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Editorial: ‘Gatewaygate’ a tempest in a teapot?

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The bad taste in the mouths of some Sonomans still lingers. And we don’t mean from last Thursday’s corn pudding.

We’re referring to the Nov. 5 meeting of the Sonoma City Council when Councilmember Amy Harrington revealed that, due to circumstances beyond her control since Oct. 1, when she voted on the losing end of the council’s tentative approval of the Gateway housing proposal – a 33 unit commercial-affordable mix at 899 Broadway – she had moved her law office to the space precisely next door to the project.

At the meeting Harrington convinced the council to delay that final vote on its 3-2 approval for a few weeks until she received feedback from the state Fair Political Practices Commission as to whether her new work digs would require her recusal from the final vote.

The chagrined Gateway development team at the time forcefully pointed out that, Harrington’s recusal or not, a vote that night would still result in the project moving forward. However, they stressed, a delay of more than a few weeks could push the vote past the seating of the new council – in which councilmember-elect Logan Harvey replaces outgoing councilmember Gary Edwards, a supporter of the project – potentially changing the vote and reversing the approval of the project.

Supporters of the project are calling it a cynical political ploy. Everyone else is relatively nonplussed. (Harrington, for her part, scoffed at the idea that she’d move her business merely on the outside chance of flipping a single vote.)

Wherever one stands on “Gatewaygate,” as one email to the Index-Tribune called it, Sonoma City Manager Cathy Capriola confirmed last week that the final vote on the Gateway Project will return to the council Dec. 3, the final meeting of Edwards’ term. At the meeting earlier this month, Councilmember David Cook said he would agree to delay the vote to Dec. 3, but no further. So it looks like next Monday, Harrington will either vote or not, and the five-member council that has vetted the project for the last two years will decide its fate.

A final note on soon-to-be former-Councilmember Gary Edwards, who decided not to run for re-election at the end of his single term on the Sonoma City Council.

This column has probably disagreed with Edwards’ votes at the dais more than any other councilmember in the past four years – a small number of squabbles, frankly, but a few stood out: a little over-dependence on free-market reasoning here, a bit of cannabis skepticism there.

But quibbling over a few votes aside, Sonoma will be the worse for not having a person of Edwards’ consistency of character on the City Council.

What you’d see from Edwards was what you’d get, whether you agreed with him or not. (Many were in the not category and he knew it; he once responded to an innocent “how’s it going on the council” question with “no one’s taken a shot at me, yet!”)

Edwards never appears to cast a vote with an eye on his political standing; the scales of his decision-making never seem tipped by the weight of a gain or loss of future votes.

His leanings are part Adam Smith, part how he’d like Sonoma to be for his kids. Now, that may not necessarily be the exact same town you or I envision for our kids – but it’s a welcome basis for consistency, nonetheless.

Edwards loathes political grandstanding and, even more, his suspicion that some of his council colleagues put more time into, as he puts it, “attending lots of parties,” than they do serving the city. Whether that’s a fair assessment or not, it’s tough to argue with a guy who personally helped deliver aid to Paradise disaster evacuees, was Johnny-on-the-spot in all sorts of ways during the 2017 North Bay fires, and is on hand most Thanksgivings to help serve free dinners to any and all.

Edwards’ service to Sonoma has extended beyond simply casting votes on the council. And off the council, the best part of that service will most assuredly continue.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.