Sonoma City Council candidates discuss their top five priorities

Posted on October 1, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Sonoma voters will fill the final open seat on the five-person panel, choosing from candidates James Cribb, Sandra Lowe and Mike Nugent on the November 2 ballot. This was not supposed to be an election cycle for the council. But after the unexpected resignations earlier this year of Rachel Hundley (replaced with the appointment of Kelso Barnett) and Logan Harvey (replaced by the appointment of Bob Felder), the city faced a predicament when Amy Harrington resigned as well.

By law, the majority of the council cannot be appointed; hence, Harrington’s replacement must be decided by public vote. The winner will serve out Harrington’s term, ending in 2024. 

The Sun asked each candidate to offer some personal information, and identify and discuss the five most important issues facing Sonoma right now. Here are those responses:

Sandra Lowe

Overview:  Thank you for the invitation to convey my thoughts about the challenges we face in Sonoma.  I am reminded about the quote from Albert Einstein, which conveys my general outlook of optimism when faced with difficult situations. “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”  While as an individual one cannot change policy for a City, I believe as an active member of a team I can provide expertise, networking, and guidance.  I chose to select broad concepts rather than specific individual projects.  I think these show my general philosophy and how I will tackle issues.

While as an individual one cannot change policy for a City, I believe as an active member of a team I can provide expertise, networking, and guidance.  I chose to select broad concepts rather than specific individual projects.  I think these show my general philosophy and how I will tackle issues.


I start with a value we need to imbue.  Few successful organizations flourish without building a level of trust with their co-workers and the community at large.  When communities question their leadership and their decisions, it is often because they don’t feel “heard” or the process which led to the decision was flawed.  I will be an open door to the community and will seek as well as listen to the constituents.  I will be deliberate with regard to lining up processes to make sure that Sonomans understand how we got there…which is often more important than where we ended up.  


Already identified as a key challenge by the council, we must be diligent and inventive with regard to preserving and healing our planet.  Decisions as a council need to identify the impact on the environment even when the decision is not directly related to environmentalism.  And we need to do more to encourage residents and visitors to choose behaviors which aid the planet.  That means more walking and biking, and less waste.  It also means education.  People want to help but sometimes you have to give them ideas on how to help.  We are in a water crisis now, and the city has information on how to preserve it.  We could keep that spot on the website to continue to advise residents and visitors on how to be a good steward of our environment.


We need affordable housing, and I will be a fierce advocate for expanding our affordable housing trust fund and maintaining or expanding the requirements for affordable units.  That is certainly part of equity, but we need to do more to make Sonoma equitable for all.  We need to recognize that there are English learners who are part of our community and we could use more translations in our publications and website. The majority of the city population resides on the west side of the plaza and we need to pay more attention to the safety, beautification, and recreational spaces for our westside neighborhood.  

Economic Viability

Covid taught us a lot about work.  The typical office and commute are standard no more.  Restaurants are finding outside dining is inviting.  What the future holds will be influenced by our recent lessons.   I favor keeping the outside restaurant spaces.  Affordable live/work housing would be a welcome addition and keep many of our family members closer to home.  We need to attract and keep our essential workers.

Our Families

My four kids grew up here in what they called Slownoma.  I still hear that term.  I am glad that the council has decided to coordinate more with the school district.  We need to use our collective will to make Sonoma the best place to raise a family.  With my background in education and school governance I see a tremendous opportunity to be part of this coordination.  Traffic, safety, recreation, jobs, housing- all impact schools as well as the city.  Teachers need more affordable housing.  We need to attract and retain the best and the brightest.  Let’s work together.


James Cribb

“My wife, Sue Simon, and I fell in love with Sonoma in the 80s on a visit to explore the wines we served with meals in our home in Florida. In 2001 a weekend home very quickly became a permanent address. And very soon thereafter, driven by a desire to become more deeply involved in our community, we started our business, Sonoma Dog Camp.

It was the experience of starting a business in Sonoma, that prompted me to assume a role in serving our community. First on the Design Review and Historic Preservation Commission and then on the Planning Commission. Through those years of service I have gained incredible experience in both public policy and in guiding a business through floods, an earthquake, devastating fires, The Great Recession, and the current pandemic. 

I started my work life teaching high school English and journalism. Then spent many years developing education and training programs in a corporate setting. After moving to San Francisco, I was fortunate to also be a freelance music journalist. Sue and I volunteer as “citizen scientists” with the Sonoma Land Trust.”

Town Character

Sonoma is emerging from devastating fire seasons and the pandemic. Even with the challenges ahead, I am optimistic about our future. Like the challenges we face, the solutions are interdependent. They cannot be parsed and solved independently. We need to forge a diverse, sustainable Sonoma that truly exhibits the “town character” that is so frequently referenced. “Character” is not just historic buildings and a bucolic setting, but a diverse community where people can live, work, and raise families. 


