Santa Rosa was left with two major holes to fill as a result of Tuesday's elections.
The first is a City Council vacancy created when Susan Gorin narrowly defeated council colleague John Sawyer in the 1st Supervisorial District race. Given that Gorin still has two years left in her term, the remaining six City Council members must call a special election or appoint someone to complete her term.
The second hole is more of an open wound left by the defeat of Measure Q, which called for electing City Council members by district as opposed to at-large, as is done now. We were opposed to the measure as we believed the solution proposed would merely be trading new problems for old, with no guarantee that even the old would be addressed. Nonetheless, the defeat of Measure Q by a 60-40 margin leaves a problem that still needs to be addressed. It remains a fact that over the past 30 years, only four City Council members have come from the west side of town and none has come from the southwest quadrant. Santa Rosa benefits from diversity on its City Council, and this should include geographic diversity.
For that reason, we encourage the City Council to commit to filling Gorin's seat through appointment rather than through calling a special election, which the city can ill afford. Furthermore, we encourage the council to appoint a westside resident to fill the remaining two years of Gorin's term.
After two years, the individual would need to run for election, but he or she would have the benefit of incumbency and name recognition as well as a track record to campaign on.
Filling the vacancy in this manner would allow the individual to bypass the costly process of running for election, one of the primary reasons identified in the campaign for why few westside residents have run for a council seat.
We recognize that, for legal reasons, it's unlikely that the council would be able to limit applications to just those who live west of Highway 101. But there's nothing to prohibit the council members themselves from stating publicly that their preference is to see the seat filled by a westside resident and to encourage applicants from the community's less-represented half to come forward.
The bigger challenge may be getting the City Council to agree on an appointment.
After Gorin steps down and the two new City Council members are sworn in — Julie Combs and Erin Carlstrom — the council will be left with what may be an ideological split. On the more conservative side would be Mayor Ernesto Olivares — the top vote-getter in Tuesday's election — Scott Bartley and Jake Ours. On the more progressive side would be Gary Wysocky, Combs and Carlstrom.
We say the council "may" be divided because the unknown is the alliance that Olivares and Carlstrom formed during the campaign. They pledged to work together in ending some of the council's past divisions. That alliance will be tested in short-order. We encourage the new council to set a new tone — and build a bridge in the process — by coming to agreement on a westside representative to fill this key vacancy.