We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

The newly enlarged race for Santa Rosa City Council now includes nine candidates, including two latecomers who have been frequent and vocal critics of local government and who appear to be fudging to meet residency requirements to get on the ballot.

Sebastopol resident Colleen Fernald and Keith Rhinehart, who until recently lived in Wikiup, both qualified for the ballot in part by changing their voter registration information to reflect Santa Rosa addresses where they don’t actually live.

Fernald, who regularly addresses the Santa Rosa City Council on issues ranging from the nation’s military policies to police harassment, changed her home address from Norlee Street in Sebastopol to a community hall and former school on Lomitas Avenue in Santa Rosa the same day she picked up her filing documents from the city clerk’s office.

She said she continues to keep her home and office in Sebastopol, but has added the address in Santa Rosa to qualify for the ballot.

“I’m carpetbagging in full disclosure,” said Fernald, 51.

But Jim Bennett, who owns the Lomitas School House — which is rented out for fitness, yoga and dance classes — said it is not accurate to say the property is Fernald’s “primary residence.”

He said he has rented a room in the building to Fernald at times and that she gets some mail there.

“She might be reaching a little bit, but she’s not being dishonest,” Bennett said. “She’s spent some time there.

Fernald says the Lomitas address has been her “domicile” since she filed to run, but she was evasive when asked to explain her situation. She said she still has her Sebastopol home, but is “nesting” in Santa Rosa while she runs for office.

She said she had an arrangement with Bennett, which she declined to specify, and that she is now looking for more suitable short-term accommodations. But she disputed a suggestion that she may have committed voter fraud by misstating her address.

Voter registration forms state that a person’s address for voting purpose must be their “residence and domicile.” The election code defines a “domicile” as a home where one intends to remain and return to after an absence.

“You may not use your business, mailing or secondary address,” the form advises.

Voter registration forms are signed under penalty of perjury and providing false information can be prosecuted with fines and imprisonment of up to three years.

Rhinehart, a part-time teacher and former UPS supervisor who has twice run for county supervisor, changed his voter registration information two days before the city’s filing Aug. 13 deadline.

Since Oct. 22, 2013, Rhinehart, 61, had been registered on Gazania Court in Wikiup, which allowed him to run in the primary for the 4th District supervisorial seat earlier this year. He came in last in the June election.

Before that he was registered at an address on a gated road called Lavender Lane off Riebli Road northeast of Santa Rosa. He ran for supervisor in the 1st District in 2012 before dropping out in March to deal with an undisclosed “family issue.”

On Aug. 11, Rhinehart changed his voter registration address to 600 Morgan St. in Santa Rosa, which is Catholic Charities’ homeless drop-in center.

The center provides a range of services for homeless residents, including receiving mail, making phone calls and doing laundry, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities.

There are 10 beds at the facility, but those are set aside for people in a transitional housing program. She declined to say whether Rhinehart participates in that program or any other services, citing confidentiality rules.

She did say, however, that the transitional housing beds are for people who’ve been staying at the city’s shelter at Samuel Jones Hall.

Rhinehart said he is “sleeping rough in Santa Rosa and couch-surfing with friends” while he runs for office.

Around the same time he filed, Rhinehart posted an ad on Craigslist seeking a “down & dirty” room to rent in Santa Rosa that is a “legally livable address.”

“I will live there and pay rent; I will not always sleep there,” Rhinehart wrote.

Alternatively, he said he would accept a “legally livable location” to park his 25-foot-long trailer.

Rhinehart acknowledged that he changed his address to the homeless drop-in center not because he was homeless but because he needed a way to change his registration to Santa Rosa quickly to qualify for the ballot.

He said he had friends offer to allow him to use their Santa Rosa address on the form, but said he didn’t want to “fake it.”

“Residency issues or not, I am doing everything above board and legally,” Rhinehart said. “My integrity is important to me.”

Rhinehart said he sold his home on Lavender Lane last year for $485,000. He said moved in with his fiancée in her Wikiup home. He said while the two are no longer engaged, they are still a couple and he spends time in Wikiup.

But he denied that Wikiup is his true residence. “My possessions are in several places all over the county and the city,” adding that he “couch surfs with friends” while he transitions to living in Santa Rosa. He said he slept in his car in Santa Rosa on Friday night.

“I moved into Santa Rosa the quickest way possible to allow me to represent the underrepresented in Santa Rosa,” Rhinehart said.

Gloria Colter, Sonoma County’s assistant registrar of voters, said it is not her department’s responsibility to prove a person’s residency. Her office’s voter registration system will not accept a nonresidential address, such as a commercial or industrial property, because the office has a database of those addresses and can easily cross-check them, Colter said.

But she said the office has no way of verifying whether people actually live where they say they live when registering to vote.

“Take Los Angeles. There are 4 million registered voters there. How are they going to go back and verify every address?” Colter said.

In the case of 600 Morgan St., that is a residential address where homeless people have historically registered to vote, she said. Currently, 54 people, including Rhinehart, are registered to vote using that address, she said.

City Clerk Terri Griffin said it is also not her office’s responsibility to verify candidates’ addresses, only that they are a registered voter in Santa Rosa at the time they take out their nomination paperwork.

In the case of Rhinehart, she checked with the county registrar’s office and confirmed that he was registered. In the case of Fernald, Griffin actually registered her to vote using the Lomitas Avenue address on the day she got her nomination paperwork.

Moving into a district to run for office is nothing new.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin did just that in 2012 when she moved from Fountaingrove to Oakmont. But residency issues have been known to trip up candidates and elected officials.

Healdsburg businessman Mark Zimmerman resigned from the Planning Commission in July and also ended his fledgling City Council campaign after it was discovered he submitted a business address for voter registration purposes.

The 48-year-old tire salesman had been living at his business on Grove Street, but city zoning rules did not allow him to live at the warehouse, where he resided for more than two years.

In late July, former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon was found guilty of perjury and voter fraud for lying about where he lived so he could run for city office.

The seven other candidates in the race for Santa Rosa’s three open council seats are Planning Commissioner Curtis Byrd; former Press Democrat columnist Chris Coursey; Planning Commissioner Ashle Crocker; former Councilman Lee Pierce; former Councilman John Sawyer; former Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm; and Chucker Simms.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

Show Comment