A spirit of cooperation and compromise appears to have taken root on the Santa Rosa City Council as newcomers unscarred by ideological skirmishes of the past are working hard to forge pragmatic solutions to the city's pressing issues.
Two recent policy debates underscore how the dynamic has shifted since three new members have taken seats on the council since the November election.
Julie Combs and Erin Carlstrom were elected to the seven-member council in the fall, and Robin Swinth, a former Board of Public Utilities member, was appointed in January to replace now 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin.
All three have played central roles in recent debates over such complex issues as the funding level for the Police Department given the requirements of Measure O, and the proposed closure of the Community Media Center of the North Bay.
"There is not a love-fest going on," notes David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University. "But they clearly are trying in the early stages to come together on some tough decisions."
All three new council members showed particular determination to find a compromise during the Measure O debate earlier this month.
City Manager Kathy Millison asked the council to agree that in the coming months it would accept a 2013/2014 budget for the Police Department that would not dip more than $1.1 million below the so-called base line established in Measure O, the 2004 quarter-cent public safety sales tax.
The base line funding level for the department goes up by the consumer price index every year during the 20-year life of the special tax, but the city's budget woes have forced it to keep the police budget below base line for several years.
Millison said it was important for the council to agree to go below the base line ahead of time to relieve city staff of the need to prepare two budgets. But Julie Combs and Gary Wysocky weren't willing to commit to a specific figure until they better understood how the police department's funding affected the needs of other city departments.
Combs said she viewed economic development as a top priority, and wanted to make sure there would be some money available to boost the city's efforts in that area next year. Consequently, she explained, she reserved the right to have a police budget that went more than $1.1 million below base line.
It was long, complex, policy debate that proved frustrating at times for some council members.
At one point, Ernesto Olivares, a retired police lieutenant, said he didn't like the way council members were setting aside Millison's proposal and "pulling numbers out of a hat" in an effort to find a different funding level.
"I'm not supporting any of this," Olivares said.
But others kept trying to craft a motion that could win full council support.
Carlstrom, the vice mayor, suggested an interim step where the city manager would return to the council after its upcoming report on council goals to further discuss the cost of various priorities. But when she sensed debate was no longer constructive, Carlstrom showed a willingness to call for a vote to clear the way for other solutions to be proposed.
"I am calling for the question," Carlstrom said at one point. "I'm not hearing people move."