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Political chasm separates Gorin, Sawyer



John Sawyer and Susan Gorin (PD FILE)

The political chasm separating Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, who are campaigning to become the next member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors from the 1st District, runs wide and deep.

The two Santa Rosa council members have been skirmishing for years over municipal issues and now are taking their disparate views on the role of local government to the voters of a district that extends from the east side of Santa Rosa through Sonoma Valley to San Pablo Bay. The election is Nov. 6.

Though their differences are well established, Gorin, 60, and Sawyer, 57, agree on some key issues, including support for county spending on initiatives to spur job creation and recruit and retain local businesses.

Both say they support the county’s move to become a residential and commercial power supplier, though they have concerns about customer rates.

Both candidates also have recommended boosted spending to repair county roads.

Sawyer has proposed a short-term countywide sales tax measure to address the current repair backlog, estimated at $100 million annually.

Gorin has said that a tax measure may be needed but hasn’t backed any concept. She gave Sawyer’s plan little chance for success at the ballot box, noting that it would rely largely on city-fueled tax receipts to pay for county roads. Such a funding mechanism could be a long-shot with city leaders, she said.

Sawyer said his plan would offer benefits for transit, bicycle and pedestrian and park infrastructure.

“I believe people have shown their willingness to step up to the plate when there’s a greater good at stake,” he said.

Both Sawyer and Gorin say they would look for funding within the county budget before advancing a tax proposal.

Gorin has said those funds may have to be found through cuts to other services. Which those would be, she doesn’t yet know.

“I’m saying let’s make road maintenance a priority. I’m saying let’s make fiscal choices,” she said.

Sawyer, instead, has suggested that money could be found in what he called “hidden funds” in the county’s $1.3 billion budget. Such sources, if they exist, could be tapped without diminishing current services, he said.

“I think everyone can find efficiencies,” he said.

A series of county audits are underway to determine if any such surplus funds exist.

The Springs project

Gorin said her top priority for the 1st District would be seeking a way to continue with the Highway 12 street and sidewalk upgrades in an area north of Sonoma known as The Springs.

The county’s attempt to retain $9.5 million in redevelopment funds to complete the project has been rejected three times by state finance officials since Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved 400 local redevelopment agencies on Feb. 1 to use the money to close the state budget gap.

Gorin said she would look to continue the Highway 12 project with grant funds and existing county money, without saying what sources she would tap.

Sawyer also supports completion of the project, but said certain elements might have to be dropped, without offering specifics.

Pay and benefits

Gorin has pledged to take what she called a “significant pay cut” and forgo a county pension. Supervisors are paid an annual salary of $134,000 and receive about $66,000 in benefits.

Sawyer suggested he would accept a pay cut but dismissed Gorin’s pledge to give up her pension as a gimmick, noting she could rely on retirement benefits earned by her husband, an engineer at Agilent.

Both candidates would have to be elected to a second term before they could reach the five-year minimum to become vested in the county retirement system.

The two backed the county’s efforts to reign in skyrocketing pension costs, while suggesting they would offer different direction if elected.

Currently, the county is pressing for an across-the-board 3 percent cut in pay and benefits, resulting in a first-year savings of about $13 million, and more thereafter. The measures primarily would target future hires, but also would affect current workers.

In that mix, Gorin said the county’s highest-paid workers should take bigger concessions.

Sawyer, meanwhile, said the deeper cuts should not affect current workers who are within 10 years of retirement.

Both agreed with county fiscal watchdogs, who have argued that more will need to be done to control county pension costs.

Campaign contributions by labor groups do not change that fact, they said.

Gorin has taken money from Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the county’s largest labor group, representing mostly lower-paid line staff.

“I can maintain a great working relationship with our employee partners and yet still be convincing about the need for concessions,” she said.

Sawyer is supported by city and county unions representing law enforcement and firefighters.

“Our new paradigm is cost-cutting,” he said. “Our employees understand that and they expect it.”

Financial support

With mail-in voting underway, and Election Day a little more than two weeks away, the campaigns are hitting their final sprint.

Two outside groups, including a local real estate alliance supporting Sawyer and an SEIU-backed campaign supporting Gorin, are wading in with their own money and mailers in the race.

Gorin was the top-getter in the primary, edging Sawyer by just under 200 votes. Sawyer, however, is well ahead of Gorin in the money race, raising nearly $117,000 more since January, for a total of $294,463, including a $16,300 loan.

The total includes maximum donations from gravel, construction and trucking interests.

Gorin last week doubted she would close the money gap. But she used it to level an attack on Sawyer.

“I don’t have whole industries coming out to support me,” she said. Gorin had significantly more individual donors in the latest period than Sawyer. Her maximum contributions included donations from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595 and Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West.

