Field set in pivotal 5th District race for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

The contest to determine Efren Carrillo's successor as supervisor could decide whether the board swings liberal or moderate on its toughest votes. Meet the five candidates.|

The race to replace Efren Carrillo on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors now includes five rivals competing in the June primary for the sprawling 5th District - the liberal heart of the county, with a growing share of younger voters and Latino residents.

Two women - Noreen Evans, a former state legislator and Santa Rosa councilwoman, and Lynda Hopkins, a political newcomer who has never held elected office - have emerged as front-runners in the race. Other candidates include Tim Sergent, a Maria Carrillo High School teacher and former lobbyist for the California Teachers Association; Tom Lynch, a county planning commissioner and fiscal watchdog; and Marion Chase, a county social services worker.

The contest is seen as the marquee matchup among local elections this year, with the potential to determine whether the board swings liberal or moderate on its toughest votes. The field of five, finalized right before the March 16 filing deadline, makes it likely that no one candidate will claim the simple majority needed to win the seat outright in June. If that scenario holds, the top two vote-getters will face off in the November election.

An Evans-Hopkins showdown could result in the first-ever female majority on the Board of Supervisors. Incumbents Susan Gorin and Shirlee Zane are running for re-election, with Zane unopposed.

The 5th District spans a huge territory, stretching from west Santa Rosa, to Bodega Bay and north to the Mendocino County border. Nearly three-fourths of the region's 47,392 registered voters live in west Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, where the candidates have been concentrating their outreach.

The issues shaping the race are wide-ranging, with housing availability, rising rents and road upkeep at center stage. Latinos, who make up 25 percent of the county's population, as well as younger voters, could be key in deciding who will replace Carrillo, who in 2008 was the first Latino elected to countywide office.

“The 5th (District) looks increasingly more Latino, and it's appearing that 2016 could be the beginning of this new wave of voter turnout in terms of Latinos and new, younger voters,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist, who based his analysis on census data.

West county turnout historically has been made up of older, white voters, McCuan said. Of the registered voters in the 5th District, nearly half are between the ages of 50 and 70, according to county voter data.

But issues brought to the forefront by the presidential race and looming state ballot initiatives, including a decision on recreational use of marijuana, could drive new voters to the polls this year, McCuan said.

Candidates seeking Carrillo's seat have focused especially on the soaring cost of living in the North Bay. The 5th District reflects extremes of wealth and poverty in the county - from affluent communities including The Sea Ranch and Sebastopol, which has the highest median home price in the county behind Healdsburg, to west Santa Rosa and communities along the lower Russian River, among the poorest in the county.

“There is anger nationally and extreme household anxiety locally,” McCuan said. “People are falling farther behind economically. There's the housing problems. People are saying they can't feed their families; they can't afford medicine. These issues are front and center for the electorate in the 5th.”

Noreen Evans

Evans is likely the most familiar name for voters in the current field, having served eight years on the Santa Rosa City Council before her 10 years in Sacramento, including three terms in the Assembly and one in the Senate.

She has signaled that her campaign will focus on addressing disparities faced by low- and middle-income people.

“The dream of people raising their families in Sonoma County has turned into a nightmare,” Evans told a group of roughly 200 people at recent candidate's forum hosted by the Santa Rosa Democratic Club. “Our housing market is pricing out our children and our workers. … Do we want Sonoma County to be a place where only the wealthiest can afford to live?”

Evans, 60, also intends to highlight for voters her experience in elected office, contending that she would be the best suited among the field to achieve progress on housing affordability, road repair and local measures to address climate change - issues that her rivals in the race also have emphasized.

“The difference is, who do you have confidence in? Who can you trust to deliver the solutions?” Evans said at the Democratic club forum. “I'm here because I believe that after 21 years of public service, I can provide you with the political skills, the experience, the historical context, the understanding of these very complex issues and the intestinal fortitude that it takes to fight the special interests.”

Before she was elected to the Assembly in 2004, and while on the Santa Rosa City Council, Evans mounted an unsuccessful challenge to replace incumbent Tim Smith on the Board of Supervisors in 2000. She was termed out of the Assembly after a total of six years and returned to Santa Rosa after a single, tumultuous Senate term.

