City lurches toward big-box panel
The Sonoma City Council tackled a contentious issue Monday night and, amidst squabbling over membership and whether or not a "big-box" policy committee was even needed, voted 3-2 to proceed with an ad hoc group.
Purpose of the committee will be to discuss the policy tools available for the city to respond to chain or "formula" businesses, or large warehouse-sized stores proposing to open in Sonoma. But some council members questioned the need for a new committee or even the need for any council action.
Said Councilmember Tom Rouse, "This all seems to have come about as a result of Staples. I don't know if it (public reaction opposing the office supply chain store opening) is the vocal minority or a complete majority making all the noise."
But, Rouse added, "after looking at EDAC (the Economic Development Advisory Committee) I think we've got the committee in place."
EDAC is composed of members from the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, City Councilmember Joanne Sanders, chamber Director Jennifer Yankovich, two other business members, City Manager Linda Kelly and staff member Laurie Decker. It has no non-business public members.
Sanders echoed Rouse's sentiments, stating, "We already have a committee in place. We need to have the chamber (of commerce) involved ... maybe we (should) add another council member on EDAC ... this is something that should not be in a big hurry."
But Councilmember Steve Barbose, who put the committee item on the agenda, objected saying, "EDAC is not a land use committee. This is, first and foremost, a land use decision. I don't see what the big fear is if you (EDAC) have a seat at the table ... We have three meetings ... we may not reach agreement. It has to go to the Planning Commission anyway."
With that, Barbose moved that two council members be on the ad hoc committee, and nominated himself and Mayor Laurie Gallian.
Ken Brown suggested there should be two members of the public involved, and nominated Ben Boyce, a proponent of Community Impact Reports; and Kelso Barnett, a young conservative activist who nevertheless spoke in support of establishing the committee in order to preserve the character of the Plaza.
All of which led Sanders to loudly complain, "That's a fine how-do-you-do. I'm on the EDAC. I employ 100 people. And I'm the only one not on the committee."
That ignited a heated exchange among council members:
Tom Rouse to Ken Brown, "The business expertise is seated to your right."
Brown to Rouse, "I don't believe a prerequisite for this is being a small business owner. I don't think being a small business owner, Mrs. Sanders, makes you an expert."
To which Mayor Gallian responded, "I want collaboration. I want to move forward."
Whereupon Barbose withdrew his motion and nominated himself and Tom Rouse.
Rouse said, "I'm willing to do it, but I find some irony in it. I'm opposed to the committee, but I'm willing to be on the committee."
More discussion ensued about membership from the chamber and EDAC, and then Sanders raised another objection, opposing Boyce's membership.
"He's the one who shepherded the living wage ordinance into Sonoma," charged Sanders "He promotes the Community Impact Report."
Ken Brown responded, "If it's fair for Mrs. Yankovich, it's fair for Mr. Boyce."
And Barbose added, "No one in this room is better informed on Community Impact Reports than Ben Boyce."
To which Sanders then responded, "I think there should be more women on the committee."
At which point at least a few men were heard to groan.
In the end, through a succession of 3-2 and 5-0 votes, a committee was approved with a reasonably clear charter for staff to translate into an agenda. But that wasn't the end of the controversy.
Within two days of the meeting, Rouse had received enough complaints - he cited five - to the "haphazard" and "rushed" way the public members were chosen (including the fact that Boyce is not a resident of Sonoma), that he informed City Clerk Gay Johann he wanted to place an item on the June 6 council agenda to revisit selection of the two public members through a public hearing.