By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Six candidates are running for three seats on the Sebastopol City Council in a race that makes up in personalities for what it lacks in substantive issues.
The candidates include those who own small and large businesses, play behind-the-scene roles in civic governance or offer liberal views in a city that prides itself on its inclusiveness.
The city of Sebastopol itself has a balanced budget, a Main Street business community that seems to be surviving the recession and no looming projects that are causing concern.
There is a persistent traffic problem from the intersection of two state highways in the center of town. There is also some backlash by candidates and in the community over what some see as undue attention being paid by the council to a vocal minority over such issues as leaf blowers, Wi-Fi and SmartMeters.
At the Oct. 5 meeting, debate over SmartMeters overshadowed Sebastopol’s ground-breaking green building ordinance and rewriting its housing needs plan, both of which would have been notable on any other occasion.
The seats that are up for re-election are held by Mayor Sarah Gurney and council members Larry Robinson and Linda Kelley.
Gurney is seeking re-election, and Robinson and Kelley are not.
The other candidates are Ron Basso, Colleen Fernald, Michael Kyes, Maureen Shea and Patrick Slayter.
Gurney, 57, is a mediation attorney who is serving her third term as mayor and is the first mayor to have weekly office hours at City Hall and meet people by riding the local bus.
She stresses her leadership and record of involvement in government since moving to Sebastopol in 1978, having served on the committee to update the city’s General Plan and working on the parks and recreation committee, plus several countywide committees.
Gurney, who has been on the council for six years, is also a member of the state Coastal Commission.
“I have a record, people can see how I do this job and how I have been able to create a climate of civility,” Gurney said. “I am well-networked … I know the issues from many points of view, not just the people who are at the meeting on the issue.”
Gurney said it is a misperception that a vocal majority gets too much attention, driven in part by media focus on more controversial topics while routine work is overlooked.
Gurney said there are no large developments or controversial issues driving debate.
“For this election, the biggest issue is the vitality as a community, economic vitality certainly and the vitality of our community, that people feel safe and secure in their work, in their homes, and in the enjoyment of life in our city,” Gurney said. “This is strong and stable community, and I feel a lot of synergy.”
Basso, 51, a Sebastopol native, is former owner of the R.S. Basso furniture store chain and has served on the Design Review Board for seven years.
He advocates turning Sebastopol’s one-way main streets back into two-way corridors that, along with widening sidewalks, he believes would slow down traffic and give people a reason to linger downtown, to the benefit of downtown business.
Basso is one who feels the council spends too much time listening to a vocal minority that opposed a Wi-Fi network downtown, want bans on leaf blowers and a moratorium on SmartMeters.
“You have the same people coming, most often they don’t even live in Sebastopol, expressing their opinion and you have a council that doesn’t stand up to them and look after the greater good for the people who live here,” Basso said.
“The people that would come to this council meeting are just frustrated. When they do come, nothing gets done and the same people over and over again sway the council. It wreaks havoc in our city,” he said.
Fernald, 48, an artist and sustainability consultant, frequently attends council meetings and speaks on many of the issues.
Her overriding message is against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At a recent meeting sang a short verse advocating peace.
“There is strong support for the stand I take,” Fernald said. “Are you a candidate for peace? It matters on the local level, it matters when we can’t pay to fix potholes and we are blowing up other countries’ streets. The soul of America is harmed by the immorality of where our taxpayer dollars go.”
Fernald also said the council should reflect the city’s demographics and she should be elected to represent Sebastopol’s progressive residents.
She resents the idea that someone would criticize people who attend and speak at meetings, even if they are on topics some would consider minority views.
“I encourage everyone to come to City Council meetings and share their views. … I applaud Sebastopol for caring about issues that are important for quality of life,” Fernald said.
Kyes, 61, a 21-year Sebastopol resident, is an energy efficiency consultant, working with Zero Energy Associates in Sebastopol, and has been on the Sebastopol chamber board, the parks and recreation committee and the Laguna foundation.
“Sebastopol has been doing pretty good with its green business focus,” Kyes said. “When you look at it, Sebastopol is one of the few cities that has balanced budget. We are still maintaining our parks, we don’t have water rationing, we have met our affordable housing requirements. The city is doing well.”
Kyes said Sebastopol residents do a good job with water conservation, but he would like to set up a program with financial incentives to do indoor water retrofits, replace toilets and showerheads and hot water systems, financing it with on-bill assessments.
Kyes also said Sebastopol has excess sewer capacity at the Santa Rosa regional treatment plant that could be sold.
He thinks the installation of SmartMeters can help people conserve energy, and although he doesn’t know whether the health fears are valid, he said the fears are valid and he favors a one-year moratorium
Shea, 59, has lived in the Sebastopol area since 1973 and is a part-owner of The Hot Tub Store. She has served on the Sonoma County grand jury and has worked on Sonoma County homeless issues.
Shea said traffic is an issue that is difficult to deal with, but would like to see more park-and-ride lots, charging stations for electric vehicles and shuttle service to events such as the Gravenstein Apple Fair.
She considers herself independent of any existing factions and pro-business, but endorsed by environmentalists.
“There is perception that small vocal majorities are hijacking the system,” Shea said. “I am hoping to shift the conversation a little bit and to what we agree on and not to the small disagreements, creating respect of all points of view, but how to move forward, otherwise we are caught in gridlock.”
Shea also likes CVS Pharmacy where it is now, in the Redwood Marketplace, where it is convenient for Sebastopol, Graton and Forestville.
She thinks there should be a way to encourage gray water conversions in Sebastopol.
Slayter, 44, is an independent architect and member of the Planning Commission.
“The hot-button issues for me are local businesses, treating our local merchants right and doing all the city can do to energize Main Street,” Slayter said. “If you have a strong business group and you have a stronger tax base, it means you can hire the police and fix the streets and parks … everything is connected.”
He said that as a private company, CVS Pharmacy should be able to move if it wants to and meets all city regulations.