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GOLIS: Will Santa Rosa debate be divisive?

  • Santa Rosa City Council member Gary Wysocky has a verbal exchange with fellow member Scott Bartley during a meeting discussing the issue of camping permits for Occupy Santa Rosa, Thursday Nov. 10, 2011. At left is City Manager Kathy Millison. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

Looking back now, we can see that the fight over district elections was inevitable. For 20 years, Santa Rosa city officials talked about reaching out to neighborhoods beyond the upscale precincts of the northeast.

But nothing changed. Whether City Hall insiders were unable or unwilling to share power, each new city government looked pretty much like the last city government. Think older, whiter and living in a handful of privileged neighborhoods.

And so the debate over Measure Q begins.

"This has the chance to re-shape Santa Rosa politics in the near term and could be the biggest change in more than a generation," Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan told Staff Writer Kevin McCallum.

Much is riding on the outcome — and not just because district elections would transform city politics.

Unless people on both sides of the issue are mindful of what they say and do, a debate that could involve neighborhood rivalries, ethnicity and income has the potential to leave resentments that linger long after the election is decided.

Because disagreeing is what they do best, the usual factions are choosing sides again. With some exceptions, folks from the so-called progressive, pro-environment faction support district elections, and folks from the so-called pro-business faction oppose district elections.

Long ago and far away, these two groups battled over major development projects. Now they just battle because they can, because it is set in their minds that the other side would harm Santa Rosa.

What they don't acknowledge is that the city has been harmed by its reputation as that place in Northern California where a divided council lives in a permanent state of disharmony. (With rival Santa Rosa council members campaigning for the Board of Supervisors, it will be interesting to see whether the same divisive politics is exported to county government.)

Even the composition of the latest charter review committee confirmed a City Council dominated by factions living in cocoons of their own making. Fearing the other side might gain an advantage, each packed the committee with its friends.


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