WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa’s charter panel diversity 10 years away


They were older, white, political insiders and live in northeast Santa Rosa.

That’s largely who decided what changes to city by-laws the City Council should consider putting before the voters in November.

The vice-chairman of the 21-member Charter Review Committee acknowledged as much to the council last week.

Mike Senneff, middle, chairman of Santa Rosa's 21-member Charter Review Committee, listens with his colleagues to Santa Rosa citizens lay out their viewpoints Saturday on district elections for the city's seven council members. (Kent Porter / PD)

“I think it’s very fair to say that if you were to look at this committee from the standpoint of geographic or ethnic diversity, we didn’t represent the city,” attorney Bill Carle said. “I don’t think anybody can really argue that.”

There are lots of explanations about how this came to pass. Some cite a flawed nomination process that failed to assess the diversity of the committee as a whole. Others blame council members — all seven of whom live in the city’s politically influential northeast corner and six of whom are white — for failing to look outside their comfort zones.

Whatever the reasons, the committee is trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. While the committee “left no stone unturned” to consider diverse viewpoints, Carle said all agreed changes should be made so that “10 years from now we don’t face that issue.”

One of its lesser-noticed recommendations is to add charter language stressing that future charter review committees should adhere to the city’s diversity policy for boards and commissions.

That policy states that the city “shall undertake all reasonable efforts” to encourage participation “by all citizens,” and use “all reasonable methods to ensure” that board appointments “reflect Santa Rosa’s diversity, including geographic and ethnic diversity.”

Ninety percent of the committee’s members were white, 75 percent were from the city’s northeast quadrant, the median age was 61 and most were City Hall insiders.

The youngest was graphic designer and political operative Sonia Taylor, who is 54.

“Interests were not represented, and I think it could be done better,” Taylor, who also served on the committee 10 years ago, told the council.

Not all members agreed.

Tony Alvernaz, a retired city computer programmer, said in written comments that he found talk about the committee’s lack of diversity “offensive and extremely biased.”

“Diversity is not solely defined based on these criteria. One’s life experiences and beliefs also define their diversity,” Alvernaz wrote.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler declined to say whether the council met the diversity goal. She noted that the requirement speaks to making the effort, not the final outcome. She noted the city took out an advertisement in The Press Democrat urging people to apply, but few did.

One idea offered up is to tweak the nomination process. Unlike most standing committees, the charter review committee is formed at least once a decade, does its work and then disbands. That means all 21 members are appointed around the same time. Last fall, each council member announced three appointees, but not until the final appointments were complete was the make-up of the committee clear, said Mayor Ernesto Olivares.

“So you don’t know who the other council members are appointing” until it’s too late, Olivares said.

The council opposed adding seven new members to create more diversity, as was done 10 years ago. Following criticism from members of the Latino community, Olivares initially proposed a new committee to explore diversity issues. He later decided instead to invite three Latino members to join the city’s Inclusion Council.

One suggested fix has been to stagger the appointments over three weeks, giving council members time to adjust their appointments.

“The three-vote system to me I think is the best,” said Herb Williams, a committee member, political consultant and lobbyist. “It gives everyone the chance to reevaluate.”

Some council members who made their selections late in the process had more diverse appointments, like Marsha Vas Dupre, who appointed the only two African-American members of the panel.

City Councilman Gary Wysocky acknowledged all of his appointees came from the northeast. There “issues I wanted discussed” and those appointees were the “most conversant” on those subjects,” he said.

“That’s who I thought best represented my viewpoint,” Wysocky said.

14 Responses to “Santa Rosa’s charter panel diversity 10 years away”

  1. Missy says:

    Sick of the libs and their diversity racket & totally sick of illegal aliens getting our CASH!

  2. Dave Madigan says:

    I propose a different form of diversity for City Commissions or any public body for that matter.

    How about a Commission with NO politicians? No former Council Members. No campaign managers. No former City employees.

    Let’s have a Commission with members of the public who have no ties to the City Council. You know….the people who really pay the bills around here!

    Now THAT would be diversity!

  3. Vinyl Rules says:

    The time for district elections has come. Santa Rosa is not a cow-town anymore. It’s a major urban area with almost 200,000 residents. It’s the largest municipality along Highway 101 from San Francisco to Portland. It has distinct neighborhoods and constituencies. It’s time to start acting like the regional powerhouse that we are. There’s a reason why we don’t look like Healdsburg or Sonoma or even Petaluma. Santa Rosa is urbanized, and we need to start acting like it. We are not a small town anymore. I know that upsets people to hear, but the truth hurts. There’s no going back.

  4. good one says:

    I see that the new game is to go after the “rich old white folk”. And that isn’t racism? ageism? Pure popycock.

  5. Not A Chance says:

    @Jim Crown Wirth

    Translation = “the people who pay the bills around here.”

    I sincerely hope you don’t have children who grew up under your ideology; that is the most awful thing someone has posted on here regarding race relations in some time.

