has changed. In recent years, the voters have also elected white businesswomen who live in the Northeast quadrant, ...

Last year the local business establishment ran an informal slate for the four open Council seats. The Sonoma County Alliance--to which most of the Councilmembers belonged, and which previously employed Councilmembers Sharon Wright and Mike Martini to run it--paid for a slate mailer for all four candidates.

The four were two incumbents--Jane Bender and Mike Martini--and two City Hall insiders who ran for Council in 2002, but failed to get elected: John Sawyer and Lee Pierce. Sawyer owns Sawyer's News on Fourth Street, and is an outspoken advocate for the Downtown/Railroad Square business community. He's held a variety of minor appointed positions at City Hall.

Mayor Sharon Wright, who retired in December after 12 years on the Council, endorsed Pierce to replace her on the Council. He owns Tavalite Enterprises of Sonoma, a jewelry company that distributes natural minerals that have been "enhanced" into gemstones. He once worked for Hewlett-Packard, where he may have met Dan and Janet Condron, and Councilmember Condron appointed him to the Planning Commission in 2003.

Press Democrat publisher Mike Parman and his editorial page team said last November that the 2004 campaign for City Council was "well-run, informative and, ultimately, historic" (11/5, "SR campaign/City Council race was as historic as it was informative").

Historic? There's nothing historic ("having great and lasting importance") about the voters electing well-financed and pro-business incumbents and newcomers. That happens every two years.

No, the PD was talking about "Diversity". The price of a Council seat today can be over $80,000, and fat cat contributors only give to pro-business candidates, so a visible lack of diversity has been a major image problem for the Council.

Thus the "historic" difference between Sawyer and Pierce and the previous Council majority was not their political priorities. Their differences were sexual preference and race:

"The outcome saw the re-election of two incumbents, Jane Bender and Mike Martini, and the election of two newcomers, John Sawyer and Lee Pierce. Pierce, whose election awaits a final count of absentee ballots, would be the first black man ever elected to the City Council in Santa Rosa. Sawyer is the first openly gay man elected to the council."

But it's unlikely many voters knew Sawyer was gay, and he didn't make it a campaign issue. Two days after the election, a PD story more or less outed him (11/4, "Pierce, Sawyer join SR Council"):

"For the first time in Santa Rosa's 136-year history, a black man and an openly gay man have been elected to the City Council. 'I think the city has made progress,' Councilwoman Jane Bender said Wednesday, alluding to the most diverse group of City Council candidates ever elected in Santa Rosa.

Santa Rosa voters elected gem stone distributor Lee Pierce, who is black and lives on the west side of town, and news store owner John Sawyer, who is gay, to the council Tuesday. Voters also returned incumbents Mike Martini and Bender to office."

Not that Sawyer's sexual preference was a secret. A PD profile of Sawyer and his Fourth Street business four years ago said (6/11/00, "Keeper of the news"):

"Sawyer admits he has difficulty 'getting away from' a retail business opened 15 hours a day, seven days a week. One way he manages is through the support of his business partner and life companion, Dan Potts. 'I'd be hard pressed to run (Sawyer's) without him', Sawyer says. ... The two live in a three-bedroom Hugh Codding-built home on Midway Drive, minutes from Talbot Avenue, where Sawyer grew up and where his parents still live."

That story also commented on Sawyer's City Hall connections:

"Despite his business and personal obligations, Sawyer still makes time to attend at least five civic-related committee or board meetings a month. In addition, he spends countless hours on the phone assisting with community or volunteer activities. He has served on the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Board, leaving as chairman, and was part of City Vision, an attempt to guide the long-term development of downtown Santa Rosa.

Sawyer currently is chairman of both the police advisory board and the City of Santa Rosa Merit Award, which recognizes the efforts of community volunteers. He also serves on Santa Rosa Mayor Janet Condron's Downtown Parking Advisory Committee."

