By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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.
“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.