“I don’t make decisions just in the interests of big business groups and big ag groups. John’s record shows none of that,” Gorin said.

Sawyer called the accusations “bunk.”

“Finding compromise is an essential part of being elected,” he said.

“I believe having a moderate, balanced stand on land use and social issues is important,” he said. “Disrupting or compromising a good balance is, I think, to the

detriment of the county. I think I offer that balance.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)

18 Responses to “Political chasm separates Gorin, Sawyer”

  1. Billy C says:

    Sandra , The only development planed of any consequence are the Transit Villages
    around the SMART Stations. These are developments that are planed buy people
    and developers in Gorin’s Group. Yes it is also supported by the Sierra Club.
    It is know as “SMART DEVELOPMENT”.
    It could be be the biggest building project
    in Santa Rosa’s history if we don’t go broke first.
    To say John is pro development is a bit off base. He is pro healthy economy which
    does requires some growth. Yes business people realize the differences between
    candidates who are sagacious and ones who have other agendas. They tend to support and vote for them accordingly.

    If you are truly interested in stopping development Stop Susan and the ADC from
    building a low income ultra high density
    project along the tracks. Lets keep Santa Rosa’s small town feel.

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  2. Sandra Mehan says:

    John Sawyer’s backers are all real estate, big developers and anyone looking at his sign placement or his endorsers can see that. Sawyer is trying hard to greenwash himself (ironically by sending wasteful mailer after wasteful mailer)but anyone who has lived here knows the only green he cares about is money from development interests and the chamber of commerce. Susan Gorin has always cared about neighborhoods and endorsed by Sonoma Conservation Action and the Sierra Club. That’s all I need to know. I am voting for Susan Gorin.

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  3. Skippy says:

    “The cars of today are just too damn easy and boring to drive.”

    Typical. Blame the manufacturer rather than the driver.

    Probably Bush’s fault too.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  4. James Bennett says:

    It’s amazing, almost like MOCKINGBIRD and Susan Gorin are one in the same.

    It’s a miracle.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 7

  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Billy C-bike paths are the roads. They share the roads in Santa Rosa. Both bikers and cars need to heed the traffic laws and drive/ride defensively like I was taught in high school. Pedestrians need to be especially careful and not assume that the driver sees you when you are crossing the street or walking along. In this day and age distracted drivers are more rampant than anytime in history. The cars of today are just too damn easy and boring to drive.

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  6. Billy C says:

    I think Its is questionable that Susan Gorin is saying that roads are a priority to her.
    She has spent the last several years pushing for bike projects such as the $100
    million Smart bike path. the $25 million
    green way , $20 million bike bridge and
    countless bike lanes. She has also has encouraged MTC and ABAG to divert road funding to SMART. How could she not know
    that our roads needed funding then?

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  7. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I will vote for Gorin because I believe she represents the interests of most of Sonoma County’s citizens.
    When I drive by huge signs in front of wineries, at downtown restaurants I know exactly who wants him in office and it’s big money. I’m also really annoyed that he cut the city workers paychecks but gave the safety employees a 9% raise with 8% going into their pension. This is PATENTLY UNFAIR as these are also the employees that can already pad their paychecks and pensions with overtime and often retire making more than they did working. Now he’s made promises to the county safety employees that will end up being paid for by the rest of county workers. You can bet on it.
    I know his record and it isn’t friendly to the average county citizen. He’s in the pockets of big ag (not small ag) and other big corporations and lies that Gorin isn’t business friendly.

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  8. andrew simpson says:

    “Both say they support the county’s move to become a residential and commercial power supplier, though they have concerns about customer rates.”

    This statement refers to Sonoma Clean Power.

    This project, sponsored by the Water Agency, has the potential to restart the County’s economy, boost job creation, and materially reduce air pollution. Like any start up venture, it’s tempting to enthuse over the vision while overlooking the everyday realities:
    1) what happens to our rates?
    2) how much debt will be raised?
    3) what is the risk associated with that debt?
    4) what is the Water Agency’s track record in running a renewable energy venture?
    5) what is the Water Agency’s leadership reputation?

    According to the Water Agency’s feasibility study for Sonoma Clean Power, there’s no rate advantage over PG&E.

    Here’s what the Water Agency didn’t mention in its feasbility study: were Sonoma County to ally with the independent, non-profit electricity utlity run by Healdsburg and the Northern California Power Agency, our rates could actually go down by 10% or more.

    The Water Agency has no plans to ally with Healdsburg and NCPA. We comment on this fact in point #5, on Water Agency leadership.


    It could exceed a billion dollars. The Water Agency didn’t mention that in the feasbility study; and ducked that question at a recent Taxpayers Association question and answer session. We comment on this fact, in a bit.


