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.