The dynamic, young (47) and enthusiastic new Sonoma City Manager talks with the Sun’s Anna Pier about his excitement for the new job, his hopes, his background, and what led him to Sonoma.
We – meaning people who work in city management – are always looking at other cities around us. It was very inspiring to watch the meetings of this new Council, they were very clear about what they wanted to do. So I decided to apply.
There’s a lot to learn about a new City.
Yes, and I knew I would hit the ground running, so before my actual start date, I began meeting with people who have had a role in the city over the years. I wanted to find out as much as I could about the past. I met with Sonoma City Council members, business owners, members of the community, board and commission members, department directors, and regional elected officials.
Talk more about your relationship to the Council.
The Council has set clear goals: Affordable Housing, Homelessness Wrap Around Services, Transportation (traffic, parking, circulation), Plaza Master Plan, City Finances, Business attraction and retention. Because the Council is elected, it represents the people. The role of the City Manager is to implement the will of the Council, to make sure to carry it out well. It is my job to figure out how to flesh this out, create policies that will achieve each of these goals.
What are your hopes for your new role?
There are plenty of exciting opportunities. One is how to find ways to create housing for this community and for the workforce that supports the City. Right now I’m listening and learning what has been done. Another important opportunity is drafting the new General Plan. The Council will craft what the City will look like over the next 30 years. For the first year gathering info stage, to find out what’s working and what’s not, I want to be sure it is an empowering process. It’s up to me to ensure all voices are at the table. Through workshops, events, media. It’s important to hear from the Valley, to evaluate the interface between the City and adjacent areas.
Which brings up the question of annexation.
That would be entirely up to the Council. But I do have experience with it, from the Roseland annexation in Santa Rosa.
First steps on the General Plan?
On May 17 the Council selects the consultant that will guide the process. A professional team is necessary because this is a very comprehensive process, including an EIR (Environmental Impact Report). When I was Assistant City Manager in Santa Rosa, we started work on their new General Plan.
What challenges do you foresee on the job?
A lot of the issues that cities are grappling with are challenging. But that doesn’t mean negative. Housing. Homelessness. My intention is to be effective and equitable. I thrive on the conversations about these issues, with everyone at the table. One reason I wanted this job in Sonoma is that I saw that the Council was really working to take on the challenges the city faces.
Did your most recent position with the Federated Indians of Graton Ranchería prepare you for your new job?
Executive Director of Government Operations is essentially a city manager role. I reported to a seven-member Tribal Council.
How did you, not a member of the Federated Indians, get the job?
I’ll be forever grateful that they took a chance on me, and I will miss them. It was an important exposure for me, to southern Sonoma County and Marin, the ancestral lands of the Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok. I can’t say enough about the good things they do for the community, and for the nation, especially in the areas of environmental protection and social justice. Enabling their work was a really great experience, fascinating, interesting, humbling. And educational too. One example is that they are helping the Smithsonian develop curricula for the schools, to teach their history.
Where did you grow up, and what did you want to be?
I spent all my life in the Sacramento area. I always wanted to be an engineer. My father was a civil engineer, and I liked looking at pictures of bridges and infrastructure in his professional journals. When I went to South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, it soon became clear to me that it was not the infrastructure I wanted to pursue. Following my passion, I got a BS in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Environmental Engineering. I also have a Masters in Organization Development.
How do you pronounce “Guhin”?
First syllable sounds like “few” with a “g.” “Gyew-in.” It’s Irish.
What do you enjoy in your free time? I love gardening. I started in earnest during Covid. I’m always interested in how to grow plants new to me. This year I’m into the pollinator flowers.