Santa Rosa City Council to review charter committee diversity

The lack of diversity on the Santa Rosa Charter Review Committee has prompted a City Council exploration of the issue Tuesday.

Councilwoman Susan Gorin called for the council to discuss the makeup of the committee, which is set to embark on a six-month review of ideas for improving city operations.

"I think it pretty clearly is lacking some diversity," Gorin said. "Everyone would agree that the composition of the committee does not reflect the demographics of this community."

The decision followed a story in The Press Democrat that showed 90 percent of the committee's 21 members were white, 75 percent reside in the city's northeast, the median age is 61 and most are City Hall insiders.

The issue is far from a new one. In 2001, the council initially appointed 22 members to the committee, which is convened every 10 years. But at that time it quickly realized the committee makeup lacked geographic, ethnic and gender diversity. In an attempt to be more inclusive, the council added seven committee members, bringing the total to 29.

Some consider diversity on the committee to be crucial because the body explores issues related to whether residents are fairly represented in the city's political process, and ponders whether the City Council should be elected by district instead of city-wide.

In some ways, the current committee is even less inclusive than the previous one. Ten years ago, 12 of the members were from the city's northeast section, an area whose residents long have dominated city politics. This time, there are 16, or nearly 75 percent of the committee.

But in other ways it is more diverse, with nine women members compared to five. The racial diversity appears to be similar to 10 years ago, when two members were identified as minorities. This time, Ida Johnson and Ann Gray Byrd, who are black, appear to be the only two minorities, making the committee 90 percent white.

From 2000 to 2010, Santa Rosa's racial and ethnic minority population grew from 29 percent to 40 percent, according to U.S. Census figures.

Mayor Ernesto Olivares, the city's first Latino mayor, said Friday he doesn't agree that the committee lacks diversity.

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