19 applicants seek appointment to open seat on Santa Rosa City Council
Homelessness is top of mind for the 19 candidates vying to fill an abbreviated term on the Santa Rosa City Council starting in January and ending in December.
The opportunity to replace former councilwoman Julie Combs drew in many more candidates than typically run in a general election. Just over half of the 35 people who pulled application papers went ahead with their submissions, according to the city clerk’s office. Their main qualifications: They need to be registered city voters who could furnish 20 to 30 nominating signatures.
The position opened up when in November when Combs, who’d taken up part-time residency in Ecuador, resigned from the council, citing financial and health issues. The Nov. 25 announcement began a 60-day countdown for the six remaining council members to appoint a replacement or fill the seat through a special election.
Combs’ term is one of the city’s last at-large seats, meaning it can be held without regard to council district. Santa Rosa is transitioning to district-based elections and will vote on four district-based council members this fall to join Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, Vice Mayor Victoria Fleming and Councilman John Sawyer, who were elected to district seats in 2018.
Four of the applicants - Erin Carlstrom, Mike Martini, Jim Pedgrift and Gary Wysocky - previously served on the City Council. Some candidates serve or have served on various boards and commissions, while others have no local government experience on their resumes. The applicants run the generational gamut from 18-year-old Brian Flores to Pedgrift, 77, and most are from districts that won’t be up for election until 2022.
Among them is Jacquelynne Ocaña, a trusts and estates manager who as a bilingual Mexican-American touted her ability to represent underserved populations, including people of color and women business owners. She said she had no immediate plans to seek a full term in office and likened her politics to those of Combs, one of the council’s most liberal members.
“I have very similar progressive viewpoints that her constituents deserve to have continued on council,” Ocaña said, who lives in Fleming’s district.
Evette Minor, an advocate for Roseland, listed homelessness as one of her top priorities, calling it a citywide issue that heavily impacted southwest Santa Rosa. That area takes in the massive homeless encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail, considered the largest in the city’s history.
“They’re on the trail, they’re under the underpass, they’re over by the freeway, they’re everywhere,” Minor said of Santa Rosa’s homeless population. “Whatever solutions we come up with have to be sustaining and long-lasting.”
Dick Dowd, a longtime member of the city’s Board of Public Utilities, said he hoped to work toward finding particular solutions to homelessness, noting that “you can’t just put everybody in a box and tie a bow around it and think that everything is going to be fine.”
Dowd said he applied after a council member asked him about his willingness at a recent lunch meeting - he declined to say who. He described the current council as a group that works well together.
“It’s not difficult to sit with those six individuals and try to find solutions for homelessness and infrastructure,” he said.
Addressing homelessness is a priority that crosses party lines, as it was listed by almost every applicant including Sandra Wandel, the only one of the 19 registered as a Republican in local voting records. Wandel, a supervisor at Medtronic, noted that while she had long been passionate about local politics, she applied for the current vacancy because it presented a way to hold office without the prospect of campaigning.
“Sometimes, it can get kind of mean on occasion. That’s not something I really want to drag myself, my husband and my family through,” she said. “But the time is right.”
The city’s schedule calls for applicants to be interviewed and a selection made Jan. 7 (or Jan. 8, if more time is needed) and for the new council member to formally join the council as of Jan. 14. For more information, visit srcity.org/councilvacancy2019-20.
At least one applicant used a healthy dose of levity in his application: Dennis Beach, 72, listed “naiveté” among the particular skills he’d bring to the City Council. For the question that asked why he should be appointed, he began with: “this is the quickest way to get noticed.”
“I have not remained current and informed,” he wrote, “which could be to my advantage.”