That period was marked by several legislative wins, including her bill to strengthen mortgage rights for homeowners, and her ascent into Senate leadership. But it also was shadowed by public comments she made after losing her taxpayer-funded car that suggested she was disenchanted with elected office.

In a recent interview, Evans cited steep challenges working in Sacramento. She took office at roughly the same time as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

“I fought so many things Schwarzenegger proposed,” Evans said. She mentioned cuts to California State Parks and proposals to slash health care funding for people with HIV and low-income children.

“Then the recession hit,” Evans said. “It was a rough time to be in the Legislature. I felt that 10 years was enough.”

Evans returned to Santa Rosa after leaving state office and resumed full-time work as an attorney.

She moved to Sebastopol in December to run for Carrillo's seat.

Evans said she is seeking another round in local office because it is the level of government where she feels she can make the most difference.

She has touted her previous work, including advocacy for water quality in the Russian River while on the Santa Rosa City Council, and helping to adopt urban growth boundaries around the city to curb sprawl. She highlighted her work in Sacramento, including the mortgage rights bill, advocacy for parks and coastal protection, and efforts to improve health care access for low-income people.

Evans has earned early support from key environmental and labor groups. She has endorsements from the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action, the largest local environmental group. She received last month the maximum donation of $2,894 from the Service Employees' International Union Local 1021, which represents the largest unionized group of county employees. The union also has endorsed her.

She declined to disclose how much money she has raised. Public campaign filings are not due until later this month.

Evans said she supports rent control and other tenant protections, including measures to guard against wrongful evictions.

Her platform also includes a plan she has dubbed “Pot for Potholes,” which would tax and regulate medical marijuana sales at the local level to generate money for road repairs.

She said she supports requiring developers to set aside a share of new housing construction for low- and moderate-income renters and buyers.

She has voiced support for several other issues that could earn her solid support from the west county's strong environmental voting bloc. One is a proposed local ballot measure that would ban genetically modified crops and seeds, a cause she championed while in Sacramento.

She said she also would work to adopt new policies to address climate change, such as increasing public transportation funding to help get people out of their cars, bolstering efforts to sequester carbon underground and developing a program that would capture methane from decomposing manure and turn it into energy.

“It's not only a matter of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “It's also a matter of how do we adapt to the coming changes. How do we get ourselves out of our cars? How can we support more local food production?”

Lynda Hopkins

Hopkins, 32, is an organic farmer who got a taste of political work in helping organize neighbors to protest the size and scope of a controversial tribal housing development proposed outside Windsor.

The plans - for Lytton Rancheria land near Foggy River Farm, the business she and her husband have run for nine years - also would allow for a 200-room resort and 200,000-case winery. A deal with the county would clear obstacles to the project in exchange for a pledge by the tribe not to build a casino.

“The county had released this new deal, and there had been no community outreach or transparency. All of the discussions were happening behind closed doors,” Hopkins said. “It really frustrated me so I decided to get involved.”

Foggy River Farm is on Eastside Road west of Windsor. Hopkins said she and her neighbors were taken aback by the tribe's plans, which remain under discussion at the local and federal level.

“It started on the outskirts of Windsor as a small residential project, but it expanded to a 2,000-acre development in the heart of the Russian River Valley,” Hopkins said. The size of the reservation that would encompass the project is 511 acres.

Hopkins' bid for the 5th District seat is her first attempt at political office.

She has sketched out a platform that she hopes appeals to a cross-section of west county voters, including interests that are traditionally opposed - environmental groups on the one hand and farming and business coalitions on other.

Among her priorities is a move to alleviate the county's housing crunch by allowing homeowners to add second units to their homes. She wants to reduce permitting fees to promote new housing construction and is in favor of creating a government-backed fund to assist first-time home buyers and renters.

To address homelessness, she has proposed setting up government-sanctioned camps across the county, offering vacant land as tent sites for those without shelter, similar to what the county has allowed in the former Dollar Tree parking lot off Sebastopol Road in Roseland.

“We have to think outside of the box,” she said. “This homelessness we're seeing is a reflection of rising economic disparity.”

