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Drought, affordability, transit drive race for 4th District Sonoma County supervisor

What you need to know about Sonoma County’s upcoming election

Election Day is June 7

All registered voters will receive a mail ballot. The county began sending out ballots May 9.

The last day to register to vote is May 23. After that, same-day registration will be available, allowing use of a provisional ballot.

The county’s switch to voting centers will offer those wishing to vote in-person more days to do so, without limiting them to use of assigned, precinct-based polling places. A total of 31 voting centers will be open by June 4.

For the full list of the voting centers and other key information, go to the Registrar of Voters’ election website

Voters from north Santa Rosa to the Sonoma-Mendocino county border are beginning to weigh in on their choice for 4th District supervisor in a race between incumbent James Gore and political newcomer Richard “Andy” Springer.

Gore, 44, is seeking election to a third term, touting his experience helping the county through consecutive disasters and his advocacy for county investments in the Office of Equity, improved emergency response systems and the bolstering of water infrastructure.

“It’s been an honor to have my hands on the wheel in these stormy times and we’ve got more work to do and I’m confident in where we’re at with fire preparedness, risk reduction, flood control, water security,” Gore said. “These are the core issues that are going to define the future for Sonoma County.”

Springer, 51, a local businessman and pastor, is running for elected office for the first time and has based his campaign on a pledge to being inclusive and responsive to 4th District constituents and his belief in limited government.

Springer, who declined an interview for this story, has previously said that California’s increasing cost of living inspired him to run for office.

He is the first candidate to challenge Gore since Gore’s first run for office in 2014, when he prevailed over longtime Windsor Councilwoman Deb Fudge, former Healdsburg Mayor Pete Foppiano and former UPS supervisor and part-time teacher Keith Rhinehart.

Springer has cast his candidacy to appeal to voters frustrated with the current group of elected leaders and looking to send a message, said David McCuan, chair of Sonoma State University’s Political Science Department.

“He attracts the base protest vote and that base protest vote does exist up there and has a history,” McCuan said, referring to northern Sonoma County.

He noted that protest politics do not translate easily to elected office even if it does get candidates elected.

“Then you have to make the trains run on time and that’s where the politics of protest break down,” McCuan said.

Faced with unseating a seasoned incumbent, Springer’s success in campaigning will come down to campaign muscle, McCuan said.

“Do you have any resources and an organization that can deliver?” he said.

The money race between the two candidates is not close, although each raised similar amounts in the latest period, from Jan. 1 to April 23.

Gore’s campaign reported $19,510, topping Springer’s campaign, which reported raising $18,440.

Gore, however, has a far deeper pool of cash at his disposal. His latest campaign filings showed $140,735 in cash on hand. Springer, who entered the race in February, showed no additional cash reserves beyond the contributions from the recent period.

Election Day is June 7. While most Sonoma County voters will cast ballots by mail, the first in-person voting centers open May 28.

Drought

Drought is one of the many urgent problems facing the county, and the 4th District takes in some of the most water-strained communities. Cloverdale and Healdsburg saw their rights to pull water from the Russian River suspended last year, spurring sharp limits for residents.

Rural residents dependent on well water and farming interests have shouldered some of the heaviest impacts.

For the 4th District, spanning some of the county’s prime grape growing regions, and Sonoma County as a whole, water scarcity is the fundamental issue, Gore said. It influences fire resiliency and development, he added.

“Without water security none of these other issues are relevant,” Gore said. “Communities are built on water.”

Gore pointed to efforts to expand use of recycled water in Healdsburg, and initial work to expand groundwater recharge by flooding streamside agricultural lands and undeveloped floodplain.

Rural residents and commercial users operating on well water are facing the prospect of new fees to support groundwater monitoring — a result of a landmark state law ushered in by the last drought.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, who is up for reelection in south county, has proposed using local government funds to continue to cover the cost of those regulatory fees for rural residents.

Gore said he may support such a move for a few years, but ultimately believes areas should be “self-sufficient.”

“Long-term sustainability, it’s the actualization of those plans, not how you fund it or who you fund it through,” Gore said.

Conflicts of interest

Springer has sought to chip away at Gore’s base in part by echoing complaints and questions that have dogged Gore over the years about potential conflicts of interest arising from his family’s involvement in the local wine and cannabis industries.

