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A fight for shaping Sonoma’s future

Posted on April 6, 2017 by Fred Allebach

In the recent city council hearing concerning the nomination of Lynda Corrado to the Planning Commission, Mayor Hundley and council member Harrington made a clear case for a vision of Sonoma’s future that is representative, honest, on-the-level, and clear about substance. Each has articulated this vision in public, many times, and what they are saying is part of current council goals. What I see here is representative government at work, an effort to respond to the real grass roots of Sonoma’s electorate, and an effort to reflect the values of what a large percent of the community desires.

What is at stake?

What is this future Hundley and Harrington are seeking to represent? The main points include sustainable tourism, a nexus between residents and tourism, and affordable housing. The basic choice for Sonoma is,

ONE: be sustainable and reach a carrying capacity, take care of Area Median Income people, preserve unique city character and natural resources, and have limits to hospitality development; or

TWO: adhere to a boom and bust economic model where free market growth calls for no limits, and where trickle-down economics will be promised to Area Median Income people but not delivered.

This is what the big fight is about concerning the Planning Commission. The no limits contingent in town, as represented by elite hotel interests, is scared that people with a common-sense, equitable, sustainability vision will outmaneuver them, and prevail over their economic benefits argument. In this essay, I will break down what is up.

Substantive case made

In the recent city council hearing over Lynda Corrado’s nomination to the Planning Commission, Hundley and Harrington did a superior job of making a substantive case. Hundley started out by recapping the interview process. Seven candidates were interviewed. Hundley then gave her criteria: one, a concern for the composition of the Planning Commission as a whole (exact same as Cook said he did when mayor). Specifically, Hundley said she was looking for experience directly related to elements in the General Plan, where experience with some elements is missing from the current commission; two, an assessment of qualifications from a standard list of staff-provided questions; and three, assessing the candidate’s view of the over-arching issues facing Sonoma in light of the upcoming General Plan review, of which Planning Commission members will be central in defining.

Hundley also noted that nominations are not about targeting for votes on specific projects, and that this is not part of the nomination process. A commissioner will make hundreds of votes on innumerable projects, plus work on the General Plan update. And, given that on 4/13 there will be a huge Planning Commission hearing on the Darius Anderson hotel, Hundley said it was important to vote now on Corrado, for the Planning Commission to be fully equipped with members.

Hundley said as plain as day, she is concerned about what the future of development in Sonoma will look like, and that business as usual by city actors will not get a different result, and that she has a duty to choose in, her estimation, who is the best candidate. For her, Lynda Corrado was the obvious, top choice.

It is Hundley’s right, by the rules of the game to make this choice. To have other political interests cry foul is tantamount to the pot calling the kettle black.

Case unclear

Council member Cook did not come off as well and basically accused city staff of being secretive, having a conspiracy of silence, of being non-cooperative, and he called for a change in the commission nomination process, even though this was all fine and dandy when he was able nominate who he wanted as mayor.

Cook’s call for a change was backed up by Joseph Aron, in person, and online. Aron is clearly a surrogate and proxy for Ed Routhier and the FSE hotel project interests, if not for the Anderson hotel group as well. This shows where Cook is getting wind in his sails: a conspiracy theory group who deftly accuses the Planning Commission of being politicized while they transparently push for their own political agenda, all the while saying they are apolitical. C’mon Cook, the public can see right through this! You are being played out by Ed Routhier. You by default then accuse Rachel of being unethical, and anti-democratic, for simply representing her views, just like you have always done. You’re in a hole, stop digging!

Cook also explicitly denied that he had any political thoughts when he chose planning commissioners, this is “not true”, he said.  However, if you look at the record and pattern of Cook’s statements and votes, and those of two of his appointees, Cribb and Coleman, these are congruent with the free market, no limits philosophy contingent in town. Cook can’t deny and escape his own footprint. It’s not apolitical.

Majority rules?