She's angling to improve Russian River water quality, an issue that has dogged scientists, farmers, conservationists and regulators for decades. Excessive nutrients from urban and agricultural runoff and faulty septic systems continue to pollute the river.

“The Russian River is beautiful, but it's not a healthy ecosystem right now,” she said.

Hopkins is a San Diego native who studied earth science and creative writing at Stanford University, earning a pair of undergraduate degrees and a graduate degree specializing in land-use policy.

After graduating in 2007, she and her husband moved to her husband's family's property, planted with 80 acres of grapes. The couple carved out 18 acres to start their farm.

She served for two years as executive director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, an organization that promotes local agriculture. She also serves on the board of Farm to Pantry, a local fruit and vegetable gleaning nonprofit group. She reported for the Sonoma West Times and News as a freelancer in 2009 and was a staff writer from 2010 to 2013.

Hopkins said she and her husband purchased a home in Forestville in June, before she decided to run for 5th District supervisor. Until last year the couple and their children lived in a cottage near their farm, which falls in the county's 4th District, represented by Supervisor James Gore.

“We've always considered the 5th District our spiritual home,” Hopkins said.

Gore endorsed Hopkins in February. Other endorsements include the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and the Sonoma County Alliance, the county's largest business organization. Her early financial supporters include real estate investor Larry Wassem and Tony Crabb and Barbara Grasseschi, owners of Puma Springs Vineyards in Alexander Valley. Crabb also donated to Gore and to Carrillo's 2012 campaign.

While the first complete campaign finance reports for this year are not due until the end of this month, Hopkins said she has raised $90,000. In the latest filing period, the California Real Estate political action committee - the political fundraising arm of the California Association of Realtors - last month donated the maximum $2,894 to her campaign. The state group is the parent organization for the North Bay Association of Realtors, which opposes rent control and policies aimed at curbing landlords' discretion on eviction proceedings.

Hopkins said she has not decided where she stands on rent control or just-cause eviction policies.

“I need to study the statistics and data,” she said. “I need to learn more.”

Her position on the proposed anti-GMO initiative also is unclear. Her farm is listed as a supporter of the proposed measure, and Hopkins said last month in an interview that she signed a petition seeking to put the ban before voters. She has expressed opposition to GMO crops but she stopped short in a of endorsing the ban, saying she would want to “read through every line” of the proposed ordinance before taking a position on it.

Tim Sergent

Sergent entered the race shortly after Carrillo announced in January that he would not to seek re-election. The 17-year resident of Forestville said he is running to fix what he characterized as cracks in local government.

“The roads have gotten just worse and worse,” said Sergent, 49. “There is something fundamentally wrong if our government can't provide this basic government service.”

The poor overall state of county-maintained roads has been a hot political issue for at least six years, and county supervisors have attempted to quell the firestorm among residents by pouring an additional $13.5 million for road upkeep into their budget last year - on top of the board's annual $11.5 million general-fund contribution.

Sergent said he would support a state tax increase on households earning $250,000 or more a year to pay for road repairs, and he would be open to a countywide specific tax measure.

“First, we have to repair trust in government,” Sergent said.

Sergent is a special education teacher at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, and he previously taught at James Monroe Elementary School in west Santa Rosa.

“Being a teacher has given me a window into a lot of the challenges our community is facing,” Sergent said, citing the rising cost of living and its effects on low-income families especially. “That is what's driving me to want to help people on a larger scale.”

He has been a lobbyist for the powerful California Teachers Association, advocating in Sacramento for high-profile education initiatives, including Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase passed by California voters in 2012 that has generated more than $13 billion for schools statewide.

Sergent voiced pride in his work as a lobbyist, saying his time in Sacramento gave him insight into the workings of government.

“I saw a benefit in being a voice for local schools … to help them restore programs they'd lost like career-tech classes,” he said. “We need stuff like that. As Frederick Douglass said, ‘It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.'?”

Sergent started his career in Sonoma County, attending Santa Rosa Junior College after serving as an Army infantryman stationed in Panama from 1986 to 1988. He was in the Army Reserve until 1993.

