WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa’s new power player



The election of Erin Carlstrom to the Santa Rosa City Council has created one of the youngest, most influential and most unpredictable politicians the city has seen in decades.

The day after her third-place finish in the race, the 29-year-old attorney is being viewed as someone likely to wield significant clout on the new council despite her relative political inexperience.

A day after elections, Santa Rosa City Council elect Erin Carlstrom gathers her campaign signs that were dropped in front of her home, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / PD)

“We are entering a period of the council that really is uncharted territory, which gives someone like Erin a bit of running room for both sides,” said David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University.

McCuan views Carlstrom as someone whose is uniquely positioned — given the broad-based support she received and her vow with Mayor Ernesto Olivares to change the tone on the council — to fundamentally alter the polarized dynamics that has defined the council in recent years.

“Erin’s election has the opportunity to change the combatants and the trench warfare that has characterized Santa Rosa politics,” McCuan said.

The council has long been divided between members backed by business and development interests who generally support fewer regulations on business, and those who place greater importance on the environment and the input from neighborhoods.

How Carlstrom will navigate or even bridge this divide is still very unclear to many people, in part because during her campaign she  positioned herself as someone offering something for everyone.

She impressed environmentalists with her commitment to urban growth boundaries. She got the backing of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce after stressing her commitment to job creation. She won the support of labor groups such as local firefighters union, publicly noting how public safety groups have given significant labor concessions to the city. And neighborhood groups appreciated her promise to listen to and value their input in the city’s planning process.

“Her answers were effusive to all groups,” McCuan said.

Carlstrom on Wednesday said it was too soon to speculate on how she would approach council decisions. She downplayed the notion that she will hold some pivotal role on new council

“Everyone holds a swing position on the council. Everyone’s vote is important,” she said.

But she said she is well aware that she expressed support in the campaign for a variety of interests and knows that “sometimes those interests will collide.” In those cases, she said she would try to focus on what unites people instead of divides them, work hard to find areas of compromise, and respect everyone’s position.

“If there are divergent interests, I will hope to craft solutions that benefit everyone,” she said.

Rob Muelrath, who ran the unsuccessful campaigns of Don Taylor and Hans Dippel, gave Carlstrom credit.

“She ran a good campaign. She did all the right things,” Muelrath said.

Specifically, early in the campaign she catered to her liberal Democratic base and the environmental, labor and neighborhood concerns they value. As the campaign progressed she moved closer to the center, positioning herself as a more moderate candidate emphasizing job creation, support of public employees and her vow to reach across the aisle.

“Whether she is going to be that way on the council, that’s to be determined,” Muelrath said.

The uncertainty on how Carlstrom will vote, when push comes to shove, “makes everyone on all sides uncomfortable,” McCuan said.

He likened her to a rookie pitcher who can throw 100 mph fastballs.

“Is she going to strike people out, or is she going to throw over the backstop? You’re just not sure what you’re going to get when she pitches,” McCuan said.

But she quickly will face key votes that should clarify her priorities and demonstrate the influence of her new position.

The first will be after she and neighborhood activist Julie Combs are sworn in Dec. 4, and the new council will vote for a mayor.

Susan Gorin, who will remain on the council until she steps down in early January to be the new 1st District Sonoma County supervisor, has made it clear she will support Gary Wysocky for mayor.

While he can be brusque, Gorin says Wysocky is experienced and knows the budget better than anyone.

“I think Gary will be one that really guides the city forward, so he has my confidence and would have my vote to be mayor,” Gorin said.

Wysocky’s has style created some bad blood on council, and Carlstrom could risk alienating Olivares and his allies with such a move. But the same could happen if she supported Jake Ours or Scott Bartley for the post, neither of whom has been shy about trading barbs with Wysocky from the dais.

The second opportunity will be when the council votes to fill Gorin’s seat in early January. The selection could prove another politically delicate one in which Carlstrom could play a pivotal role.

Muelrath said Taylor, who came in fifth place, is the natural choice because he’s a moderate and a successful businessman with a long history of community service.

He noted that two candidates on the ballot who were backed by business groups but dropped out of the race, Mike Cook and Shaan Vandenburg, received nearly 19,000 votes. If they hadn’t been on the ballot, Taylor likely would have been elected and Wysocky ousted, Muelrath said.

Taylor said he hasn’t had much time to consider the appointment process, but said he would be willing to serve. “I’m available,” said the owner of Omelette Express.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater

11 Responses to “Santa Rosa’s new power player”

  1. BigDogatPlay says:

    A 29 year old attorney, apparently a strident progressive, whose resume is little more than college, law school and a short stint on the planning commission. A “power player”.

    Good bye sweet Santa Rosa.

