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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.

"Personally, I haven't seen it as an issue," Olivares said. "I'm seeing diversity in our charter review appointments."

He noted that one of his appointees is female and another, Bill Arnone, comes from a Latino background. Arnone, an attorney and chairman of the city's Redevelopment Agency, said his mother grew up in Colombia and became a U.S. citizen and his father was born in the U.S. of Italian descent.

"I consider myself first and foremost an American," Arnone said. "I was born and raised in California, but I am very proud of my Latino background."

The only way the city can ensure diversity is to ask applicants to "check the box" for their ethnicity, which he said "seems awfully intrusive to me," Arnone said.

Olivares said diversity is an important issue that the council members "need to think about on a regular basis." But he's not concerned about the makeup of this temporary committee because he knows many other standing boards and commission are more diverse.

"Overall we've done a very good job of dealing with diversity in our community," he said.

The reason many committee members have some prior experience with City Hall is because most council members want their appointees to have an understanding of city operations before being asked to recommend changes.

"The whole idea is to review the charter, so they need to have some idea what they are looking at when they look at the documents," Olivares said.

Arnone concurred. "I found it somewhat ironic that having a knowledge base of some sort that you've gained from some experience working for the city is suddenly being pointed to as a negative rather than a positive," Arnone said.

Gorin said she tried to appoint people from diverse backgrounds but also strongly favored applicants with solid understanding of city operations and community connections. She interviewed some candidates she described as "Latina," but ended up appointing three white men from city's northeast: Terry Price, her political consultant; Wayne Goldberg, former Santa Rosa city manager and planning director; and Bill Steck, program staff director of SEIU 1021.

Gorin said she's unsure giving each council member another appointment is the way to go.

It could make the committee so large as to be "unwieldy," she said.

But she thought it made sense for the council to discuss the issue because on Tuesday it will also be reviewing whether to allow alternate members to be appointed to the committee.

Timing may also be a factor. The council agenda item calls for discussion only, and the committee is supposed to begin its work two days later, on Thursday.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.