Supes candidates face off
JOHN SAWYER, SUSAN GORIN
The candidates for 1st District Supervisor, John Sawyer and Susan Gorin, are coming down the home stretch. Both hail from Santa Rosa, have been its mayor and have served on its city council together. In recent weeks they’ve, of course, highlighted their differences, and the discourse has become heated. In separate interviews with the Index-Tribune the candidates discussed the issues, addressed concerns and responded to some of the attacks.
What are the most pressing issues facing the board?
Sawyer: One of the most pressing – and it’s very unfortunate that we find ourselves in this position of having to beg the state for money, but that’s where we are – is the Springs redevelopment project. This was the poster child of redevelopment – not all cities and counties could describe their projects as poster children, but this was truly a poster child: halfway done; you could see the effect; just have to drive down the road and see one side as far as the real beautiful effects of how the funds were used. That’s one of my priorities.
The economy and job creation – counties don’t create jobs but we can facilitate that. Water issues are major, especially in the southern end of the district. El Verano is below sea level. There are some really major projects going on right now to deal with the water issue. We need to deal with the economy, water and education.
Gorin: We’re still pulling ourselves out of a recession and we need to really look at what kind of jobs we can create in the county. My platform has always been that the 1st District needs to look at economic diversification.
We have a very healthy viticulture and tourism economy. We’re built around that, and I think that is fabulous and we need to build on that. Let’s look at how we can diversify that by promoting things other than our wine industry. Another part of that is looking at how we can build different kinds of agricultural crops, focusing on artisan foods and locally grown foods.
We are at a very important place in the decisions that we need to make in how to keep this Valley special. We move here. We live here. We make a choice to live here for a reason, because of its beauty, and I’m concerned about some of the development choices that my opponent would make that would threaten the ecosystem in the Valley.
Are there specific flashpoints that are at risk you are worried about?
Gorin: I’m concerned about planting more vines up the mountains, especially in the 1st District. I’m also concerned about making sure that we adhere to and preserve the scenic guidelines on our hillsides and mountaintops.
I think our voting records are very different in responses to the community. Where John pretty much is development at all cost, ignoring the neighborhoods, I’m really looking at what the neighborhoods are saying and trying to create a balance, making sure that the impacts from any development do not inadvertently fall on them. I’m trying to mitigate those impacts as much as possible.
John, you’ve been painted as the “non-environmental” candidate by your opponent and some of her supporters; how do you respond?
Sawyer: They try to paint me as someone who – and this is something my opponent has put on her Facebook – would support putting four lanes of highway between Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Now I’ve talked about it. I’ve lived here all my life. Everyone who has lived here has talked about what four lanes of roadway between Sonoma and Santa Rosa would look like and how that would affect our community, but she was saying it like I was endorsing it. Another person made a posting that I wanted to pave over Sonoma Valley. This is hyperbole. It is absolutely insulting to me. I’m a kid of the ’60s; I’ve been recycling all my life. I’ll put my carbon footprint up against my opponent’s any day.
She moved from a 3,200-square-foot home up in the hills that used to be tree-covered – I don’t even know how many trees were removed for her home – and left, rented that house out and moved to Oakmont. And she talks about it like she’s the environmentalist? They didn’t cut down that number of trees to build my house, my 1,500-square-foot home. I think there’s a little bit of hypocrisy going on here.
They didn’t like that I showed my record, because it’s virtually parallel to hers. And I started before she was elected. Putting greenhouse gas targets in place before she was ever on the city council. Trying to paint me as not being sensitive to the environment is purely a desperate strategy to discredit my record, when it speaks for itself.
Are there things the board is not addressing that you would want to give more attention to?
Gorin: I would say just the reverse. What they are doing in preparing the county for energy independence, working on strategies to retrofit existing buildings and to move forward on a renewable energy production with Sonoma Clean Power – I want to be a part of that.
Sawyer: Let’s go right into the core of the County Administration Building: PRMD, the Permit Resource Management Department, is in my crosshairs. I would describe it as dysfunctional. There’s a culture there that’s very unfortunate, and it needs to change.
They affect so many different things in different ways in which we are going to come out of this economic slump that we’re in. If you are the gatekeeper of permitting, you have a major impact on business and job creation. So that’s one of the things I am going to target myself.
They have responded to one recommendation from the community, which was for an ombudsman. Well, if you need an ombudsman for someone to get through your department, my assessment is that your department is broken. If you need a person to help guide you through it, there’s something wrong.
Now that the state has made its decision not to fund the redevelopment project, how would you proceed with Highway 12?
Gorin: I served for about 10 years on Santa Rosa’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee planning most of the bike lanes in Santa Rosa that exist now. It has always been piecemeal funding. It takes a long time to aggregate funding, but there are a number of special designated funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects. But in addition to that, it is a full court press with me to move forward with the public works department in identifying those opportunities, planning a phased-in process for completion of (the Highway 12 project), and identifying funding sources.
I serve on the Association of Bay Area Governments, we’ve identified this area as a priority development area, and there is funding available through that process for infrastructure and planning. I’m optimistic that with my experience and my responsiveness that we will make this happen. It’s not going to be as quickly as if we had the $7 million that we think the state owes us, but I’m committed to making it happen.
Sawyer: It’s going to take working with the other board members. There are two major redevelopment projects that are completely on hold right now. One is here in the Springs and the other is in Roseland in Santa Rosa. What it’s going to take is the other supervisors saying, “We understand the need for this priority.” And I think that they do already.
