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Olivares in line to be Santa Rosa’s next mayor

Ernesto Olivares


Following an election that shifted power back to candidates supported by local business interests, retired Santa Rosa police lieutenant Ernesto Olivares is poised to become the next mayor of Santa Rosa.

All signs point to the 53-year-old councilman being elected to the post by a majority of his fellow council members at the Dec. 7 council meeting, when new council members take office.

“It seems like Ernesto would be the natural choice,” said Scott Bartley, who was elected to the council on Nov. 2. “I certainly think that he would be more than capable in the position.”

Olivares, who was elected in 2008, as well as council members John Sawyer and Jane Bender have been in the minority on the council since the 2008 election gave progressives a majority for the first time.

Mayor Susan Gorin, Gary Wysocky, Marsha Vas Dupre and Veronica Jacobi have held a 4-3 majority for the past two years. But in a tough year for incumbents across the nation, Jacobi lost her reelection bid, and victories by Bartley and Ours shifted power back to business-backed candidates.

While any council member can be selected by the council to serve as mayor, the shift all but assures it will be one of the four in the new majority. Incumbents Sawyer and Olivares have the most experience, and Sawyer says he does not intend to seek the post.

It also means that Wysocky, who has served for two years as vice mayor and was expected to be well positioned to succeed Gorin if the environment and labor-backed bloc had retained power, has lost his change to wield the mayor’s gavel.

Sawyer served as mayor for six months in 2008 after the death of Bob Blanchard, and he said he won’t be seeking the post this time around.

“I know in my heart that Ernesto, given his experience both as a city employee and as a manager and his relationship with the organization and public safety and all of his experience with the community, that he would make an outstanding mayor and I would support him any way I could,” Sawyer said.

Olivares was characteristically concise when asked how he felt about the opportunity.

“If it happens, it’ll be a great honor,” Olivares said.

Olivares speaks far less than most of his colleagues on the council, and when he does his remarks are to the point. Supporters say his brevity is an asset that reflects his strong preparation for meetings and his desire to not waste staff time.

“His silence is fascinating to watch and I’ll try to emulate it, because when he does say something it’s considered,” Bartley said.

Mayor Susan Gorin said she’ll hasn’t spoken to Olivares about his interest in the post and will wait until she does before deciding whether to support him.

“He still is learning a lot about the operations of the city beyond his obvious strengths as a retired law enforcement officer and gang task force coordinator,” Gorin said. “He is still very, very quiet and succinct.”

Remarks by Wysocky suggested he’s not quite sure where Olivares stands on many issues.

“If Ernesto Olivares is elected mayor, I look forward to learning his positions on policies and projects,” Wysocky said. “I’m hopeful we’ll be working together on areas we agree on.”

One area where that’s unlikely to happen is the bicycle friendly improvements to Humboldt Street. Wysocky is a strong supporter of the so-called “bicycle boulevard” project, but Olivares made it clear he’s unlikely to support making the pilot project permanent.

He sees it as an example of the kind of “special interest” project that the city doesn’t have the luxury to undertake in its current fiscal crisis, he said.

“The public is frustrated over the money and energy that’s been put into that when everything else is kind of falling apart around us,” Olivares said.

The city’s priorities need to be creating jobs and continuing to tackle the city’s budget woes, he said.

Council members’ “pet projects” may have to take a back seat to issues befitting the fifth-largest city in the Bay Area, such as economic development, he said.

“We have to wear the big boy pants. That’s who we are,” he said.

If elected, Olivares said he would work hard to streamline meetings and keep discussions focused, which he said hasn’t been the current council’s strength. Many a time he’s thought to himself, “we’ve beat this one to death, we need to move on.”

“My role (would be) to move the meeting along and take care of the agenda. I’m not my job to sit up there and talk more than the other six,” he said.

He said he has a high opinion of city staff and will tend to trust them until they give him a reason not to. Effective leaders need to find ways to “keep your nose in and your fingers out,” he said.

While there was significant disagreement on the council over the recent hiring of Kathy Millison as the new city manager, Olivares said he doesn’t expect the new majority to move to replace her, as some warned could happen.

“She’s got the job and she deserves the right to do the job and have the flexibility to do the job without micromanaging,” he said.

Olivares said he will have the time to commit to the post because he was able to retire from the police department at age 51 with full benefits after a 30-year career. According to a state database, Olivares receives a pension of $128,000 per year.

He said he’s pleased voters passed Measure P, the quarter of a percent sales tax increase expected to raise about $6 million per year for city services. But he said the financial challenges facing the city remain significant and he thinks the council should be conservative about spending that additional revenue.

