Santa Rosa Mayor Ernesto Olivares wants to clear up some confusion about statements he made concerning the diversity of the Charter Review Committee last week. He said at the City Council meeting that he, along with others, was dissatisfied with the diversity of the committee and, in response, he plans to create a committee to explore the issue.
That’s a lot of committees. Confused? So was I.
I sat down with Olivares over coffee at Holy Roast across from our office on Mendocino Avenue, and he clarified that his plan is not to address or amend the makeup of this year’s Charter Review Committee. That 21-member committee is set, has already started its work and is under a fairly tight schedule to return to the council early next year with recommendations.
His plan is to create a mayor’s task force to look at the broader issue of diversity on all of the city’s boards and commissions and how the city could be doing a better job of tapping into ethnic communities and neighborhoods that often are underrepresented.
He spoke passionately about how his goal is to ensure that the next time the City Council makes appointments to a charter review panel or other committee that the candidates – representing a broader ethic and geographic spectrum than those from the most recent pool – would be readily available.
“My worry is we are going to wait 10 more years to address it,” he said. “I want to tackle this issue now.”
He notes that the changing demographics of Sonoma County are no secret. And that he, as the city’s first Latino mayor, represents part of that change.
City officials “need to be part of that charge and change with it,” he said. “We have not done a good enough job in dealing with that issue.”
He said he wants to hear what other cities have done to broaden the diversity of their boards and commissions and learn from them. “I also want to hear from residents on things that we can do,” he said.
The city also may need to change how appointments are made to these committees. With each council member making three appointments, the city ended up with a Charter Review Committee that was 90 percent white. Also 75 percent of the members are from northeast Santa Rosa. The median age was 61.
He said he was opposed to just adding more members to the committee, as was done 10 years ago, saying “it would be offensive” to those who were asked to join after the fact. His goal is to ensure there is a broader selection of candidates the next time this comes up.
“This can’t be something we look at every 10 years and say, ‘Are we there yet?’ ” he said.
- Paul Gullixson