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Santa Rosa voters sent a mixed message in Tuesday's city council election, backing a mayor who advocates for environmental causes but effectively stripping her of significant power by also electing two candidates who are supported by the city's business interests.

The new councilmembers — Scott Bartley and Jake Ours — help form a new majority on the council, one that is likely to bring a dramatically different focus at City Hall and approach to efforts aimed at shoring up the city's shaky economy.

It also means that Susan Gorin's days as the city's mayor are probably numbered, as the new majority is likely to name one of its own to the top post at a Dec. 7 ceremony.

Gorin was the top vote-getter Tuesday among the field of seven candidates seeking three council seats. That was a bright spot in what otherwise was a dispiriting outcome for advocates of keeping the current council majority intact.

The majority, which came to power in 2008, reversed decades of Santa Rosa councils that were dominated by pro-development majorities.

But the continuing economic malaise, anti-incumbent fever, controversial council decisions and a concerted attack by the city's business interests seem to have, by varying degrees, succeeded in reversing the short-lived take-over.

"I had hoped that the progressive majority would continue," said Veronica Jacobi, who was part of that majority but lost her bid for re-election, finishing fourth.

"Money talks," said Councilmember Gary Wysocky when asked Wednesday for his opinion on why the coalition that he was a part of broke apart in the election.

He said the current council majority was unfairly labeled during the race as anti-business, when he said the reality is more complex.

"This council actually added to the reserve balance in economic hard times," he said. "This council inherited numerous labor contracts. This council inherited economic hard times nationally, when the credit markets froze."

His interpretation of Tuesday's election outcome was that Santa Rosa residents voted in favor of their pocketbooks.

"If they think drastically changing the council is going to change their economic well-being, so be it," Wysocky said.

Gorin did not return several messages on Wednesday seeking comment, but in an interview on election night, said she interpreted the results as people searching for "simplistic solutions."

"Two candidates promised a different direction," she said of Ours and Bartley. "The reality is, good luck to all of us. There are no simple solutions."

The election threatens some of the quality-of-life issues that Gorin and other members of the ruling coalition promoted.

That includes an effort to create a bicycle boulevard on Humboldt Street, a project with an estimated price tag of $800,000 that supporters cite as a model for traffic and bike safety but critics contend is a wasteful boondoggle.

The new majority might also be more receptive to big box stores and other major development projects that are brought before the city. The current council's denial of a Lowe's on Santa Rosa Avenue on a 5 to 2 vote was a lightning-rod issue in the election.

"If they could be convinced that they wouldn't be jerked around again, I think they would consider us again and we would be open again to listening to their proposal," Councilmember John Sawyer said Wednesday when asked about the odds of Lowe's seeking another attempt at coming to town.

Sawyer said the more immediate concern for the new council will be continuing efforts to address budget shortfalls that have led to cuts in city services and employee layoffs.

He said Tuesday's voter-approval of Measure P, which raises the sales tax by .025 percent to generate an estimated $6 million annually, will help mitigate the problem, but not cure it.

That means councilmembers will have to collaborate, something the current council struggled to do. The acrimony was most evident during the debate over whether to hire Kathy Millison as city manager to replace Jeff Kolin, who left for a similar job in Beverly Hills.

Sawyer said Millison should be given time to prove herself on the job. "We would be foolish to remove a well-performing city manager," he said. "Conversely, we'll need to replace one who is not."

To no one's surprise, the business community that backed Ours and Bartley was excited about its success on Tuesday.

"We're ecstatic to see a new day at City Hall, and that it will be," said Keith Woods, executive director of the North Coast Builders' Exchange. He the suggestion that the new council majority is in the pocket of business interests is "pure sloganeering."

He said the only expectation the business community has of the new councilmembers is that they are "fair and open-minded" about the projects that come before them.

Standing up to the interests that bankrolled their campaign is every politician's challenge, said Brian Sobel a former Petaluma councilman and now a political consultant.

"At the end of the day, it will come down to whether these people will be able to look into the eyes of the special interests who helped get them elected and say, &‘I can't help you in this case for the following reason.' That will be the true test," he said.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: November 5, 2010:

This story incorrectly gave the Santa Rosa City

Council's vote in denying an application for a Lowe's on Santa Rosa

Avenue. It was 5-2, with Council Member John Sawyer joining the

dissenters. The story mischaracterized the conclusion of Susan

Gorin's two-year term as mayor in December. Santa Rosa mayors

cannot serve consecutive terms.

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