“I don’t want to be premature and start spending money we don’t have,” he said.

18 Responses to “Olivares in line to be Santa Rosa’s next mayor”

  1. Ben Saari says:

    @ anyone who thinks Santa Rosa is besieged by gangs:

    name the gangs

    name the criminal activity of the gangs

    name the areas made unsafe by gangs

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  2. Will says:

    Regarding the bicycle boulevard on Humboldt Street, Ernesto Olivares is quoted as saying, “We have to wear the big boy pants. That’s who we are.” I guess he wants us to get rid of our childish toys, such as bicycles, and drive cars like grownups.

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  3. I’m struck by this article’s claim that, “Supporters say his brevity is an asset that reflects his strong preparation for meetings and his desire to not waste staff time.” This seems like double-speak to me. If someone’s brief points are insightful than it’s an indication of preparation; but, by itself, brevity often is an indication of ignorance and/or concealment. While I would never wish Mr. Oliveras to be subjected to the types of hyperbolic attacks the PD repeatedly levied against Councilwoman Jacobi’s competence, neither should the PD’s reporting be so crassly biased as merely to repeat anonymous supporters’ counter-intuitive “spin.” That’s the type of reporting techniques one finds on Fox News.

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  4. Ken Sportini says:

    @My Thoughts

    Well, then I ask again, why doesn’t the city of Santa Rosa have a new Gang Czar? Ernesto was the last one. Gangs are a problem. Ergo….

    Something’s missing here. What? The interim wants a pay raise to take the job permanently. She wants an Ernesto Olivares sized salary. The three biz-friendly people have been waiting for a majority to get her what she wants.

    For all you council watchers, keep an eye open for a HUGE pay raise to Ellen Bailey, interim Gang Czar. It’s just down the pike. Over $100k. I guarantee it.

    No, we don’t have no nepotism here.

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  5. Jamie Simon says:

    I say good luck to Mr. Oliveres. And thank you for wanting to stay close to city gov’t, which entails wearing many hats.
    He’s got previous experience working at SRPD (city gov’t), worked as a manager, met a payroll, balanced a budget, worked within the community, served on local Boards, is bilingual. What more qualifications does one need to serve on the council?

    Let’s give the guy a chance to work in the new capacity. Be grateful for someone on the council with real life experience in the public sector, who is still around and willing to roll up his sleeves and try and get some work done.

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  6. My thoughts says:

    In response to and the comment

    “Speaking of Gang Czar, did SR ever hire one? Because, you know, gangs are so dangerous and a problem in SR.” My response to you is — I guess you don’t live near or hang out near West 9th parts or Roseland District near Sunshine or Indian Village near 7-11 or old school South Park area. You should go out for a walk and in those areas one day.

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  7. sick and tired says:

    wow. For all of you complaining about the former bullyish, hard-line progressive majority–just wait. Do the rest of us get to complain about the nasty, argumentative, hardline, bully pulpit we expect to see with the new majority? You really think that 2 years of this last council caused all of our problems? Why didn’t the former majority take responsibility for getting us there in the first place? And what about our state gov’t budget issues? Do you realize what a trickle-down effect it’s had? (With a Republican gov?) And why, as Ken Sportini pointed out, are none of you complaining about a guy getting to retire at age 51 with a $128K pension? But you complain about the unions?

    I bet some of you will be complaining just as loudly a year from now but will be directing it at the same people you so staunchly support right now.

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  8. Grey Whitmore says:

    The majority of the commenters on here seem to have forgotten that the United States is in the grips on one of the worst recessions in its history.

    All well and good to bash the current council but if this crisis continues you will not see any changes in the day to day lives of the citizens of Santa Rosa.

    Of course, if things do improve that will of course be the direct result of the new council majority, how could it not be.

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  9. bill says:

    Olivares is a stand up guy and it is understandable why many would make him the next mayor. But, he is a former cop and the biggest problem the city faces is the budget. The biggest expenditure is public safety. It is not a good idea to have a cop running the city at a time when a very necessary reduction in public safety is imminent.

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  10. Alex says:

    Happy days are here again…oh happy days are here again!!!! I am so glad to see someone like Olivares to be elected Mayor who has the common sense to run this city efficiently instead of in the ground. I cannot wait until 2 years when Wysocky goes the way of Jacobi out the door! That Bike Boulevard, aka, the million dollar street to no where, is a crock and most of those who live in the JC don’t want it! Delusional thinker is what Wysocky is and what a horrible devastating mark he would have put on Santa Rosa with his pork projects budget. Seriously, North and Mendocino already have designated bike lanes, but to close off another street to share with bikes when the whole neighborhood is bike friendly…that is crazy insane thinking..especially when costing the city one million dollars! Needless to say the traffic would greatly increase on all the other streets who have put the pedestrians and bicyclist elsewhere in great danger…plus the additional traffic and noise to the other residents who have to put up with the traffic already…what a slap in the face to all the people who live in the JC..shame on them for forcing this on us. I am proud to say that Olivares put his life on the line to protect Santa Rosans for all those years in law enforcement…and my faith in him leading us out of the this mess from the previous Council is very high. I hope he gets it and I will gladly support him…go Olivares!

