Five candidates for an open seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors squared off Thursday in a wide-ranging forum about spurring economic development, maintaining county services and addressing issues pertinent to Sonoma Valley.
Two candidates, Joanne Sanders and Gina Cuclis, sought to play up that divide, saying the office representing Sonoma Valley, including the city of Sonoma and much of eastern Santa Rosa, needed a Sonoma-based incumbent like Brown, her predecessor Mike Cale and other 1st District supervisors before them.
“This seat belongs to a Sonoma Valley resident,” said Sanders, the Sonoma mayor. “I have a hard time imagining a Santa Rosa candidate … being able to understand the issues and complexities facing us here.”
Cuclis, a Boyes Hot Springs communications consultant, echoed the sentiment. “We need somebody in that office on day one who knows the phone numbers, the issues and can get to work,” she said
Santa Rosa City Council members Susan Gorin and John Sawyer sought to downplay the issue, touting their experience in local government and desire to serve the entire area.
“Your issues are the same ones I’ve lived through,” said Gorin, who emphasized her concern about controlling growth and having strong land-use rules.
“I have never been accused of not being available to my constituents,” said Sawyer, the Santa Rosa vice mayor. “I would be your supervisor.”
Mark Bramfitt stayed out of the fray and got one of the biggest rounds of applause of the night.
“I don’t think we can afford to be provincial about this,” the Sonoma Valley energy consultant said. “Evaluate me on the skills and talent and experience I’ll bring in serving you as 1st District supervisor.”
The two-hour event — the second candidates’ forum in the race — drew about 140 people to the Ramekins Culinary School, Event Center and Inn, a co-sponsor along with the Sonoma Index-Tribune. David Bolling, the newspaper’s editor, moderated the forum, posing questions to candidates.
A question about the county’s planned reduction in road maintenance sparked one of the livelier exchanges of the night. Declining county road funds and lagging state support have raised the prospect that more than 80 percent of the county’s 1,382-mile road network could go without long-term maintenance and ultimately be turned into gravel.
All five candidates said that outcome had to be avoided, but their suggestions for doing so differed.
Gorin, Cuclis and Bramfitt all noted that the county’s $120 million maintenance backlog and ongoing costs likely couldn’t be met by existing funds, including state gas taxes — derived from a formula unchanged since the early 1990s — and a roughly $380 million county general fund now facing its fourth straight year of deficits.
The solution “cannot be found in the county’s current funding,” Bramfitt said.
“The reality is if we want to see improvement in our roads we’re going to have to look in our own pocketbooks. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality,” Gorin said. A local tax increase, in some form, may be the only option, she said.
Sanders focused on changing the state gas tax formula to boost local road funds, a difficult political proposition.
Sawyer said he believed existing county funds were sufficient. “You really need to look into the finances of the county, see if there’s money that can be made available,” he said. “I believe the money is there.”
Cuclis called his remarks “misleading.”
“There is simply not enough (existing) money to be shoveling around,” she said.
The forum covered a number of other topics, including the candidates’ stances on big-box stores — a hot topic of late in Sonoma — support for building a community swimming pool in Sonoma Valley and the design of future bike routes between Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa.
Most candidates agreed on major priorities, including reducing county pension costs, which are eating into funding for public services, spurring job growth and finding a way to continue a multimillion-dollar road and sidewalk redevelopment project in The Springs area of Sonoma Valley.
In front of an audience of Sonoma residents, Cuclis touted her early ties to the halted road project, Sanders said it was a main reason she jumped into the race last month and Bramfitt stressed its role in determining the struggling area’s future.
“We need to finish that project,” Sanders said.
The forum will be rebroadcast at 5 p.m. today and Sunday on Channel 27, SunTV.
The next scheduled candidates’ forum is March 28 at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Hall.
It is sponsored by the Santa Rosa Democratic Club.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or email@example.com.