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Olmsted jumps into Cotati City Council contest as write-in



In a development that may upturn Cotati’s election season, the son of the late California conservationist John Olmsted is jumping into the race as a write-in City Council

Alden Olmsted

candidate, billing himself as a “fresh voice” who understands the needs of a small town.

“I hope to bring some middle ground to the council,” said Alden Olmsted, a photographer and filmmaker. “I think there’s a disconnect between the current City Council and the people of Cotati.”

The 41-year-old Sonoma native and seven-year Cotati resident will face a major hurdle because he’s not on the ballot and is launching his candidacy with barely a month to go.

“He has a huge disadvantage by being a write-in, especially this late, but he in theory will add a voice and if he chooses to walk and talk, he’ll take some votes from people,” political consultant Brian Sobel said.

Olmsted’s impact may stem from his having taken a position notably opposite three of his opponents: He supports Measure U, a voter initiative that would ban roundabouts or “any similar traffic feature” from the city forever.

Opposing the initiative are candidates for re-election Mayor Susan Harvey, 57, and Councilman John Del’Osso, 51, and first-time candidate Wendy Skillman, 46, an attorney and planning commissioner.

They say the initiative’s passage would hamper the city economically, would be counter to its general plan and would derail a $3.5 million downtown revitalization plan the council approved in December and which features two roundabouts.

Olmsted said he would prefer the initiative wasn’t “all or nothing,” but city attempts to install roundabouts on Old Redwood Highway have harmed the community.

“Why has the city been pushing for over seven years something that causes such divisiveness in such a small town,” he said.

A fifth candidate, George Barich, 54, who was ousted from the council in a 2009 recall vote after 10 months in office and then ran unsuccessfully to regain his seat, also supports Measure U, which has become the election’s main wedge issue.

Olmsted’s entry moves the race off its previous axis, which had resembled the city’s loudest political confrontation, with Barich squared off against the rest of the field and Measure U cleanly dividing the field.

While his candidacy appears to overlap with Barich’s, Olmsted said it is of a very different flavor.

“As far as I’ve heard, my position is nowhere near as polarizing,” he said. “From what I know, my position is much more middle ground, although I guess we do agree on the roundabout issue.”

Barich rails at his opponents, especially Del’Osso and Harvey, calling them “bought and sold” politicians with no new ideas.

“People are angry and frustrated with the status quo who have no business sense and real solutions,” he said in an email. “Some people are actually claiming they recalled the wrong person and intend to do something about it this election.”

His opponents say Barich’s aggressive, personally pointed style is something voters should take into account.

“Anyone can say whatever they want, that’s fine, but I think it’s kind of character-defining,” said Del’Osso, who was appointed in 2011 after the death of a Mayor Robert Coleman-Senghor.

Del’Osso and Harvey profess to ignore Barich’s jabs. And they and Skillman rebuffed his request to interview them in the monthly Cotati Independent newspaper that he publishes.

Del’Osso has focused his own campaign on “leveraging” existing city resources to find new funds to replace more than $2 million in redevelopment funds Cotati lost when the state dissolved redevelopment agencies this year.

He, Skillman and Harvey, who was elected to replace Barich when he was recalled, also have pinned their election efforts to fostering economic growth.

“We need to get more businesses to fill in some the empty storefronts,” said Skillman, whom Harvey appointed to the Planning Commission. She said the business permitting process should be further streamlined.

Barich said he will “advocate a business-friendly city” and cut regulations.

The city, which has balanced its budget for the past three years after six years of deficits, has made good fiscal progess that still needs to be improved upon through careful budgeting, Del’Osso, Harvey and Skillman say.

Barich calls city officials overpaid and the budget “dishonest” because it counts federal and state grant funds among revenue sources.

Shadowing the council campaign is Measure U, which arose out of a now-stalled plan that was to be paid for with redevelopment dollars to redesign Cotati’s downtown by narrowing the main, four-lane street to two lanes and installing the roundabouts.

Del’Osso called the plan “a legacy project.”

But foes mounted the effort to get the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Barich has used his newspaper as a bullhorn to drum up support for the initiative, as well as to criticize the other candidates.

A city report ordered up by the council said that if passed, Measure U could cost the city $3.7 million in lost funding.

Harvey, who also voted for the plan, said it would spur business by creating a small-town downtown and would improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

She said Barich started running a negative campaign long before he filed his candidate papers.

“I think he’s been trying to set the tone of the race for over a year now — and quite frankly I have been getting quite a lot of feedback on his newspaper, or whatever you want to call it, his literature,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @jeremyhay

8 Responses to “Olmsted jumps into Cotati City Council contest as write-in”

  1. Caller says:

    Correction to my previous post’s last sentence:

    How many times does the citizenry have to recall or reject him till he REALIZES HE isn’t wanted by anyone other than crazy folks?

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  2. Caller says:

    George Barich claims to be honest, but the biggest lie is at the top of his post: “Councilman George Barich.” He is claiming to be a council member when the Cotati citizenry stripped him of that title. Just because he says “Jeremy Hay knows that” doesn’t mean what Barich says is true. Barich is the single most polarizing individual in the history of Sonoma County politics. How many times does the citizenry have to recall or reject him till he isn’t wanted by anyone other than crazy folks?

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  3. Interesting. Alden Olmsted needs 20 signatures, submits 27, and still needs 8.

    That means 12 were accepted, and 15 were disqualified. Either somebody at City Hall really enjoys disqualifying signatures, or Mr. Olmsted could use a civics lesson.