Council member Edwards backed up Cook, saying he agreed with Cook’s take. They both used the rationale that five members on the council should vote, given that Council member Agrimonti was absent. Even though both Cook and Edwards say they know and like Corrado, and have encouraged her to apply, their main reason to stall now came down to that Agrimonti should vote….   Well, if we are going to talk democratic process here, should all council and commission votes be held up until the full body is there? Can we go back and re-do all the votes that took place to approve or disprove certain items because not everyone was present? No. The business of government has to go on if you have a quorum.

And why would Cook and Edwards not want the Planning Commission to be at full strength with the Anderson hotel up for review? Their failure to consider a vote for Corrado means the Planning Commission will be at less than full strength for one of the most major votes in city history.

All this about votes, fairness, democracy, politics, has amazing parallels with the current politicization of the US Supreme Court, the stalling, the effort to pack the court, to not let others have their rightful choice. And the great Kabuki theater aspect of this here in Sonoma, is that the actors try to pretend it is not political at all.

This is where the public can see that Hundley and Harrington have been more honest in stating the substance of their views. You want transparency, you’re seeing the difference right now between honesty and subterfuge, between real grass roots and Astroturf.

Issues of politics danced around

Edwards then brought up the issue of experience, and his concern that the Planning Commission will be left without a well of knowledge. He also opened the issue of bias, and politics, by saying in effect, he had a problem that any applicant should ever have had an opinion in public about any projects. This gets back into the Kabuki theater going on now, that the free market advocates here just want this process to be fair, democratic, and apolitical, that experience and knowledge are apolitical even though this faction is clearly lobbying to intimidate the city and rest of the council, and current Planning Commission members, so they can get someone on the Planning Commission who reflects their own political philosophy. Edwards closed by saying he was concerned, but did not explicitly close the loop on just exactly what those concerns were.

Astroturf campaign

Edwards and Cook both noted how many e-mails they got, but Edwards, to his credit, was honest to note that they looked like form letters. And so, what we have here, in terms of representation and democracy, is real grass roots behind Hundley and Harrington vs. a mercenary AstroTurf campaign by hotel interests behind Cook and Edwards.

Harrington weighs in

Harrington noted right off in her comments, that Corrado could not vote on FSE anyway, because she lives too close to the project. This shows that the FSE contingent wasted political capital trying to deny Corrado, conflating her with Jim Bohar.  Corrado did not matter for their interests.

Harrington said that, in her campaign, she talked to thousands of people about the direction of the city, and she has a strong idea of the town’s thoughts. Harrington received the most votes for a council member in the history of Sonoma. People have a fundamental concern about the direction of the city, Harrington said, and it is important to have people on the Planning Commission who share those values and concerns. The upcoming General Plan review is very important because this is what will frame the values of town going forward, to make town what the 1000s of people told Harrington they want, and which Hundley and Harrington decided Corrado best represents.

If this is not a democratic process, what is? The public can decide who is really representing “the community” here. A clear choice as to Sonoma’s future laid out as plain as day.

Harrington also gave some insight into the Planning Commission application process, that when Cook was mayor, and she applied for the PC, she was told (not by Cook himself), that “women don’t apply because it is a lot of reading.” And so, after all these years, there is only one woman on the PC. Corrado would bring the diversity that all, including Cook, profess is necessary to include.

Council goals of balancing city character are unrealized

What the community needs now, in my opinion, is a strong show of support for Hundley and Harrington, to counteract the Astrotruf campaign of the free market, no limits group, to bully the city and Planning Commission to conform to their values, which they claim are apolitical. This basically brings us right back into Measure B. It brings us right back to the Rosewood Hotel. And it speaks of the abject failure of the city and council to step up and proactively address the goals they have had for years and years, starting with “balance town character” right after Measure B.

The simmering conflict of limits vs. no limits has been left to fester, but now with the 4/13 Planning Commission hearing to approve the whole Anderson hotel in one fell swoop, EIR and use permit in one hearing, and with the FSE hotel soon on the docket as well, what we have before us is a frantic power struggle by the hotel interests to throw the Planning Commission into disarray. Out of this confusion and flux, the strategy seems to be maybe they can get a majority vote in their favor.