    The Water Agency says there’s no risk to the cities in Sonoma County, nor to the County, because the debt would be raised in a Joint Powers entity, with no recourse to the County or to the cities.

    So what happens if Sonoma Clean Power defaults on a billion in debt? What about banks and institutions lending money to the County and to its sister cities and agencies? What about the rating agencies? Does anyone think they won’t notice?

    They’ll notice.

    The reason they’ll notice is that they look at the credit capacity, overall, of the County and its cities and agencies.
    It’s like your FICO scores. You may keep up on your mortgage payments but if you stop paying on your credit cards, your FICO scores go down. And your access to additional credit is impaired.

    It’s the same with the County and its sisters cities and agencies. If our community can’t service a billion in debt on Sonoma Clean Power, our ability to raise additional funds for roads, pension obligations, public safety and other vital services will be impaired.

    Here’s how this might happen.

    The Water Agency would lead the raising of a billion or more in capital to fund renewable energy installations. This billion dollar budget (and more) is shown in http://www.coolplan.org, Sonoma Clean Power’s foundation analysis. The risk is that the Water Agency will fund and build a massive deployment of clean energy installations; then mismanage the marketing and operation of this massive undertaking; lose rate payers back to PG&E; lose revenues; lose the ability to service a billion in debt; default; and crush the County and sister cities’ ability to raise money for other needs.


    Yes and yes.

    Utilities are risky. PG&E went bankrupt in 2001: Utilities now face an energy market that is highly volatile and competitive.

    The Water Agency would struggle to professionally manage Sonoma Clean Power. Consider their track record on a $60 million renewable energy venture, Sonoma County Energy Independence “SCEIP”, next.)


    SCEIP is a $60 million Board of Supervisors and Water Agency effort to finance solar and energy retrofits with 7% loans payable over 20 years as property tax add-ons.

    SCEIP, run at– and by– the Water Agency, was conceived as a jobs creator, pollution reducer, and proving ground for the Water Agency’s ability to run the much larger Sonoma Clean Power effort.

    SCEIP’s key goals are to to increase jobs, reduce CO2 emissions, pay back the County its loan and to achieve a sustainable. self funding volume of lending activity on renewable energy projects.

    Here is the Water Agency’s performance on SCEIP:
    a) Jobs: At a cost of $30 million a year for the last two years, SCEIP added 75 jobs a year at a cost of $400,000 per job. SCEIP reduced County unemployment by .004.
    b) Pollution: The County’s goal for CO2 reduction is to move annual CO2 emissions from 4.3 million metric tons to 2.8 metric tons. SCEIP, at a cost of $30 million a year, reduced CO2 emissions by 6,000 tons a year: or .003.
    c) Payback: the Water Agency and its governing board, the Supervisors, convinced the Sonoma County Pension Fund to lend $45 million to SCEIP. They promised to pay this loan back right away with refinancing from the banks. This hasn’t happened. Pension Fund policy prohibits long term illiquid loans. The Pension Fund is now stuck with a long term illiquid loan, at fixed rates; the Pension Fund may have to mark down the value of this loan if market interest rates go up.
    d) Sustainability: SCEIP is a commercial failure. There are cheaper sources of energy equipment financing in the capital markets including solar leases. The Federal Government has effectively black listed SCEIP loans in the trading markets because SCEIP’s first lien (a tax lien) on the properties it finances scares away other lenders. SCEIP’s new loan volumes have declined to near zero. Yet the Water Agency, concerned about loss of face in its proof-of-concept for Sonoma Clean Power, has responded to the SCEIP fiasco by doubling down. The Water Agency just put $15 million of rate payer money into SCEIP, increased head count in the face of near-zero loan activity, and is now running SCEIP at a loss as its overhead outstrips falling revenue generation from new loans.

    In plain english, the Water Agency stuffed some bad paper into the Pension Fund, failed to refinance this paper, failed to get any measureable impact on jobs and air pollution, and failed to create a commercially sustainable venture in SCEIP.

    Not surprisingly, the Water Agency has now distanced itself from SCEIP, and disavows any responsibility for the disappointments summarized above.

    As a test case for the Water Agency’s fitness to run a market-competitive renewable energy effort, SCEIP is a telling success. We may have wasted $60 million in a failed renewable energy program; but this failure may enable us to avoid underwriting—to the tune of a billion dollars—a Water Agency management team for Sonoma Clean Power that, on the facts, is simply not bankable.

    These comments speak to management skill in running a commercial venture in renewable energy. There may be an even more important qualification for running Sonoma Clean Power: leadership.