Sergent studied social sciences at UC Berkeley before moving to Washington, D.C., where he was a public affairs staffer in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, and later, served in the Clinton administration as a congressional liaison for then-Secretary of Defense William Perry.

“I really value my experience in Washington. I got to work under a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled Congress,” Sergent said. “I'd like to continue to serve my community locally.”

As supervisor, Sergent said, he would push to spur affordable housing development by streamlining the permit process, rein in county pension costs and expand career-technical education.

Tom Lynch

Lynch is a general contractor and longtime west county resident who has served as Carrillo's appointee on the Planning Commission since 2009.

He has been a vocal critic of county spending on employee pensions. After moves in the past decade to enrich benefits for retirees, those annual costs for taxpayers have risen more than 500 percent since 2000 to $105 million.

State reforms and separate moves by the county three years ago were aimed at bringing the expenses down, but Lynch said more must be done to ensure pensions don't siphon off dollars meant to support other public services, including road upkeep.

“These pensions are a problem,” Lynch said. “Not to mention our roads are going to hell.”

Lynch has run previously for Assembly and state Senate seats representing the North Coast, including a 2010 primary contest that Evans won to secure her last term in the Legislature.

He threw his hat into the 5th District race on March 10, six days before the deadline, to challenge Evans. He has taken issue especially with her move last year into the district.

“I think it's important that people live in the district, and have deep connections to the district they're running for,” said Lynch, 58. “I'm concerned that Noreen Evans moved here from east Santa Rosa and she's just renting here. She doesn't understand the 5th District.”

Evans, for her part, disputes that characterization, noting that she represented the region in the Legislature for 10 years.

Evans also brushed off calls made by fiscal hawks like Lynch for additional pension system overhauls. She likened the county's unfunded pension obligations - the latest figure is $343 million - to a mortgage payment.

“As a scare tactic, people take that long-term cost and mush it all together,” she said. “It's not like it's due today. And we've done a lot in the state to prevent the practice of increasing one's salary at the end of a career to spike their pension.”

Thirty years ago, Lynch earned notoriety and a nickname - “Manure Man” - when he dumped manure on four blocks of downtown Santa Rosa to protest the city's discharge of sewage into the Russian River.

The protest was part of “a 20-year war to get wastewater out of the Russian River,” Lynch said.

Lynch said he believes the county's Permit and Resource Management Department is a well-functioning department, but he is concerned about the cost of permitting fees. He said he would support cutting fees to encourage new housing development and create incentives for homeowners to build second dwelling units.

“This is one of the most expensive areas to live, and we're seeing the impacts everywhere. We're losing volunteer firefighters because they can't afford places to rent in the community,” Lynch said. “We need to fix this system, or we will continue to burden our younger generations with taking care of our retirees.”

Marion Chase

Chase is a county employee in the Human Services Department, where she helps low-income and homeless people apply for health care and food assistance.

Her daily experiences on the job have motivated her run for office, she said.

“For me, homelessness is very personal. Under-employment is very personal. I see it every day,” she said. “I have always wanted to help others.”

Chase, 50, a longtime west Santa Rosa resident and self-described political junkie, has worked for the county as an eligibility worker for nearly three years. Prior to that, she worked for 10 years as a pharmacy technician in Windsor.

She, too, voiced concerns about Evans' move into the district to run for the 5th District seat.

“It bothered me that someone was moving to Sebastopol just to attain an office,” Chase said. “I've always thought that the person representing us should be someone who has lived here.”

She said she decided to run for supervisor out of displeasure with the county's initial negotiating stance with her union, SEIU 1021, which later organized a three-day strike, the first for Sonoma County government in decades.

Chase said she also was driven to run by the county's deteriorating roads and people being displaced by rising rents.

“Our economy is doing much better. Yet more people are being forced out,” she said. “I believe we need to pay more attention to those people.”

Chase said she would like to create additional tiny-house villages for homeless people, like the project currently underway near the county government center in Santa Rosa. She also spoke in favor of transforming some local hotels and motels into single-room-occupancy lodging for homeless people, another option currently being pursued in the county's jurisdiction.

“I truly care about these issues and the people in the district,” Chase said. “I want to expand those kinds of things.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or On Twitter @ahartreports.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.