What you need to know about Sonoma County’s upcoming election

Election Day is June 7

All registered voters will receive a mail ballot. The county began sending out ballots May 9.

The last day to register to vote is May 23. After that, same-day registration will be available, allowing use of a provisional ballot.

The county’s switch to voting centers will offer those wishing to vote in-person more days to do so, without limiting them to use of assigned, precinct-based polling places. A total of 31 voting centers will be open by June 4.

For the full list of the voting centers and other key information, go to the Registrar of Voters’ election website

A complaint filed by a citizens’ group last year with the state elections watchdog accused Gore of not disclosing a conflict of interest, because his sister-in-law, Erin Gore, has a cannabis manufacturing and distribution business in Cloverdale.

That business was listed as a client on the website for his wife’s business, Hello Alice, an artificial intelligence-based digital adviser for business owners. Gore’s wife, Elizabeth Gore, is president and co-founder of Hello Alice.

Sebastopol resident Marshall Behling filed the complaint on behalf of the Neighborhood Coalition Sonoma County, which opposes the expansion of commercial cannabis operations.

The state determined that Gore did not commit a conflict of interest violation but did find that Gore violated campaign finance requirements over a four-year period by not disclosing his wife’s business on his economic interest statements.

Gore said the violation was a clerical oversight and paid a $400 penalty to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

When it comes to his votes on cannabis issues, Gore maintained that he does not have a conflict and has complied with the state’s ethics process. He added that he checks in with the county’s attorneys any time the board is set to vote on an issue he could have a “perceived conflict of interest.”

“I’ve never voted to aggrandize anybody,” Gore said. “I’m fiercely independent about my votes.”

Springer, meanwhile, has left himself vulnerable to counterattacks on the subject of personal finance and whether he’d be a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. Public records obtained earlier this year by The Press Democrat showed he owes more than $100,000 in outstanding federal and county taxes dating back two decades.

Springer declined to comment on the liens at the time other than to say he believed it more important to discuss campaign issues.

Housing and affordability

Affordability in Sonoma County — the issue that Springer said pushed him into the race — has been at the forefront of the county’s chronic housing shortage.

“The difficulty is that we live in a place in north county that is highly sought after by people who come with a lot of money into Sonoma County,” Gore said. “You can’t regulate people buying second homes.”

Gore said he supports rules that limit vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Noting that cities determine land use within their boundaries, not the county, Gore said he sees himself as a partner positioned to support cities in his district to build more affordable housing.

Redistricting has extended the 4th District further into Santa Rosa, including much of Fountaingrove and the Brush Creek and Hidden Valley neighborhoods.

Also in that new acreage: the county’s former Chanate Road campus, sold in December to a Las Vegas-based developer with a checkered record as a landlord and housing builder. The 72-acre former hospital site, with rolling hillsides and wooded valleys, has long been eyed for redevelopment as housing.

Pending a costly demolition and cleanup, any eventual project would wind up before the Santa Rosa City Council.

Offering examples of his role, Gore pointed to his support of including housing as part of the county’s airport redevelopment plan, and the Board of Supervisors goal to create housing on part of the county’s 82-acre Santa Rosa campus.

“Really, the future of growth in Sonoma County is in the cities themselves, not in the county,” Gore said.

Gore added that another key to affordable housing is to invest in development near transit corridors including the SMART train.

SMART in the 4th District

SMART, the taxpayer-funded passenger rail system in Sonoma and Marin counties, has struggled in recent years to extend its northern terminus into the 4th District. The $65 million expansion to Windsor, delayed by years now, was about 30% complete earlier this spring, with progress hampered by court fights related to tax revenue and rail rights of way.

It remains unclear when trains will reach Cloverdale, at the end of the planned 70-mile line, with a station sitting ready and unused for rail service for almost a quarter century now.

Gore said he is committed to seeing train service arrive in Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

“There was a commitment made when the sales tax passed (in 2008) that it would go all the way up to the depot sitting there in Cloverdale and I’m committed to seeing train service there,” Gore said.

Gore said getting tracks laid out for the northernmost stations in the next four years is “not really a foreseeable thing” given how long construction takes. His goal is to get funds committed for those projects in that time if reelected, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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