    If a black man, Mexican man, Native American, or white man buys groceries they pay the exact same sales tax percent. We all pay the bills around here, if you’re fortunate enough to be wealthy, you do pay more on that income then guess what? After the government takes that percentage from you, YOU STILL HAVE FAR MORE MONEY THAN THE POORER MINORITY. So step back from your selfish soap box and understand that we all pay the bills, we’re a society not a plantation.

  6. Reality Check says:

    “Old rich white people” vote at a higher rates than minorities. Why? They also volunteer for city boards and committees, where they become known as interested and reliable volunteers in city govt. Might that be why a disportionate number are selected when it’s time to appoint people to a commission?

    Also, these positions pay nothing and take lots of time. Older, retired folk have the time, while younger people are parenting and working, and don’t have the time. No conspiracy to exclude anyone about that reality.

  7. Fish Smart says:

    There’s no such thing as multicultural diversity. Most of the old white people may have more mixed cultures in their blood than the demanding Latinos. Instead of building a city together regardless of ethnic heritage it will turn more divided, vulgar and corrupt. Sonoma County and some of it’s wonderful towns are coming to a slow death.

  8. Jim says:

    “divide and conquer”

    By constantly enforcing the fact that people have different ethnic backgrounds, they divide us. Once divided, they can point fingers at one group and blame them for the problems of society. It is the ‘rich white male’ who has all the money. Thus, they MUST be bad.

    Yet the facts are irrefutable. The politicians, all of them, are “rich”. A rich politician knows all. A rich person in the private sector is bad, takes advantage of people and needs to pay more taxes.

    It is simply class warfare, and a diversion. Voters are so easily duped into thinking the problem is NOT the politicians. The politicians spend $1.50 for every dollar they steal and them convince the sponge-headed voters into thinking they need MORE money.

    There is no evidence that the whole “diversity is better philosophy” is real. This is merely a way for politicians to divide us.

  9. John says:

    Skippy and JR are prime examples of people who don’t get it. The world no longer revolves around you and your wants, and it no longer caters to you. Sorry. I’m sure you two, or Bill Carle, or most of the people on the charter, have no idea NONE, what the needs are of 30% + of the population (Latinos). I’m sure they have no idea what the needs and wants are of the young people around here, like ME! And yes, I pay property taxes and all the other taxes you two pay. When one slice of the population holds all the power, in this case old rich white people who live on the northeast side of town, they tend to do things the way *they* want them done. Ride’s up, but it was good while it lasted. Time to step aside and relinquish some power peacefully.

    Big thumbs up!

  10. Reality Check says:

    What’s being said here is sad and ugly. At root, it’s that deep down we aren’t one race of people–the human race–we’re divided into separate interest groups, with little in common. Therefore, women must be represented by women, the young by their own age, race by race, and so on. How depressing.

    What is it about city government services that divides so much? Do Latinos really want something different? If so, speak up.

  11. Donna Zapata says:

    You are old rich white people who pay the bills in our community and still have some money left over to buy a sweater at Coldwater Creek. How AWFUL that you should have an over sized political presence to go along with your over sized stake in society.

    Well guess what? I am an older Hispanic woman who was born and raised in Sonoma County. I contribute to the political process and live in the northwest in a home that I bought and paid for by working for it.

    I am an older Hispanic woman who pay the bills in our community and still have some money left over to buy a sweater at Coldwater Creek. How AWFUL that we Hispanics should want an over sized political presence to go along with our growing population which has a stake in society and community.

    The Hispanic community lives in NW, NE, SE, and SW everywhere in our community. Our population is at 30 percent and growing.

    This is not a race issue….it is an issue of having our local governments reflect our population. We contribute by paying our taxes….we need to contribute by having a say about our community as well.

  12. hansutro says:

    How come they don’t address the subject of having the meetings in Spanish?
    After all, the city is suppose to be progressive in it’s views and actions, it would be a couple of years before it would be mandated by the Federal govmint.
    It’s all a crock.

  13. Skippy says:

    Dear Lord in heaven!
    This subject seeks only to divide us by race. Diversity panels and diversity in general is the most Orwellian word in use today.
    Rather than foster unity, it divides into tribes a nation built on an idea that specifically denies tribalism.
    When Big Govt takes any kind of headcount based on skin color, gender, age or any other distinction, it does so solely to divide the people against themselves.
    As a child I saw the White and Colored signs outside restrooms.
    Now, enlightened, progressive Sonoma Co. is printing up new ones for the white guy seat, the brown gal seat, the disabled LGBTQ seat, etc.
    Disgusting racism on display; celebrated by the Press Democrat.

  14. J.R. Wirth says:

    “They were older, white, political insiders and live in northeast Santa Rosa.”

    Translation = “the people who pay the bills around here.” Yes, those AWFUL old rich white people who pay the bills in our community and still have some money left over to buy a sweater at Coldwater Creek. How AWFUL that they should have an over sized political presence to go along with their over sized stake in society.

    What Santa Rosa needs is a “day without an old whitie” where no charities are funded and no taxes are paid, except for some sales tax on Ed Hardy T-shits and cheap beer and cigarettes.