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  2. James Bennett says:

    Don Taylor would be the natural choice.

    Two parts of this new governmental dynamic that are different than we were taught in civics class (among others):

    An ICLEI town tries to have public officials that are of like mind,
    or at least willing to go along.
    Instead of a diverse representation.

    The other is that they are REWARDED for spending on that which is pursuant to the Agenda often with grant money appropriations.

    A one two punch of civil and fiscal oppression. Deliberate crashing orchestrated by the U.N. through ICLEI/MTC.

    Rather than continuing to reconcile our public officials through the two factions, let’s start to identify and measure their allegiance and loyalty to the community based on something more tangible. Something more telling. Possibly the biggest decision Santa Rosa City Hall has ever made…
    Better learn about it if you want any choice about where and how you live:
    These ‘lil clandestine meetings didn’t go over very well, yet they are being treated as public consent:
    More info:

    Forget the rhetoric and lip service.
    How your representation acts (votes) when MTC comes to town armed with their synthesized “consensus” should tell the constituents ALL they need to know about a public servants REAL allegiance.

    For better or worse, the rest of their political career should be indelibly tatooed with their decision.

    A preemptive effort should be made to find out how they stand on this life changing, freedom damaging globalist manipulation.

    We deserve answers NOW!

    Not after it’s an A.D.D..

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  3. Sally Doyle says:

    Nothing has changed. The Santa Rosa City Council will still be divided and the progressives will continue to run the show. The losers continue to be the poor taxpayers who pay into this little misadventure of socialism.

    Wysocky will continue to whine and be obnoxious, Combs and Carlstrom will continue to bring us more progressive, socialist plans and programs.

    Olivares will continue to show little leadership and tend to go along to get along.

    Meanwhile back at the ranch, the budget deficit continues to spiral out of control, the pension deficit grows and grows, and the public service the taxpayers so dearly pay for continue to decline.

    The public unions with the allies on the council will continue to demand, whine and get more and more.

    There is no real mystery or power shift here. It is the same old game, just with some new players rotated on to the team.

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  4. david t. robb, sr. says:

    I agree that Don Taylor would be the natural choice because the electorate has voted for him as such. Since he has run for this office (at least three times now) he has every time just missed the office as the next candidate in position for victory with the votes of the people. He is a longtime dedicated business and community leader who recognizes the values of both the progressives and the business community alike having been supported by the Sierra club, as well as business folks.
    He has represented Santa Rosa well, even internationally, in the ventures he has undertaken for a couple of decades. He is not a newcomer to our community so has a long view perspective on the issues others might not have yet. And, lastly, Don resides for many years in the Westernmost neighborhood of Santa Rosa, which has been historically the least represented side of the City. Don Taylor has already earned the position opened as Susan Gorin departs.

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  5. jerry says:

    Bridge the divide—
    Carstrom for mayor
    Bartley, Ours or Olivares…
    for Vice Mayor

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  6. Kay Tokerud says:

    Carlstrom is an extreme progressive. She already demonstrated that while briefly on the planning commission. McCuan’s comments are nonsense.
    Don Taylor should get the empty seat. The candidates that dropped out should not have been on the ballot. That’s akin to cheating and helped the progressive candidates. Banuelos, forget it, a solid progressive. She won’t help anything. We may see a temporary show of bi-partisanship, but if we do it won’t last. The seventh council position is crucial to decide which side will rule. There will still be a bitter divide no matter who gets in. Let the games begin.

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  7. Terry says:


    Normally I’d agree with you, but Banuelos came down strong against Carlstrom’s and Olivares’s joint statement of cooperation. She and Vas Dupre felt “betrayed” by the announcement. This in and of itself should disqualify her from consideration on the council. Someone balanced with no ax to grind should be selected. Banuelos has proven herself to be divisive.

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  8. Jim M says:

    My feeling is that Erin’s heart is really with the progressive side, but that being said someone has to break the devisiveness of the council and it seems to have fallen to her to do it. Bartley seemed much more independent when he was heading the planning commission, if I were her I’d look more at his record there and see if he is ready to chart a more middle of the road course if he were mayor. And then I think she should pick someone like Baneulos to fill Susan Gorin’s seat.

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  9. Vinyl Rules says:

    Well we all got hoodwinked. Run to the right, run to the left. Say this or that depending on who is listening. The worst kind of politician; the kind that will do or say anything to get elected.

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  10. Georgette says:

    Don’t overlook an excellent choice – Caroline Banuelos, who is a current planning commissioner, has support from a broad base and would help bridge the divide between East and West, as well as being the first Latina on the Council.

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  11. Chris says:

    This is great news. So glad she was elected. I hope with both Carlstrom and Olivares being elected the council will here the voters interest in less divisive politics and more solution oriented politics.

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