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  11. Voter says:

    The shift was a good thing because the “progressives” became the same people that they don’t like. Keep your bicycle streets. We need jobs.

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  12. Bradley Miller says:

    Olivares seems like a very reasonable and practical person. I’m glad he’s not longwinded. A person who can get the point across with fewer words is the more intelligent person. Now let’s see this new council majority get down to business and use our money wisely. I’m looking forward to better prioritization of our city’s resources.

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  13. Ken Sportini says:

    “…he was able to retire from the police department at age 51 with full benefits after a 30-year career. According to a state database, Olivares receives a pension of $128,000 per year.”

    Wow. How come no whining over this? But two weeks ago there was an article about the Healdsburg council having 3/5 retired cops/firemen and will it create a conflict of interest. And when they mentioned cities with a current or soon to be retired safety union person on council, they left out SR.

    Then there’s the part about Olivares spiking his pension by taking the Gang Czar job shortly before retiring.

    Hmmmm…….I guess for SRCC and the PD it’s DADT.

    Speaking of Gang Czar, did SR ever hire one? Because, you know, gangs are so dangerous and a problem in SR.

    Connect the dots people, connect the dots.

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  14. Matt Wells says:

    Maybe only a small percentage of the community uses bikes for transportation because adequate infrastructure is lacking?

    Overcrowding, parking, CO2 emission, traffic problems, etc. are not going to be solved by accelerating growth (AKA urban sprawl). The only growth we need in this economy is infill.

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  15. Eric Newman says:

    “Progressives have a better plan for job creation”

    As predicted, the PD is now announcing a new era of comity, now that the world has been set back on its axis, and the so-called “business-friendly” majority is back in its accustomed place at the head of the table. The “divided council” will now morph into “the city council”. Nothing to see here folks. Move along.

    The one lie that will not stand is the myth that the key to economic prosperity and job growth is ever-lower taxes on business, and setting the bar at the lowest common denominator (i.e. Lowe’s big-box type development). We don’t need more of the same poison that led to the near-collapse of the capitalist system in 2008.

    The real problem is not that businesses are asked to contribute in the form of taxes to their social duty, or that they are “over-regulated” by having to ensure that they meet code standards or pay a living wage. The real economic problem is lack of demand due to low wages, and a deliberate strategy by the American corporate sector to outsource jobs to third world countries that pay poverty wages.

    The current city council did not cause the Great Recession, nor is it fair to try to tag them with the lack of jobs and the resulting drop in revenues. We will put on our “big-boy/girl” pants and ask the Chamber/Alliance manufactured majority to back up their talk. We will be at city council meetings every week, week after week, asking the Mayor, “where are the jobs?”.

    My guess is that the the so- called”business council” won’t do any better thasn the statewide numbers. They just want you to think that they will. Let’s hold them accountable for their claims.

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  16. Donna Zapata says:

    I am so very proud of the Leadership and
    the passion that Ernesto Olivares has for our community! With Ernesto as Mayor I am confident that our City will be heading in the right direction. I am proud to call him my Hermano!

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  17. Mike says:

    The last thing Santa Rosa needs are new bike lanes, bike roundabouts and statuary. We need clear streets, the garbage picked up, safety in our neighborhoods and clean water in our homes.

    We need a tax structure that supports business growth, creates jobs and a rising standard of living.

    This is a tall order for a city government consumed with bicycles, a green economy, and a no growth policy for the past few years.

    Good luck to the next mayor and his or her effects to maintanin basic vital services, increase revenue, cut the budget and stabilize the local economy.

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  18. Billy C says:

    Ernesto has been the quiet but firm voice on the council. I think most of the
    reason he has held back is that realized the Progressives would push there agenda regardless of opinion or reason.
    Now that the power has shifted we can look forward to a change in leadership.
    I don’t Fault The progressive for trying to
    save the world or make Santa Rosa a Bike
    community.I am actually all for that.(to a point) The reality is that only a small percentage of people use a bike for there primary transportation and we have a City that will need strong leadership
    through tough times. I have meet Ernesto
    and had a chance to talk with him at length.I feel confident he will do a good job of us. All of us.

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