At the same time Sawyer held appointed positions at City Hall, he was also active in CityVision--a private organization sponsored and funded by the City Council, but run by Downtown/Railroad Square business people for their own benefit. Santa Rosa Main Street is the successor to CityVision. Organized by Councilmember Condron, Main Street is also funded by the Council and privately run. Its website says Sawyer is on the Board of Directors.

So what the PD said was "historic" about the 2004 Council race, is that a a gay City Hall insider who was not identified as gay during the campaign, and a black City Hall insider who did not make an issue of his race, were elected along with Bender (now Mayor) and Martini to join two-like-minded incumbents (Bob Blanchard and Condron) and Steve Rabinowitsh.

A letter to the PD editor commented (11/6, "Small-mindedness"),

"It was a grave disappointment to me to read in the Nov. 4 paper that a black and a gay man were elected to the Santa Rosa City Council. These are two good men I voted for. I knew Pierce is black. I did not know that Sawyer is gay, openly or not, a fact not only irrelevant, but also none of my business.

Now you have put these men in boxes, labels that will affix themselves to their names whenever they are mentioned or quoted. So somehow an article that purports to celebrate a breakthrough backhandedly reinforces small-mindedness."

So much for diversity at City Hall as 2005 begins.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Local environmental groups silent on salamander habitat preservation

Below is a recent email Two Santa Rosas is glad to pass along. It's from Marilee Montgomery, Public Information Liaison for Stop the Casino 101 Coalition. See above for an updated background story, first posted last June at The Other Santa Rosa.

(Please forward this email to anyone you think would be interested in saving the Sonoma County Tiger Salamander population)

Dear Friend:

As you are probably aware, the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team has high-jacked the whole process for protecting the California Tiger Salamander and preserving its habitat here in Sonoma County.

After a conversation I had yesterday with Vincent Griego of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, it is obvious to me that Fish and Wildlife has made the decision to consider this "local building industry-supported group" (North Bay Business Journal , March, 2004) as representative of the community as a whole. They have also apparently decided to ignore the recommendations of a team of environmentalists, and go forward with a plan that would not only reduce the amount of land required for mitigation, but would also chop up CTS habitat, which must be continuous to be effective. Both these measures would ensure the eradication of the Sonoma County CTS and its unique genetic strain.

Fish and Wildlife has sought no meaningful input from either the environmental community, the community at large, or the elected officials from other area cities. Despite that, they are apparently ready to proceed with creating a "conservation" plan as early as next month, going forward based on the assumption that the "team" , which is not even a bona fide organization, has the authority to negotiate this issue for the whole county!

I had a long conversation with Kassie Siegel, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which has brought suit against Fish and Wildlife to protect the status of Sonoma County's CTS as "endangered". She suggested that I attempt to engage Sonoma County's environmentalists and those sympathetic to the preservation of the vernal wetlands habitat as well as the preservation of Sonoma county's CTS population.

I know that many of you have been involved in this from the beginning, and I'd like to hear from anyone who has information regarding this situation. Because I am limited by my health problems and must spend most of my available energy on casino issues, I simply cannot function as the point person on this particular issue. But we definitely need to coordinate our efforts by forming a Vernal Wetlands task force as quickly as possible. I'm hoping someone out there will commit to this task.

In the meantime, I am asking each of you to email Vincent Griego at Fish & Wildlife at and let him know that the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team does not speak for this community with regard to Sonoma County CTS habitat. I'm also begging our local environmental community to become more engaged in this process. Winning a war always takes time, but with a real show of force now, combined with the Center Biological Diversity's lawsuit, we could conceivably win this particular battle.

Thank you so much for your interest in this issue.

Marilee Montgomery

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The other "Other Santa Rosa"

I found myself caught in a username/password glitch when I tried to post to my previous blog, The Other Santa Rosa.

The result is this parallel blog, Two Santa Rosas. I plan to reorganize and update some of the stories at The Other Santa Rosa, and move its archives to this site as time permits.

To view last year's posts at The Other Santa Rosa, go here: .