    The senior management of the Sonoma County Water Agency has a well established leadership profile. Since they’re not very good at managing things, they make up for it by lying, cheating and stealing. The factual list of their bad acts is long; yet that list in its current form barely scratches the surface of the systemic dishonesty which informs Water Agency management’s day to day operations; let alone their brazen conduct and misrepsentations in connection with Sonoma Clean Power. This list has been submitted to outside investigators; nature will take its course.
    This overview of Sonoma Clean Power’s current sponsorship—a misguided Water Agency—should not deflect the significant community building opportunity in Sonoma Clean Power nor the years of painstaking sponsorship by Santa Rosa’s Climate Protection Campaign. Sonoma Clean Power is worthy of public sponsorship. It just needs good leaders and competent managers. This opportunity may well serve as a first order of business for our next panel of County Supervisors.

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  9. Local Representation says:

    It’s funny how many people criticizing Sawyer posts are flat out lying. That’s the problem with Susan Gorin’s campaign. She has resorted to lying to try and win over voters, just as as was said in a recent letter-to-the-editor in The Sonoma Index-Tribune’s endorsement of Sawyer:

    “We don’t really think Sawyer is anti-environment…they are closer on most issues than their campaign rhetoric suggests.

    Which leads us to the question of character and we must confess a certain distaste with Gorin’s…

    We like John Sawyer’s candor, we respect his judgment, we like his deep family history in Sonoma County, and in the end he’ll get our vote for supervisor.”

    It speaks for itself. Gorin’s biggest supporters have resorted to lying, saying “Sawyer’s endorsed by the Republican Party” (false). Or they’ll just take the low road as Gorin does, it’s the only way they feel they can win.

    I’ll be casting my vote for John Sawyer.

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  10. Ken says:

    Carpetbagging? Didn’t seem to bother anyone in the race for 5th district supervisor 4 years ago. Efren Carrillo was living in the 4th district until Herb Williams told him to move. And voila!

    John Sawyer has now resorted to outright lying, green washing his tenure on the council. This is the same guy who ended up putting his name on a mailer that urged No on 8.

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  11. Critic at Large says:

    This county has an abundance of progressive politicians. Their policies have devastated the local economy with high taxes, anti-business bias, tough bureaucratic regulations, and job killing prohibitions on new business.

    Gorin has been owed by the public unions for years. She is a very old school politician out of the 1960′s where so many of current crop of politicos in the county originated.

    Gorin is out of touch with most of the residents of this county who just want a decent job and a good life. She wants us regulated, taxed and she will tell us what jobs we can have and where we can live. That is the modern socialist way.

    Sawyer is headed in the right direction. Gorin is paddling her boat against the economic current.

    A vote for Sawyer is a vote for jobs, progress and a chance to improve this county’s economic picture.

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  12. John Pendergast says:

    My problem with Gorin is that she’s beyond “green” and is a full blown eco-nut. I wonder if she uses that rock crystal deodorant and Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. She moved to the wrong place, she should have moved to Occidental and taken a little job selling spirit catchers and organic plants. But that would actually involve selling something instead of milking the government teet.

    Sawyer is “pro development.” So What! Let the person amongst us who’s never stopped in at a strip mall for a pizza cast the fist stone.

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  13. James Bennett says:

    “I’m saying let’s make road maintanance a priority”.
    Pushing the Sonoma County political pander pot hole button.

    I’m not a mind reader, but I don’t think any accomadation for automobiles is high on Susan Gorin’s priorities.

    Getting elected is.

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  14. Snarky says:

    Bob Andronice:

    Like I posted to your alter-ego, your know, your other online name claiming the same thing.

    WHAT real estate developers are you speaking of with regard to Sawyer?

    If you can’t answer that, you lie.

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  15. Bob Andronice says:

    I’ll say it’s a chasm. John Sawyer is endorsed by the Republican Party and supported by Los Angeles Real Estate Firms and big developers. He was the deciding vote on allowing Bodean Asphalt to expand in downtown Santa Rosa. (asthma, who cares about asthma?) Meanwhile Susan Gorin is endorsed by Sonoma Conservation Action and the Sierra Club. I don’t want my neighborhood to look like an LA strip mall therefore I am voting for Susan Gorin.

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  16. Dan J Drummond says:

    I see many having an issue with Gorin’s housing decision, but do any of you have an issue with John Sawyer’s decision to sell pornography at his failed business, Sawyers News? Come on conservatives, be honest.

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  17. Dan J Drummond says:

    “Sawyer has proposed a short-term countywide sales tax measure to address the current repair backlog, estimated at $100 million annually.”
    I’d bet $10,000 of Mitt Romney’s millions that the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association would recommend a NO vote on that tax increase.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 15

  18. Grapevines says:

    Renting a house in the district so you can run as a candidate? Kind of reminds me of the term “Carpetbagging” that came about after the Civil War.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 13

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