By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sebastopol’s leaders must act fast to keep the city’s budget in the black.
On that, all six candidates vying for three open Sebastopol City Council seats agreed at a Monday night debate.
Differences among the candidates emerged as they told the audience at Park Side Elementary School’s auditorium just how they would promote growth while upholding the city’s progressive values.
“I have six years of experience in office,” said Mayor Sarah Gurney, who is running to keep her seat. “I’m concerned for our economic vitality, and I want to continue to manage the city, fiscally, with responsibility.”
Patrick Slayter, an architect and member of the Sebastopol Planning Commission, said the council should work to bring more events to attract people downtown, such as a year-round farmers market.
“We all saw the effects of the bike ride this weekend,” Slayter, 44, said of Levi Leipheimer’s GranFondo event that snaked through town, bringing spectators to the area.
“One way we can do that is by adding amenities for consumers that they depend on, like adding more parking,” said Michael Kyes, 61, an energy-efficiency consultant who has lived in Sebastopol for 21 years.
What’s key is how much people spend, said Maureen Ann Shea, 59, part owner of the Hot Tub Store. “We need to find businesses that are selling things that aren’t just $5, $10, $15,” she said. “We should think about our downtown area like Disneyland. How do we make it a destination?”
Boosting sales taxes can’t be the only way to keep the city vital, said Ronald Basso, 51, who owned the now-closed R.S. Basso furniture store chain and has served on the Sebastopol Design Review Board.
“We need to look beyond taxes. We need to think long term,” Basso said.
The candidates bring with them a broad range of experience.
Gurney, a 57-year-old mediation attorney, is in her third term on the council and her third year as mayor.
Kyes has served on the boards of the Sebastopol Area Chamber of Commerce, the Laguna Foundation and the Sebastopol Parks and Recreation Commission.
Slayter, 44, is a member of the Sebastopol Planning Commission.
In contrast, Colleen Fernald, a 48-year-old artist and sustainability consultant, said her experience serving the city stems from her avid participation in the public comment portion of meetings.
“I’ve probably attended more hours of public meetings and nonprofit meetings than many members of the existing council,” said Fernald. She sang a peace song to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a recent City Council meeting.
Debate over the health effects of PG&E SmartMeters and wireless Internet dominated a portion of the evening, and an audience member asked the group how they would weigh opinions of a quiet majority against a vocal group of very liberal residents.
“For a long time it’s been said we had a vocal minority attending the council meetings and swaying decisions,” Basso answered. “For me, I won’t be easily swayed.”
Gurney defended the council’s policies as balanced.
“There’s a misperception that some small vocal minority runs our city, and I know from my experience that it’s just not true,” she said.
Fernald put herself squarely on the fringe. Sebastopol is represented by a strong moderate leadership, and it’s time to diversify the council, she said.
“I’d like to see three strong moderates, three conservatives, and one extremely liberal,” Fernald said, waving her hand.
The debate was organized by the League of Women Voters of Sonoma County and co-hosted with the Sonoma-West Times and News and the Sebastopol Area Chamber of Commerce.