WatchSonoma Watch

Plenty at stake in Tuesday’s election


Epic battles for power and control in Sonoma County’s two largest cities and on the Board of Supervisors will conclude Tuesday, and depending on the outcome, could change the political landscape for years to come.

“Change” was the buzzword in 2008 when Barack Obama was swept into office and locally, when candidates backed by environmentalists helped wrest control of the city councils in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

Candidates backed by business interests are now hoping to regain power in those cities, and also deflect a political tilt on the Board of Supervisors, where a business-friendly majority still reigns.

“There’s a tremendous amount at stake in that you have two philosophies going head-to-head for who will dominate the politics of Sonoma County,” said Brian Sobel, a former Petaluma city councilman and now a political consultant.

“You’ve got a moderate-to-pro-business faction, and you’ve got a moderate-to-progressive faction,” he said. “That means there are a whole lot of people in the middle who, under the circumstances, might lean one way or the other.”

Gobs of money are being poured into the respective races, including a pace in the 2nd District supervisor’s race that could eclipse the 2008 record of $700,000 set by 3rd District candidates Sharon Wright and Shirlee Zane.

Pam Torliatt, viewed as the slow-growth, pro-labor candidate, is running against David Rabbitt, who has earned support from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, building and trade groups, and local police and firefighter unions.

Petaluma environmental activist and former county supervisor Bill Kortum, a Torliatt supporter, called the election a “watershed for how the future’s going to go.”

Kortum said the county’s environmental future is at stake, and as evidence of that, he pointed to the board’s recent approvals of the Dutra asphalt plant on the Petaluma River near Shollenberger Park and the Roblar Road quarry west of Petaluma, both on 3-2 votes.

“Despite these protections that voters voted in, and use their pocketbooks to protect, a couple of lame-duck supervisors pushed through these insulting and unneeded projects,” he said.

He said the board’s upcoming decision on Preservation Ranch, which would place about 1,800 acres of vineyards on 20,000 acres of heavily logged land in the northwest section of the county, outside Annapolis, is another example of why the election matters.

But Eric Koenigshofer, a former county supervisor and spokesman for Premier Pacific Vineyards of Napa, the developer of the timber conversion project, said there is no risk to the county’s strong environmental protections after Tuesday.

“What this change could bring is not a threat in any real way to those values, but what pro-business means in terms of our environmental construct,” he said. “It’s a process that is not only sensitive to our environmental values, but has some practical applications of project review and how long it takes.”

The outcomes of Tuesday’s races are likely to depend in large part on who voters believe have the best plans to address problems with the poor economy, the acknowledged key issue in this year’s election cycle.

Generally speaking, the candidates backed by business interests talk about the need to attract and start new businesses, including streamlining and speeding up the permit process.

The candidates backed by slow-growth advocates say the infrastructure is there and discuss filling vacancies and attracting “green jobs.”

In Santa Rosa, a slate of three business-backed candidates is hoping to wrest back control of the City Council, which underwent dramatic change in 2008.

That year, candidates who were focused on environmental and quality-of-life issues took over after decades of control by largely pro-development City Council majorities.

The new majority includes Mayor Susan Gorin and Councilmembers Veronica Jacobi, Gary Wysocky and Marsha Vas Dupre, and they have wielded their influence, including shooting down a proposal for a Lowe’s home improvement store in south Santa Rosa.

Gorin and Jacobi are seeking re-election. A third seat is up for grabs with the retirement of Councilmember Jane Bender.

The business-backed candidates vying for those seats, Scott Bartley, Jake Ours and Juan Hernandez, accuse the incumbents of setting the city on course for financial disaster.

They’ve received backing from Santa Rosa’s police and fire unions, which have joined forces with the county’s largest builder and business groups to build a $40,000 war chest that is being used to try and unseat Gorin and Jacobi.

Bender, who was attacked as a pro-business candidate when she was first elected to the council in 2000, lamented that the candidates have been divided into two camps. She said the reality is more nuanced.

“The public thinks, if someone is pro-business, they must be anti-environment. I really wish we didn’t have to think in dichotomies,” she said.

That split is also playing out in Petaluma, where four candidates are vying for the mayor’s post and nine for the three City Council seats on the ballot.

Members of the current 4-3 majority on the council stress transit-oriented development and strict environmental oversight of proposed developments, all principal tenets of “smart growth.”

The minority contends that the city’s general plan and zoning codes provide most necessary planning oversight.

Sobel said those divisions may fade once new councilmembers and a supervisor take office, and the reality of the economic crisis sinks in.

“The silver lining is that over the next 18 months to two years, all these bodies are going to be forced to get along because there aren’t other ways to fix the problem,” he said. “If they don’t get along, they won’t be there. The public is as on top of what’s going on now as I’ve ever seen them.”

