By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The conspiracy theories are in full swing in Sonoma over the city’s exploration of new regulations for chain and big-box stores.
Sonoma Councilman Tom Rouse said several people have contacted him with concerns about the way in which the council on May 16 appointed members, including Rouse, to an ad-hoc committee to tackle the issue.
He said they asked him in particular about the two people Councilman Ken Brown appointed to in the audience that night to serve on the committee.
“Did they happen to be there? Or were they there because somebody wanted them there? Hmmm . . .” Rouse said of the concerns relayed to him.
Rouse insisted Friday that he doesn’t subscribe to the black-ops fears. Nevertheless, the business executive has asked the council to revisit the committee’s make-up at its meeting Monday night.
The council could vote to rescind the committee appointments and in effect kill the nascent group altogether.
Councilman Steve Barbose, who supports new regulations for chain stores, has stated that he proposed the committee to speed up the process of deciding what steps may be needed to address what he and his council supporters view as an urgent public policy matter.
Barbose did not return messages Friday seeking comment.
But critics have accused Barbose of trying to hammer through his own agenda outside normal city protocols.
The political intrigue speaks to the controversy surrounding the issue of chain or big box stores in Sonoma. Other than design review of buildings, the city of 10,000 inhabitants does not define or regulate chain businesses that meet zoning regulations, including in the city’s historic downtown area, which is ground zero of the current debate.
Supporters say new regulations are needed to protect Sonoma’s charms, while detractors fear such restrictions could chill economic growth. But simply broaching the subject is proving difficult for the council, which has a narrow majority that favors more oversight of corporate businesses. That includes Barbose, who was appointed to the committee he suggested forming.
The council also appointed Planning Commissioners Matt Howarth and Michael George and Jennifer Yankovich, the executive director of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The committee also includes the two people whom Brown plucked from the audience that night: Ben Boyce, who is the coordinator of Sonoma County’s Accountable Development Coalition, and Kelso Barnett, a member of the city’s Design Review Commission.
Rouse, a first-term councilman and North American sales director for POM Wonderful, was appointed despite his vocal opposition to new regulations other than for chain stores that want to locate in or around the plaza.
“The last thing we need to do is have another committee,” he said.
But Rouse said his request to review the committee’s formation at Monday night’s council meeting is not an effort to stonewall the discussion or kill the group outright.
He said he simply wants the council’s actions to be transparent and to follow the process for establishing committees, which he said means having people apply to be on it. He also wants committee members to live within Sonoma city limit. The latter is aimed at Boyce, who besides living outside of Sonoma is an advocate of community impact reports, which include an expansive review of development.
Those reports are anathema to most business groups. In her weekly column, Yankovich blasted Boyce’s inclusion on the committee, saying he is an “advocate of extreme and subjective review policies” such as the city’s Living Wage Ordinance and community impact reports.
She and others want the chain-store discussion to come before the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.
But some view that committee as biased toward business interests, and therefore, preordained to oppose any new regulations for chain stores.