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  4. Jeremy Hay says:

    To commenters: I want to note that some of the 27 signatures that Alden Olmsted submitted to become a write-in candidate were disqualified. He now needs eight more signatures to be a qualified write-in candidate for whom votes would be counted. There’ll be a correction in tomorrow’s paper to that effect on Page A2.

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  5. John Galt says:

    It seems that Mr. Olmsted hasn’t been very involved in elections until recently- according to the registrar of voters, prior to this last June primary, the last time Mr. Olmsted voted was 6 years ago in 2006. Did he by chance move out of the County and vote somewhere else?

    Not voting seemed to be a major concern expressed about Stacey Lawson- that she had not voted for several elections. I wonder if it will enter the conversation regarding Mr. Olmsted’s run for council….

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  6. I find it amusing that candidates Dell’Osso, Harvey, and Skillman were offered an entire half page in The Cotati Independent, totally unedited, to make their case to the voters of the city, and declined.

    Do they have nothing good to say about their qualifications? Or is this just one more case where City Manager Dianne Thompson, who is supposed to answer to the city council, is imposing the same gag order on the council that she imposes on her staff?

    Either way, once again, there is total silence and opacity behind the Hemp Curtain that is Cotati City Hall.

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  7. Look, PD reporter Jeremy Hay can spin this story anyway he wants. I have been honest with Jeremy from the moment I met him, and he knows it. The fact is, there are no personal jabs being made by me. Like the late Cotati Mayor Bob Coleman said to me during the recall, “George, don’t take it personally; it’s business…”

    Fact: the more candidates in this race helps my campaign and only hurts my opponents. There is not just a “disconnect” with current city council and the citizens, it’s a failure of leadership and blatant bullying. Why is this? They are lazy, want to get home early, really don’t care, and have an agenda of their own. Anyone who has ever gone to a council meeting will tell you so. Going door to door, I get an earful, as if after 15 years of attending and participating in city meetings I don’t know…

    How does one know what the needs are of a small community if you have never been to a city council meeting before? Had Olmsted stood up for the town, spoke his mind, had an opinion, and tried to steer the council into the right direction sometime in the past, he would not be a middle ground candidate at all, but another crazy outsider, troublemaker, polarizing discontent, who would be labeled as someone who is not a “team player”. Reporter Jeremy Hay knows how this all works only too well. And look, anyone can claim to be a political consultant, so let’s get real here.

    Measure U proponents know full well the city will try to find any excuse to call roundabouts something else to get around the new law, so the proponents had help from attorneys to try to avoid such tactics to get around the new law after it passes. There is nothing middle ground about Olmstead that I can see, just someone who has decided to stay far under the radar until now, which is his right. The city’s henchmen now have a new target and will be working overtime…

    How can Measure U be counter to the General Plan when the city is in the beginning stages of updating the General Plan at the cost of a half a million dollars? This is the perfect time to pass Measure U, not after the new General Plan is adopted next year. How did Jeremy miss that fact? There is no money for any $3.5 million revitalization plan. What part of keeping Cotati small and charming don’t my opponents understand? They want to fundamentally transform Cotati, (not America) into blocks and blocks of four story buildings and inadequate parking !!

    Anyone who takes campaign contributions is a bought and sold politician and Jeremy Hay knows it. I know it must infuriate many who can’t stand the fact I work two jobs to pay for my free monthly newspaper and my own political campaigns. And there was nothing aggressive about the style of the recall proponents, Mr. Hay? Really? What a short memory you have. And where was John Del’Osso for over a decade? Not at any city council meetings, workshops, study sessions, or crisis budget meetings sitting next to me, I can attest to that… Skillman, Harvey and Del’Osso have done nothing to foster economic development than give it lip service. Anyone can balance a budget but is it a sustainable budget? Are revenue projections inflated and unrealistic? Are expenses minimized or deleted from the budget? Is it a balanced budget where the Reserve Account is empty? Vallejo’s own city finance director lives in Cotati and has educated me to some of these finer points…

    Hope is not a business strategy. Trying to find money in Washington DC to sustain Cotati only confirms one thing, my opponents are committed to Cotati being a welfare city, a city that feels entitled, a city that can’t pull itself up by the bootstraps and get the economic engine in Cotati fired back up. It’s a plan for failure and a plan in place now for many years. That’s the legacy plan or path my opponents apparently have set for our town.

    The Cotati Independent was launched to be a voice of the entire community, not just mine. I won’t make excuses for those who have decided to boycott it for whatever reason, or to simply keep the public in the dark as much as humanly possible. The Cotati Independent has been a voice for positive change and a breath of fresh air for thousands in our city. It’s too bad my opponents can’t deal with defending their positions in print. Their silence and indignation for opposing views speaks volumes. The feedback Harvey has been getting and can’t seem to admit to is, “Please take your literature. I’m not interested.”

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  8. James Bennett says:

    What it’s really coming down to for all of us, especially those in public service or uniform is this:
    Are you going to stand behind our founding principals?
    Are you going to go along with all this economy crashing/anti-property rights/communitarian (ism) crap being forced on us by this globalist oppressive Agenda?

    George Barich was tested like all public servants…HE PASSED THE TEST. A known quantity of loyalty to the people. Courage is an admirable quality in times like these. He deserves our admiration and support, and he’s getting it.

    In fact I wrote a piece to that effect on page 7 of this months Cotati Independent, here:

    Loving our freedoms AND our environment ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.

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