17 Responses to “Plenty at stake in Tuesday’s election”

  1. Bob Kanine says:

    Enough with the fake political “mindset” of “Progressive”.. you are Liberals, cut and dried. To self-label with a “value” is ridiculous. As though each piece of legislation put forth is a “Positive”.. toward an agreed upon “Problem”.

    Human behavior is the same throughout history. “Progressives” don’t have “better” policies or a better mindset..You aren’t better than your forefathers.. you are no better than the rest of us humans. You simply lobby for your own self serving agendas.

    Get off the high horse indulgent self-labels.

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  2. Progressive Majority in 2010 says:

    “It is what it is”

    That is turning out to be the most memorable phrase to emerge from Sonoma County elections this season. Yes, indeed, it is what it is: an empty suit, David Rabbitt, has been primed by Chamber/developer money to provide a reliable vote for the extractive industries and major big-box developers.
    Interestingly, and tellingly, he has the support of the Jim Judd Tea Party types on this list like Junebug, who posts frequently on the merits of Mr. Judd, a far-right candidate who fits better in Texas than he does in NorCal.

    Rabbitt is the kind of DINO like Max Baucus, Joe Lieberman, and Ben Nelson who have given the Democratic Party a bad name, and tarnished the brand. Having seen him in action many times, I can tell you this is not a man to be trusted. He has no public policy principles beyond carrying water for his Chamber/developer clients.

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  3. Mighty Midget says:

    Let me tell you @jill from personal experience Torliatt is not a leader, a leader is someone people respect and want to follow, she has neither of these qualities. It is no coincidence Petaluma Employees do not endorse her after 18 years of her disservice however do back Rabbitt. And before you say he has ever promised the employees anything he has not, I can speak on this subject due to the fact I am a city employee and have spoken to him regarding city issues numerous times. The only promise he has ever made is to be fair, open minded and attempt to do what is right for the city.

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  4. nfp says:

    I love your definition of “true leader”. Have you forgotten the following Democratic current leaders. Mike Thompson never held an elective position before going to the California Senate. Jarred Huffman went from the Marin Water District to the Assembly – trashing Pam in the Democratic Primary. Fresh ideas, sound judgment, and what today’s voters are looking for and David Rabbitt provides that.

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  5. Junebug says:

    “They took little Efren Carrillo, who was much more of an environmental candidate than Rabbitt, right under their wing and now he is throwing his own people right under the bus for them. Pam won’t let that happen – she doesn’t owe them a thing. The only one she is accountable to us! And thank you very much, that’s the way it should be!”

    @Jill- So who is beholden to whom? His “own people”? Maybe Efren is doing the right thing for all of the people of the County, its just not what YOU want him to do. Pam is beholden to many more groups and would play those politics LONG before David would.

    David Rabbitt is the ONLY candidate who is capable of making decisions based on facts and reality. I am a David Rabbitt supporter and I am completely prepared to disagree with some of his decisions while he is supervisor; but I’ll have the comfort in knowing that the issues are looked at and considered thoroughly and without an agenda other than to do what is right for the county as a whole!!

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  6. Jill says:

    David Rabbitt is not a true leader! He has been a city councilmember for the past 4 years, meeting every other week, and before that he was a PTA president and a soccer-dad. All those things very good of course, but not good enough to be called a true leader, especially when he virtually did not initiate any proactive means to get the city back on track during his tenure as council-member. Sure he would go along with this or oppose that, but never leaded. If at one time he wanted to do the right thing he has since been hijacked by the good ol boy network and now he is beholden to them, and oh what a grasp they have. They took little Efren Carrillo, who was much more of an environmental candidate than Rabbitt, right under their wing and now he is throwing his own people right under the bus for them. Pam won’t let that happen – she doesn’t owe them a thing. The only one she is accountable to us! And thank you very much, that’s the way it should be!

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  7. nfp says:

    And while Paul Andersen is at it he can break down the entire garbage industries of Marin and Sonoma Counties that have given maximum contributions to Pam. And all her developer friends such as Codding and Petaluma Plaza North, and, let’s not forget all the SEIU affiliates that put out their hit pieces.

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  8. Frank says:

    Paul Andersen
    Maybe you should do the same for the tides foundation, or the sierra club

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  9. Mike says:

    The article misses the big point. This election is about the governor’s race, US Senate race and then about the local races.

    California needs new ideas and a new direction. The unemployment, down economy and budget deficits speak volumes about where the state is.

    In this election, Whitman and Carly will bring fresh eyes to the problems and they actually have proposed good, sound solutions. Brown talks about where the bodies are buried and its his time to be governor again. Is that what this election is really about?

    Vote for Meg and Carly tommorow and give your kids a California that is growing jobs and raising the standard of living for all of us.

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  10. Paul Smith says:

    Once again the progressives whine about “Why won’t they call us smart growth?”

