By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Ernie Carpenter, the ex-Sonoma County supervisor, is jumping into the race for his former west county seat, setting up a potentially stiff challenge to Supervisor Efren Carrillo, the first-term incumbent.
Carpenter, 69, of Occidental, who was first elected in 1980 and served 16 years on the Board of Supervisors, joins former Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi in trying to unseat Carrillo from his 5th District office.
A strong environmental advocate, Carpenter said his move — made one day before the filing deadline — was partly based on discomfort with Carrillo’s record on land-use issues.
“I don’t trust him on land use going into the future,” Carpenter said, pointing to construction, real estate and development interests that continue to be some of Carrillo’s chief campaign donors.
Last month, Carrillo, 30, reported $101,748 in available campaign cash, a formidable war chest to defend his seat, which represents most of the west county, including west Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, the Russian River corridor and the coast from Bodega Bay to Mendocino County.
Carpenter acknowledged the fundraising edge, the last-minute timing of his decision and the waves it caused in the west county as news spread Thursday.
“Everyone is shocked, there’s no question about that,” he said.
Carpenter said he had been considering a run for at least six months and that his decision was prompted in part by the long odds many give Jacobi in unseating Carrillo.
“When nobody appeared on the scene that I thought could beat Carrillo, I went into a whole other analysis,” he said.
He cited Carrillo’s votes for several controversial projects, including the Dutra Materials asphalt plant south of Petaluma and, in the 5th District, the Best Family Winery. Over protests from opponents, it got unanimous board approval for a production facility, tasting room and vineyard on an apple orchard off Highway 116 and Occidental Road.
Also in question is Carrillo’s stance on Preservation Ranch, the forest-to-vineyard conversion project on nearly 20,000 acres outside of Annapolis.
Carrillo has refused to indicate his position on the controversial project, which is still under review. That uncertainty and the other development-related votes have led some in his district to push for his ouster.
Carrillo has defended his environmental record, citing his support for a large county purchase of open space on the Jenner Headlands, his backing of a proposed bid to form a county power agency to boost green energy development, and and his leadership on a fisheries restoration grant program.
“The record speaks for itself,” Carrillo said in an interview last month. “I believe I’m just as strong of an environmental advocate as most folks in this county.” He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
But Carpenter, who since his retirement from the board has worked as a consultant for local waste hauler North Bay Corp., called that record “lip service.”
Carpenter’s entrance into the race put west county political observers into overdrive Thursday. Some who have questioned Carrillo’s politics welcomed the move.
“With Jacobi in, we had a challenger. With Ernie in, we have a race,” said Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, the largest local environmental group. “
Rosatti said the group has interviewed Jacobi and Carrillo for an endorsement and now would make plans to interview Carpenter.
Jacobi, also a veteran environmentalist, expressed surprise at Carpenter’s decision but said it would not change her campaign plans.
“I’m excited about it actually,” she said. “I think Ernie is up to the task and I’m also up to the task.”
In a brief phone interview, Carpenter also cited declining road maintenance, the county’s fiscal challenges and concerns about maintaining strong land-use planning as playing into his decision to run.
“I’m very disturbed about the leadership in the county, particularly in the 5th District,” he said. “I think we can do a heck of a lot better. I know I have a lot of experience.”