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