Consensus needed on “balance” before critical votes

Well, if we need a full council to vote on Planning Commission nominations, maybe we need a full PC to vote on these seriously important hotel projects that will majorly shape the future flavor of town. Maybe these hotel Planning Commission hearings should be postponed until commissioners have enough experience, and we have a full commission, and until the city council agrees on what their goals are for balancing residents, city character and tourism.

The fight over Planning Commission nominees only reflects the lack of action and consensus on the council about the central issues at stake here: balancing residents, city character and tourism. And now, when we actually have some council members who are willing to address what have been council and city goals all along, this is seen as politicization, and unethical, and anti-democratic? That kind of argument, by Routhier (Aron) and Cook, is desperate obfuscation by people scared they will lose.

Machiavellian breakdown

The question seems to be now, does Hundley get to legitimately make her mark, in congruence with Harrington’s election, or will she be prevented, just like the Republicans blocked Merrick Garland?  I don’t see any real consensus emerging. The town is at an impasse as represented by the hung council vote the other night.

And since Edwards was complicit with Hundley and Harrington to have Hundley be mayor, to ace out Agrimonti, but now Edwards appears to have abandoned his alliance, who will Agrimonti vote with here to swing this most important series of votes? All Planning Commission hotel votes will certainly be appealed to the council, and we obviously have a hung council with Hundley and Harrington on one side and Cook and Edwards on the other.

Agrimonti on the hot seat

This leaves Madolyn as the swing vote. She has certainly been very graceful through all this flux and conducted herself with honor and integrity. If anyone could be said to be actually apolitical, and not transparently partisan, it would be Madolyn. And so, in my estimation, the town’s future hangs in the balance of her assessment, of her weighing all the issues and values. Sorry to put a bull’s eye on you Madolyn, but this is how I see it.

Unreconciled issues still fester

It is quite clear that there is a war going on in Sonoma, and in Sonoma County, on one side are those who want more and more tourism, more, hotels, more event centers, more wine, more vacation rentals, more luxury economy, and more market rate housing. On the other side are those who want a truly sustainable future, represented by many grass roots groups county-wide and in Sonoma Valley. Here we find conservation of resources, and social equity for seniors, the workforce, and for renters.

What one side sees as good, the other sees as bad, and vice versa. We’re at an impasse. Basically, the difference is between liberal and conservative political philosophy, only in the Bay Area, conservatives hide their identity, or go under the guise of corporate Democrats.

Actual representation?

If you take a look at the precinct voting maps from the last election, it is easy to see that Sonoma, and all core urban areas of the county are 70% or more liberal, and share values that adhere to social and environmental justice over a free market philosophy.

It is clear that the pushback here in Sonoma, regarding the Planning Commission and surrounding the two hotel projects, is being made by a minority of people who have outsize influence, and are tone deaf to the majority of the electorate due to their wealth.

What strikes you as being more anti-democratic about defining Sonoma’s future, the exercise of the will of the majority, or the usurpation of the power by the moneyed minority?

 



5 thoughts on “A fight for shaping Sonoma’s future

  1. Silly, but fun to ready. Always love the false intrigue, and pseudo intellectualism you go for. Keep it up Fred, Sonoma needs more levity in these, terribly, unbelievably important, the most important, times of all times…ha, ha. Relax, we need hotels, we need housing…maybe you don’t, but I do. Thank you developers, and I hope you get past the NIMBYs and the political toxic lawyer twins.

    1. Sara,
      You’re certainly entitled to your opinion but name calling degrades us all. Let’s stick to talking about ideas.
      Amy

  2. I am sorry to see name calling also. There are enough
    troubles in this world without that. Let’s focus on solutions.
    I am sad to see everything costing 100 dollars and up to attend…..with very little slack. I hope we find a middle
    way. I wonder how we might make room for people who are not wealthy here? Keep trucking Fred.

  3. If the author is correct and the 2 sides are controlled growth and free market unlimited growth, I would have to go with the first option. To me, controlled means sensible, sustainable, thoughtful. Unrestrained free market means that value is only in profit and bigger, more, more. Sonoma has a small town infrastructure which increases the impact of growth on the redisents. Limits have to be set.

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