    Do they really think the rest of us are that dumb not to see that this description implies the other side is therefore “dumb”?! That’s exactly their intention!!!

    Asking the media to allow your political group to define itself in the media just shows how little the “progressive movement” knows about establishing itself with voters. It’s always “my way or the highway” – or the bike boulevard, as the case may be…

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  11. “Citizens for Transportation Funding” is an organization that has spent tens of thousands of dollars opposing Pamela Torliatt’s campaign for Supervisor in Sonoma County.

    That funding has been used to produce a series of six mailings to voting households in the Second Supervisorial District. Those mailings include two controversial “Sanctuary” hit pieces as well as a series of four “Comic Book” mailers regarding economic development.

    The question arises as to who is funding this group whose aim — at least by its title — is to secure transportation funding.

    The following campaign data was located at the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters website.

    The funding data is from the period October 1-October 30, 2010.
    Date Contributor Amount
    10/20/10 Ghilotti Company $5000
    10/25/10 Yolano Engineers Inc. $5000
    10/25/10 Peterson $5000
    10/25/10 Operating Engineers #3 $2500
    10/25/10 Chavez Trucking $5000
    10/22/10 CA Real Estate PAC $5000
    10/22/10 G&G Equipment Rental $2000
    10/22/10 Jim-N-I Rentals $1000
    10/19/10 Operating Engineers #3 $2500
    10/19/10 Sonoma County Alliance PAC $15000
    10/19/10 RS Trucking $2500
    10/19/10 North Coast Citizens for Better Economy $5000
    10/19/10 Infineon Raceway $2500
    10/19/10 Ken Kreisher CEO Western Water $1000
    10/19/10 Bodean Co. $5000
    10/15/10 Royal Petroleum $5000

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  12. Progressive Majority in 2010 says:

    “PD’s thumb firmly on the scale”

    We have attempted to get the PD to stop mischaracterizing the positions of the parties in this election. We have written letters to the editor, communicated directly with the staff writers and editors, and blogged about it here on Watch Sonoma. So the PD has no excuse for its deliberate abd repeated misrepresentations.

    We have repatedly objected to the tendentious framing of the election as a contest between “business-friendly’ vs. “slow growth”. The PD knows that those are loaded dice. And yet it continues, because that’s the narrative that the editorial staff want to push.

    Case in point: “Pam Torliatt, viewed as the slow-growth, pro-labor candidate…” None of her active organizational supporters would identify themselves as “slow growth”. They are advocates for “smart growth” In the midst of a steep recesion, who wants “slow growth”? That is meant to mislead. The umpire is fixing the game.

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  13. Ken Sportini says:


    Read it again, he may have lied to you, or he has no idea what’s going on, neither of which is good. But that’s how I ‘sees’ it.

    I have no intention of calling anybody’s office to see if they’re really not crooks or liars or scam artists. If a doubt exists, there’s plenty of other people to vote for.

    And Bob has a point, Rue Furch was evicerated by this paper for her tax problems. She too had worked out a payment plan, and the only reason it got out to the public was that someone at the assessor’s office didn’t input the data in correctly.

    But yet again, the PD is letting their guys get a free pass while gunning for the other side. That’s ok. The end times are near for the dear old PD.

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  14. cat says:

    @ Bob W

    Tax scam is a bit much, why don’t you call him and talk to him about it. As a voter I called his office and he was more then happy to talk with me. He was upfront with me and that means alot. The PD forgot to say that in the pass he paid all of his taxes on time. Some people only sees what they want to see.

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  15. Bob Warren says:

    Hernandez’ bancruptcies and tax dodging are getting the PD’s Special Treatment. Unlike poor Rue Furch who hadn’t even committed the egregious employee witholding tax scam that Mr Hernandez has, nevertheless her story was plastered on the front page of the PD and made much of in editorials. Meanwhile the PD continues to question the “too close to union” credentials of Noreen Evans and Michael Allen, while ommitting the fact that Bartley and Ours made backroom sweatheart deals with the public safety unions for their pensions. As it stands the PD should declare their news coverage as donations to their endorsed candidates campaigns.

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  16. Hey, you forgot to mention says:

    “The business-backed candidates vying for those seats, Scott Bartley, Jake Ours and Juan Hernandez, accuse the incumbents of setting the city on course for financial disaster.”

    Hey, Derek, you forgot to mention that Juan Hernandez had his own little financial disasters, which the others knew about but chose to to share with the voting public. If I were into conspiracy theories, I’d bet you forgot to mention this on purpose.

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  17. Janet Cordova says:

    As a voter that cares about the agricultural and economic of Sonoma County I choose to vote Rabbitt! He is a true leader that understands the issues we face and is willing to listen. Vote Rabbitt on November 2nd.

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