We need to work together to take all those available funds that were generated through redevelopment or that are available through the final shakeout of redevelopment – we still don’t know what that’s going to look like. The state has handled it so poorly. I’ve never seen such mismanagement of the dissolution of a program. It’s just pitiful what they’ve done.
I think that the county board is on board for seeing those projects to completion, although they will now have to be phased. It’s going to take longer. It’s going to cost more money. It’s kind of sad, but that’s the reality of how we’re going to have to pay for it now. But I’m committed to it.
Susan, some have made an issue of the fact that the home you own is in the 3rd District, just on the other side of the 1st District line, and you are renting a house within the district in order to run; how do you respond to them?
Gorin: The reality is John Sawyer and I both live a stone’s throw away from the boundary. He lives a stone’s throw inside the boundary; I lived a stone’s throw outside of the boundary – about 900 yards; he’s about 200 yards inside.
In figuring out whether or not we wanted to move to run for this seat – I’ve represented this area, I’ve committed my life to this area for 30 years: as president of the League of Women Voters of Sonoma County, president of Court Appointed Advocates for Sonoma County; working on services for the entire Valley. I represent this area as the ABAG representative and the air district representative for all over Sonoma county. And I’ve represented this area for 16 years as school board member, council member, mayor, and I also represent everybody as chair of the Water Advisory Committee.
I’ve already demonstrated my deep commitment for the entire district throughout my life and some people are making a big deal of the fact that John Sawyer has lived a stone’s throw away from the edge for 20 years, and the reality is that he does not have the record I have in serving the community, so he and others are using this. Apparently that’s the only thing they can find to use against me.
It’s now all but assured that three of the five board members will be Santa Rosa residents:
Gorin: No, there’s two now, and John would make a third. I am unclear about where I would live. I’m undecided about that. Yes, I’m leasing a home, but I could choose to move anywhere.
What ways would you engage the entire district and keep the Valley connected to the Board of Supervisors?
Gorin: One of the reasons I’ve been a top vote getter in Santa Rosa is I’ve always been very responsive to community concerns. I’ve been the council member that has been attending neighborhood picnics, community events, fundraisers for non-profit organizations, as well as business meetings. And John has been absent from any of that.
I fully anticipate that I would be part of the community here in the Sonoma Valley, as I have for the past year. It’s part of who I am and part of my commitment to the community.
Yes, I will have regular office hours, but that only serves a very small number of folks in the Valley. I want to create a Sonoma Valley advisory committee – just as I did as mayor – of community leaders to meet frequently and help me understand emerging issues in the Valley, but also to let them know about what is happening and moving through the county.
Sawyer: I have been representing people that have lived miles and miles away from me on the (Santa Rosa) City Council. Reaching out and being accessible to the residents is not something that’s not familiar to me.
I would maintain Jennifer Hainstock, who’s Valerie’s district director right now, as my district director. She will stay in place. I think that kind of continuity is important. She lives just off the Plaza. She’s well-connected in the community. And as we move through this process of me getting even more knowledge and getting even more connected to the Valley, she can be my bridge. When I’m not here, she will be my eyes and ears to the Valley, and she’s been here for quite some time.
What is the clear choice facing voters in this election?
Gorin: There are so many differences between John and me, and that was one of the primary reasons I chose to run for this position. I’ve served with John for six years, and I believe that the 1st District and Sonoma County deserve someone more responsive to community concerns; less responsive to the big business, special interest concerns.
Sawyer: Look at the qualities of both of us, and the experience of both, the roots in the community of both, the sensitivity to creating a vital economy, and how each of us has done that. Look at my voting record with the environment. Look at both of those. The fact that I didn’t have to move into the district to run in it. I was not district shopping.
Why does it matter that she moved into the district?
Sawyer: She can deny it all she wants, but the reality is that the district she could have run in had an incumbent running in it. So, what do you do? You move.
She’s a big proponent of district elections in Santa Rosa, has been for years. The single biggest loophole that someone can use to counter the affect of district elections in any environment is to move. And that’s exactly what she did. So here she is, touting all the wonderful things about how much better you get represented by those living inside your community, that people know your community the best because they live within it, etc., etc. What does she do? She moves out of the 3rd District and moves into the 1st. And she says, “Well, it was only a couple of blocks away.” You know what? That’s not the point. She was in the 3rd. Why didn’t she run in the 3rd? Because there was an incumbent running in the 3rd. This was an open seat.
So, she was district shopping.
Susan, you’ve received large campaign contributions from labor unions; if elected would those relationships influence your actions in any way?
Gorin: You have to separate who I’m supported by – I’m supported by the trade unions of the North Bay Labor Council, a lot of those folks who have been unemployed through the recession have appreciated what I’ve done as mayor to get the economy rolling again in Santa Rosa – versus the employee associations.
Yes, I am supported by SEIU; they represent a lot of the county workers, but they for the most part represent workers who are the lowest paid in the county structure – they have some managers there, but for the most part, they are some of the office workers and the in-home supportive services who do not qualify for a pension or can barely afford a healthcare plan or have given up the healthcare plan, whereas John is supported by public safety groups and the Teamsters – those who have always gotten the cream right off the top of the salary structure.
John, you’ve received large campaign contributions from ag interests, and development and industry interests; what do you say to people who worry that might influence your actions?
Sawyer: Because I was always a businessman, being in retail as long as I was, up until two years ago, I was always connected to the business community. So the fact that I would get contributions from the business community is no surprise.
My opponent has gone after some of the same contributions that I’ve received, and then criticized them. So it’s sour grapes in some ways. She was interviewed by the realtors, by NorBAR (North Bay Association of Realtors); she interviewed for the same pot of money that I interviewed for. She didn’t get it; I did; she criticized it.