The solutions to challenges we face like greenhouse gas emissions, a strong economy, and a reliable water supply begin with addressing our housing crisis. There is a strong correlation between housing, our economic vitality, the environment, and meeting the needs of our community. We need to build more houses. The solutions I propose include: Allow reasonable expansion of the urban growth boundary (UGB); Encourage greyfield development, like adding housing to the Safeway or Market Place shopping centers; Update our overly restrictive zoning ordinances to allow creative housing; Define housing mixes with more affordable units (30 – 50 % of any development), pre-clear regulatory hurdles, and issue RFPs to builders to create the housing we want with the certainty that it can be built; Encourage development of junior ADUs as way to create housing options to allow those on fixed income to keep their existing housing


Sonoma is not unique in California in using zoning laws as a barrier to affordable housing. Statewide this has been recognized in California’s “Building Opportunities for All” legislative package. In Sonoma we need to allow increased density and taller building envelopes. An example of what is possible is the Cuneo Apartments on the The Plaza. Built in the 1930s, its density is over 40 units per acre (nearly twice what’s currently allowed in Sonoma) and it’s three stories tall. I have never heard a complaint that the Cuneo Apartments don’t fit our “town character.” We must build denser and taller.


When we talk about expanding housing, questions come up about infrastructure — particularly water — to support growth. Water demand from the Russian River (our primary source of water) has fallen 30%+ in the last decade thanks to conservation. The 2018 City of Sonoma Final Master Water Plan Update projects only a modest increase in demand by 2040. We’ll need to continue our conservation efforts to balance supply and demand. For as precious a resource as water is, the people who work in our community are also precious. We need to house them. 


Make Sonoma more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. I get it, some people think restriping Broadway is a crazy idea. I don’t agree. In fact, when I was on the Planning Commission, reducing automobile lanes on Broadway was among the proposals to make it safer for everyone — pedestrians, bicycles, and automobiles. Restriping is an important first step. If it doesn’t work, it’s just paint on the ground. We can change it. There are easily implemented solutions to improve parking: electric shuttle buses, share bikes, and public/private partnerships for underutilized parking near The Plaza like church parking lots that sit empty for much of the week. We can and must reduce automobile traffic in Sonoma, especially around The Plaza. 


Mike Nugent

Nugent has 17-years of experience in local public office.He held every Board Committee Chair at Sonoma Valley Hospital, including Chairman, and led the fight for the first Parcel Tax, insisting that we ask the community to support a revenue number that would actually work rather than the easiest number to pass the voters.

“I know from that experience how circumstances  beyond control cascade challenges on a governing board. It can’t be a lot different on the City Council. Much of the time the decisions are reactive to legislative changes, County demands and the ever- changing ‘will of the people.’

“I find ‘political platforms’ to be as important as ‘Long Range Planning’ in big organizations. The studies are done, endorsed, placed in binders and onto a shelf where they sit until the time comes for another study. And the same can be said about grand political solutions, made by a huge committee of stakeholders. The half-life is limited; as the great social philosopher, Mike Tyson, put it: ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth!’”


Conservation, obviously. But how to influence the practice best as City Government? Proclamations, rationing goals, tiered water rates, all worthy ideas. Shower heads and bricks in the toilet tank will help, but giving the citizens a way to track their usage daily or weekly would be a great tool to encourage water frugality. The technology exists to equip each meter with a App that will allow the owner to review daily their water consumption, hourly if they wish. Great way to catch leaks. And, it offers a tool to the water consumers, who for the most part want to be responsible consumers of a scarce resource.


This is the most critical issue, but thanks to the support and partnership of the City with the Community Health Center and the Hospital, we have extraordinary local access for all. 


I think we have more than enough aspirations to go around. But it may be time to take a hard look at what works and what has not worked. Auxiliary Housing Units seem to be the low hanging fruit but so far they are not taking off…why? I do not have all of the answers, but will take credit for a few good questions. But there is an elephant in the room over the last few weeks….SB9. Do Planning Commissions have a role and purpose any longer? The legislation is very complicated but seemingly does away with the great majority of zoning in urban residential neighborhoods. For the vast majority of homeowners, the opportunity seems to exist to circumvent all but Historic Zone restrictions and to obviate familiar committee structures in favor of “Ministerial” approval processes where, once the boxes are checked, the permit is granted. At first glance, this is a stunning development. 


Those who treat this as a housing issue are well intentioned, but wrong. Yes there are people who fall through the safety net and into financial ruin for many reasons. Their needs are easier to address than most. Shelter, food, rehabilitation and the opportunity to get back into a stable living situation are doable. We are paying the price for a huge failure on our part to provide meaningful mental health care for too many of our brothers and sisters. My solution to this important issue, is not one that can be created at Sonoma City Council. We need to invest at the State and Federal level, effectively in Mental Health facilities and treatment.


Need we go any further than the Broadway repaving and striping issue? I have spoken to CalTrans. The paving which should be underway will not be complete until November at the earliest. The striping will not be applied until the project is complete and will be largely dependent on the availability of contractors who own and operate the complex trucks that apply the thermo-plastic on the roads. And, CalTrans has yet to compete their impact studies or to have made a final decision. So we have time, but not a lot. I will encourage the Council to reopen the discussion as quickly as possible and encourage broad public input on the question. 

Vote by mail, use ballot drop box in the Sonoma Library parking lot, or find your polling place

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