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Formula stores. Taxes. A luxury hotel.

All are likely to be discussed at a forum Monday night in Sonoma for the four candidates vying for two City Council seats.

The event is sponsored by the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce and will be moderated by Chip Allen, the group's president.

Jennifer Yankovich, the chamber chief executive officer, said it's a "very important election" because it follows the demise of the city redevelopment agency.

"The city really has to look more strategically within its general plan how it wants to support its local economy without redevelopment dollars," she said.

David Cook, who owns a vineyard management company and is among the office seekers, identified the city's finances as the single most important issue in the race.

He promised to spend money generated from a sales tax measure that was approved by Sonoma residents in June in a way that benefits the city.

Supporters of Measure J, which increased the city's sales tax from 8 to 8.5 percent, said it will help the city recoup the loss of state redevelopment funds and protect such services as pothole repairs and police.

"I want to make sure we stay financially responsible," Cook said.

Cook is squaring off against Madolyn Agrimonti, Cameron Stuckey and Laurie Gallian, who is seeking re-election.

The other council seat appearing on the ballot currently is held by Mayor Joanne Sanders, who decided not to seek re-election after eight years in office.

Sanders, who co-owns an employment staffing firm with her husband and bills herself as a fiscal conservative, said she hopes the successful council candidates tackle the city's pension costs.

She also identified developer Darius Anderson's plans for the Chateau Sonoma Hotel & Spa on West Napa Street as another major point of debate.

The proposed 59-room luxury hotel would pump an estimated $14 million a year into the town economy but also could add to congestion at a significant intersection on the south side of the city's historic plaza.

Council members might have the last say on the project depending on how the planning process goes.

Agrimonti, a former mayor of Daly City, said it would be "premature" for her to say how she would vote on the project because the plans "could be very different down the line."

She said another big issue for her is the condition of the roads leading into Sonoma. "I think the roads are pretty sad," she said.

Stuckey could not be reached for comment.

Sanders said she supports Cook and Agrimonti. Asked whether she would consider supporting Gallian, her colleague on the council, Sanders replied, "absolutely not."

"I think we need people who are capable of original thought, and able to offer coherent and intelligent insights and reasons for why they are voting the way they are," Sanders said.

Gallian responded Friday by saying that her record "stands for itself" and that she has been endorsed by fellow council members Steve Barbose and Ken Brown.

Gallian said she wants to focus on stabilizing the city finances in the wake of redevelopment's demise and "creating a vibrant economy" to bring in local jobs.

Neither Barbose or Brown responded to several messages this week seeking comment.

A new ordinance that was spearheaded by Barbose and places new restrictions on so-called formula stores is likely to factor into the council race.

The city in June became one of the few in the nation to enact regulations on chain establishments, including a ban on large-scale restaurant chains with more than 250 outlets from opening on the plaza.

Under the ordinance, any formula business seeking to open at the plaza or in the city's historical district needs a use permit. A formula business is defined as one with 10 or more outlets, excluding hotels, offices, financial institutions and other service businesses.

In a first test of the new rules, the city Planning Commission on Sept 13 narrowly rejected a use permit for Berkeley-based Peet's Coffee and Tea to open an outlet near the historic city plaza.

The cost of water services in Sonoma also is a major concern for residents.

Cook said he supported the council's unanimous decision last Monday to turn down a request by the city public works director to raise water rates by at least 25 percent over the next five years.

Cook said he supports exploring the possibility of consolidating with other water agencies to reduce costs.

Monday's forum is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Krug Conference Center at the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn on Second Street West.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.)

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