WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa mayor wants to keep diversity debate alive

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

10 Responses to “Santa Rosa mayor wants to keep diversity debate alive”

  1. Skippy says:

    “Seeking Diversity” is just another way to get unqualified political activists in positions of power.
    Their goal is always the same; to take what others have built and earned and give it to the least deserving.
    Excellence or competence mean nothing.
    The goal is to validate group-rights, and empower the chosen group over the ultimate minority, the individual.
    Race is not a problem in America, it is an industry.

  2. Richard Anthony says:

    The Mayor has a lot of nerve crying about the “lack of diversity” in local city politics when he had not one but TWO opportunities to be an agent of change for more diversity. Both times he thought it was more important to maintain the status quo with business “insiders” rather than give new people from diverse constituencies a chance to participate. I don’t understand why you are confused Mr Gullixson, since the Mayor has always rewarded his homogenized ,older, white, business friends at the Chamber and the Sonoma Business Alliance with the best “access” to government, most recently to the tune of $300,000 of our tax money pledged to the Chamber of Commerce.Perhaps your own participation in those groups obscures your vision?

  3. Laura Gonzalez says:


    I didn’t “cry racism” anywhere; I asked about diversity. How you confuse the two, I have no idea. You are looking at diversity through a very narrow spectrum, as if it only applies to “language,” “culture” and those with ties to “foreign countries.”

    In my original comment I alluded to the fact that besides the committee being predominately white, there is no one under the age of 53, very few from anywhere other than the northeast quadrant, and very few who aren’t “insiders.” Yet you made no mention of any of these points. *Who* doth protest too much [about "culture," "language" and ties to "foreign countries"]?

    I think all citizens need to be reflected in our government, not just upper class, older white folks who live in certain upscale parts of the city.

    “Diversity is not good because it creates dissension and not unity in a community.”

    I have no idea how you expect everyone to be the same in outlook, thoughts and opinions. I’m in my 40s, and I find I often have a different worldview than many 20 year-olds and 70 year olds, since we have been formed by different experiences. I, unlike those who eschew “diversity,” want to hear what 20 year-olds and 70 year-olds have to say about our community and our world.

    I don’t have the audacity to proclaim that I have my finger on everyone’s pulse. Yet here we have a committee that comes from the same age group, same part of town, same ethnicity, and many in the same profession, and they are somehow supposed to know what the rest of us want and think? If the committee was made up of only men, would you be concerned? Indeed, why should women complain about not being represented? Isn’t that a “special interest” group?

    I suggest you study United States history and talk to folks who were on the front lines in the fight for civil rights. Ask them why they fought and why wasn’t it good enough to let the same people run everything, and continue making decisions for everybody else. My bet is you’ll get a hard stare, and a scornful “Really? Really?”

  4. sarkyfish says:

    Hispanic racialist smoozes with gullible, left-wing editor at coffee shop. Subject: ignoring the equality principle of the US constitution in favor of race based bias. Naturally, the editor paid for the lattes.

  5. Will says:

    This Inside Opinion article by Paul Gullixson talks about Mayor Ernesto Olivares’ words. What he says and what he does are quite different.

    His acceptance speech when he was appointed Mayor talked about reconciliation. He used that word many times. Then he voted to oppose the appointment of Susan Gorin to the Association of Bay Area Governments when she was obviously the most qualified candidate and was appointed by the other cities in Sonoma County by a wide margin.

    Now Mayor Olivares is using the opportunity of the lack of diversity on the Charter Review committee to talk about wanting more diversity on Boards and Commissions. This is just talk. His appointments to the Charter Review Committee were Michael Senneff, attorney and chair of the past two Charter Review Committees, Donna Jeye, member of the Santa Rosa Board of Education, and Bill Arnone, attorney and chair of the Santa Rosa Redevelopment Agency. These appointments are from the establishment, not from Santa Rosa residents that are under represented.

    Watch what Mayor Ernesto Olivares does, not what he says.

  6. Connie Smith says:

    People like Laura Gonzalez sniff out and cry racism whenever they get a chance. Santa Rosa is not the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of racism. It doesn’t come to mind at all.

    This left leaning community is shocked and disturbed every time the issue of diversity comes up. Diversity is not good because it creates dissension and not unity in a community.

    Cultural diversity is destroying this country. A country has to be unified in a language, culture and democratic beliefs. People whose allegiance and language are tied to a foreign country are not American citizens. They are guests legal or illegally here.

    Equal opportunity should and must be the standard by which government functions. But that this totally different than cultural diversity.

    Is Laura Gonzalez on the Santa Rosa school board an insider? I think she doth protest too much.

  7. Non Violent says:

    On to Truth and Justice:

    You made a speech. Not a good one.

    Take note. The Mayor is Hispanic. Do your homework and identify who he is bringing into government. Then come back and post it.

  8. On To Truth & Justice says:

    Politics is a process and not a pretty one. Non-white qualified residents need to gain experience in local government to be granted a place at the table just as all whites have had to.

    Charging racism is an old canard for those who have no argument. Good faith should be the basis of how a well run local government functions. It is good faith to select qualified people to sit on boards and commissions irrespective of their race, color, ethnic or racial makeup.

    If the city selects unqualified people, they get an unqualified result.

    Given the very divided council, is it any wonder that there are charges of insiders appointed to a committee to discuss the charter. Every councilman wants their position to be protected and prevail. That is just the way it works. Hand wringing is not going to change that.

  9. Laura Gonzalez says:

    A question for the council is why didn’t any of them, with the exception of Marsha Vas Dupre, look at who they chose and how they reflected the community? There are more than a few people who are non-white, under 53 years old, who live in other areas of the city, who could have served on the committee. However, the criterion for most of the those selected was that they were “insiders.”

    The question remains then, do we groom more people to be insiders, or do we really and truly diversify city politics? I think we all know the answer.

  10. Money Grubber says:

    Its easier to chat than work says the Mayor.