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New sheriff in town

Posted on February 15, 2019 by Bob Edwards

Congress may have its AOC but Sonoma has its HHH, and that promises to be every bit as exciting.

Unlike Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, their Congressional generational counterpart, City Council’s new majority of Amy Harrington, Rachel Hundley and Logan Harvey aren’t yet the sujet du jour of cable news but they’re already wielding brooms and rearranging the furniture at City Hall.

If the February 4 Council meeting was any indication, there could be Significant Progress on issues that previous administrations ignored, obstructed or misplaced, along with their reading glasses and the Readers’ Reader’s Digest.

The Minimum Wage issue, for example. Way back in September 2014, a previous Council directed City staff to issue an RFP to study whether it would be feasible to enact a minimum wage ordinance increasing wages for the lowest–paid workers in town so they could afford gluten-free gruel and living space under the Ig Vella Bridge.

Despite follow-up inquiries, neither staff nor Council explained why that RFP never issued. The answer finally came in a November 2015 e-mail from then-mayor Cook: “So far this item has not been brought forward by any present council members for discussion and acted upon.”

Why Council members needed to act on a matter already enacted was unclear; why the mayor himself hadn’t acted was equally murky. But apparently the November 2014 election replaced a pro-study Council with one that included more friends of the Chamber of Commerce, e.g., its 2014 president, Mr. Cook.

No one suggests there was any connection whatsoever between a delayed minimum wage study and Council’s collaboration with the Chamber to (per the Chamber’s website) “support the local economy.” In 2015, that collaboration included the first $125,000 Economic Development grant from City Council to the Chamber. In the Chamber’s words: “Through a contract with the City of Sonoma and with the ongoing direction of a steering committee, the Sonoma Chamber expanded the program beginning in 2015. Current priorities include supporting economic diversification and entrepreneurship, improving connections for businesses to available resources, and facilitating the ability of employers to ‘hire local.’”  The Steering Committee included Chamber members and the City’s manager.

“Available resources” included the City’s generous Business Loan Program, which provides matching business improvement loans to local businesses to spruce up storefronts, etc. If a business spruces up as promised, the loan is eventually forgiven; i.e., Free Money. (Ed. Note to Students: This is Economic Development, not Socialism.)

A cynic might call the City/Chamber relationship incestuous, but only a card- carrying Commie could suspect that “facilitating the ability of employers to ‘hire local’” included stonewalling a minimum wage study that would have proven – as a recent UC Berkeley study has – that minimum wage employees deserved more Money.

But thanks to HHH action on February 4, a $15/hr. minimum wage ordinance in Sonoma could soon be a reality. And things could get even better: H.H.H. set an ambitious 2019 agenda and in the process made clear that when it comes to spending the City’s money, there is a New Sheriff In Town: Mayor Harrington flatly forbid her name to be rubber-stamped on City checks unless Council knows exactly where the money is going, and why.

HHH will surely encounter reactionary headwinds as they push/pull/lead Sonoma RFD into the 21st century on pressing issues like affordable housing, finances, the UGB, traffic, etc. But regardless of outcomes, even the Chamber of Commerce would have to agree: Any well-stocked popcorn concession in the lobby of the City Council Chambers could make a fortune.



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