WatchSonoma Watch

Reflecting on Jane Bender’s record and legacy

Jane Bender's council service included serving as mayor from 2004-06

By Kevin McCallum


Think sitting through an entire Santa Rosa City Council meeting is a chore?

Trying doing it for a decade.

That’s how long Jane Bender served before she stepped down this week amid a shower of praise from fellow council members, city staff and members of the community.

“Santa Rosa is a better place because of your leadership,” Jack Thomas, president of the local firefighters union told Bender Tuesday night.

Bender was the fourth-highest vote getter in the 2000 election behind incumbents Sharon Wright, Noreen Evans and Mike Martini. The political newcomer was backed by pro-business interests but also defied pigeonholing because of her strong environmental background.

She had also been co-director of Sonoma County ReLeaf, a non-profit that advocated for the planting of trees.

Mayor Susan Gorin highlighted Bender’s environmental record Tuesday, noting that she pushed the council to adopt the first greenhouse gas emission regulations and was the first councilmember to buy a hybrid vehicle.

She noted the Bender and Jacobi, the council’s most staunch environmentalist who lost her reelection bid, have a lot in common.

“While your different constituencies may not want to admit it, the parallels between the two of you and your service to our community is unmistakable and long-lasting,” Gorin said.

Bender served as mayor from 2004 to 2006, a period she enjoyed, but not because she felt it carried any power. She viewed the role of mayor as largely administrative.

“I was very clear that I had no more power than any other council member,” Bender said.

Politically she considers herself to have been a moderate on the council, striving to strike a balance between bwtween what she described as the development forces a community needs to grow and the environmentalists’ recognition that those growth patterns must change.

For that reason she said has been a strong proponent of city-centered, transit-oriented growth, supporting higher-density housing, particularly downtown.

Her work helping establish Santa Rosa’s gang prevention task force is one of her proudest accomplishments, she said.

Community Action Partnership executive director Oscar Chavez noted that Bender got personally involved in the lives of many youth who participated in the important program to reduce gang membership.

“While you may not be on the council anymore, all those things that you championed will continue,” Chavez said.

Bender had planned to step down in 2008 after two four-year terms, but when her friend and political ally Bob Blanchard told her his cancer had returned, she told him she would volunteer to serve out the remainder of his term.

“It was gift to him,” she said.

Blanchard died in June of 2008.

The past two years on the council have been tough, she said. The city’s financial crisis has been draining, and the leadership styles of her colleagues have been very different from her own.

She sees the council’s role as setting policy and then letting staff do its job until there’s reason to think they’re not, she said.

“It’s not our job to get in and manage departments,” she said.

She thinks the council will begin working better together soon because the financial challenges facing the city are so dire that they don’t have a choice.

Bender, 70, now looks forward to spending more time traveling with her husband, Jerry, and watching Tuesday night television shows like Glee and Dancing with the Stars.

She also plans to remain involved in issues she believes in, including Habitat for Humanity, serving on the board of the Climate Protection Campaign and pushing for the reunification of Old Courthouse Square downtown, she said.

The outpouring of praise she received Tuesday was gratifying, she said.

“I was moved and appreciative and grateful that I was able to serve the community for 10 years and that it had an effect,” she said.

8 Responses to “Reflecting on Jane Bender’s record and legacy”

  1. Heritage says:

    I would like to say thankyou to Jane for her hard work as a member of the City council. I’m sorry to see her go,

  2. @Jane says:

    Jane did some good work with gang prevention, economic development, and the environment.

    If she was the one who shifted the public comments to the end of the meeting, THANK YOU, JANE!

  3. john bly says:

    Those that are taking pot shots at Jane Bender are entitled to their opinion, but it is not an opinion shared by me-a real person using a real name on this site. I always found Ms. Bender approachable, a good listener, and a thoughtful activist for both the environment (mainly our parks), anti-gang measures, and a moderate vote on economic development issues. I think she was a treasure that will be sorely missed-by the community—

  4. Little people says:

    Wasn’t Jane Bender the one who decided to shift Public Comments from the beginning of Council Meetings to the end of Council meetings (late into the night so no one wanted to stick around to comment)?

    Sounds like a real woman of the People to me.


    While Ms Bender was mayor, she received a request to have a drinking water fountain installed in the downtown bus transit mall.

    Within a month, two drinking water fountains were installed. They are appreciated.

  6. goodguy says:

    I agree with Santa Rosa Citizen. Jane Bender minimized the problem with gang activity all through her mayorship, calling the Toste murder an isolated incident. She did nothing to improve this city IMO, but rather brought the downtown to a ghost town all the while rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. She was totally out of touch with what the majority of the citizens and taxpayers of Santa Rosa wanted, less not more! She practically single-handedly brought SR to third-world status! Thanks Jane; glad you are finally gone. But the damage has been done.

  7. Santa Rosa Citizen says:

    I am in agreement with Dave. Our Santa Rosa Neighborhood had an issue and she had no interest in us either. In the city council meetings I sat in where Jane Bender was Mayor, she was rude and had no interest in the general public. She ran city council meetings like she had never had experience running a meeting in her life. They were disorganized, she didn’t care about the public input and even cut people off, and the city manager seemed to always be bailing her out of saying something that would get the city sued. I always got the impression she was getting “under the table” money from the business community in light of her environmental campaigning.

  8. Dave Madigan says:

    As someone who dealt with the City Council on a number of issues, some that the Council liked and some that it didn’t like, I can honestly say that Jane Bender never once even attempted to work with me on any issue.