Council hopefuls concur on water rate hike
COUNCIL CANDIDATES, from left, David Cook, Laurie Gallian and Cameron Stuckey make notes while Madolyn Agrimonti answers a question.
All four candidates for the Sonoma City Council agreed Tuesday with the recent council decision not to implement a 5 percent yearly water rate hike for five years.
During a candidates’ forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, three of the four said they agreed with the decision while the fourth, incumbent council member Laurie Gallian, cast one of the “no” votes against the increase.
The four, Gallian, David Cook, Cameron Stuckey and Madolyn Agrimonti, are vying for two seats on the council. Two-term incumbent Joanne Sanders declined to run for a third term.
And while the candidates agreed with the council decision, they also agreed that the city needs to do something about water infrastructure and wells, but didn’t have concrete suggestions or ideas on how the improvements should be financed.
“A lot of cities pay lower prices,” Agrimonti said. “We have older wells and salt intrusion along with state and federal regulations.” And she said the city should look into some sort of water consortium.
Cook said the matter needs to go back to the county’s Board of Supervisors, since the Supervisors, as the Sonoma County Water Agency’s directors, ultimately set the rates. “We need a reduction (in prices) or a partnership,” he said. “But our infrastructure needs to be improved.”
Stuckey said the city is at the mercy of the county water agency. “We have maintenance that needs to be done,” he said. “But we have to do something about our water.”
Gallian agreed. “Ninety-five percent of our water is delivered (from the water agency),” she said. “But saving through conservation ultimately costs us more. We need to look at adding wells and improving our infrastructure.”
Two of the candidates, Stuckey and Cook, also had water as one of their top issues.
Stuckey’s top issues included maintaining the city budget and water. “I’d like to make us less dependent on the Sonoma County Water Agency,” he said.
Cook said his top priority was doing something for Valley kids, such as a website so parents could find out when tryouts were for activities such as youth soccer and football. But Cook also said water was a priority. “We have to look at our infrastructure,” he said. “The more we conserve, the more it’s going to cost.”
Agrimonti pointed to the lack of a recreation department as her top priority. “People take their children out of town for activities,” she said. “I know we don’t have the money, but I’d like to see a General Plan for recreation.”
Gallian’s top priority is making sure no project gets off the ground without a revenue source. And she said her second priority would be engagement with the public.
The city’s budget and economic development were also part of the equation.
Cook said the city needs to become more business friendly and fill empty storefronts. Gallian said the city needs to streamline its permitting process.
Agrimonti said the city needs to define excellence, while Stuckey suggested the possibility of a public bank.
All agreed there would have to be some sort of pension reform, but it would likely start for new employees.
The candidates were split on whether they supported the newly-adopted council regulations on stores of more than 10,000-square feet.
Gallian supports the council decision as she was in the voting majority on the issue. Agrimonti has mixed feelings on the “formula” store ban on the Plaza and said it’s something that she would like to revisit. Stuckey too said the matter should be revisited, but didn’t think the ordinance was clear.
Cook, who was on the ad hoc committee exploring the ordinance, said the city needs to keep a hometown feel, but the ban gave the city some bad press.
The candidates also discussed affordable housing, and all were in favor of trying to keep affordable housing despite losing money for it from the now-dissolved community redevelopment agency.