The four candidates running for Sonoma City Council expressed similar ideas Monday for how the city should be run.

The candidates, who were taking part in a forum at the city's community room, identified the city's finances and water needs as top priorities.

All four also dismissed a question from an audience member about the feasibility of charging for parking around the city's plaza as a bad idea.

"It would be ridiculous to even consider it," said David Cook, who owns a vineyard management company.

Cook is running against Madolyn Agrimonti, Cameron Stuckey and Laurie Gallian, who is seeking a second term. There are two open slots on the council, including one created when Mayor Joanne Sanders decided not to run again.

The election is Nov. 6.

The only sharp differences expressed at Tuesday's event, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Sonoma County, were over a controversial formula store ordinance that a divided City Council passed in June.

Sonoma is one of the few cities in the nation to enact regulations on chain establishments, including a ban on 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 historical district needs a use permit. A formula business is defined as one with 10 or more outlets, excluding hotels, offices, financial institutions and service businesses.

In the first test of the ordinance, the city's Planning Commission narrowly denied a use permit for a Peet's Coffee & Tea is seeking to open on Broadway.

Gallian, who was one of three council members to support the ordinance, defended it Monday, saying "Sonoma is unique" and "not about being the same."

But the other three candidates expressed concern that the ordinance is confusing and could dampen economic growth.

"I would love to preserve, in some way, the plaza, but I think we need to revisit this," said Agrimonti, a former mayor of Daly City.

Stuckey, a personal trainer, said "a lot of businesses are going to close their doors to coming here because there are too many restrictions."

Cook threw the only personal jab of the evening by needling Gallian for using the word "re-elect" on her campaign signs.

Gallian's response: "There was not an election. I am appointed. But I am being re-elected in this particular election."

All four candidates agreed with the City Council's recent decision to reject a request made by city staff to raise the water rates by at least 25 percent over five years to help offset the cost of aging infrastructure and price hikes from the Sonoma County Water Development Agency, which provides water to the city.

They all expressed hope that a sales tax measure approved by Sonoma voters in June and a new tourism improvement district will help shore up the city's finances.

Stuckey was the only candidate to express support for pension changes for city employees, in particular for new hires. "It has to be done," he said.

But Cook likened pensions to a promise he said he is relunctant to break.

"I would never go back to an employee and ask them to take a cut unless things are really, really bad," he said.

Agrimonti said Sonoma needs more activities for youth, to which Cook replied that she must have been reading his campaign literature, since he supports the same idea.

Gallian said nothing can get done without adequate revenue.

"It's the number one driving objective," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.