Five candidates run for three seats on Sebastopol City Council
Sebastopol voters are set to elevate three political newcomers to public office in the Nov. 8 election, filling out a majority on the five-member City Council, where a trio of seasoned incumbents chose not to seek reelection.
The five candidates vying for the three at-large seats are Sandra Maurer, director of local nonprofit EMF Safety Network, which works to reduce human exposure electromagnetic fields and wireless radiation; Jill McLewis, co-owner of Eye Candy Chocolatier and executive director of Naturally North Bay, a nonprofit promoting food and natural products from local businesses; Oliver Dick, an technology business and management consultant; Stephen Zollman, an attorney representing youth and domestic violence survivors in Sonoma County; and Dennis Colthurst, a retired Sebastopol police officer and former Palm Drive Health Care District board member.
City Council members Una Glass, Patrick Slayter and Sarah Glade Gurney have opted not to run for reelection.
“It is an interesting time, it is not something that is seen with great regularity,” said Slayter, 54, noting that he, Glass and Glade Gurney share 40 years of experience between them on the council. “It’s going to be the institutional knowledge that is retiring from the council that is significant.”
The pivotal race comes as Sebastopol contends with pressing issues including: whether to consolidate its fire department with a nearby fire district like the Gold Ridge Fire Protection District; how to bolster local businesses and the city’s struggling downtown; and balancing City Hall’s budget amid pressing demands for housing and homelessness services.
“I think it’s going to be a big learning curve,” Glass, 69, said of her council successors. “And I think that whomever is elected they will find that solutions to our problems or our issues are not nearly as simple as they might have thought. All of these are really complicated.”
Sebastopol has 5,575 registered voters, according to Deva Proto, Sonoma County’s registrar of voters.
Zollman has built his campaign around the need for Sebastopol to access more resources by strengthening partnerships within the city and also with county, state and federal agencies. Zollman said he has always wanted to run and was encouraged by the number of candidates.
“I thought having a contested election is good,” Zollman, 60, said. “It was important to make sure you have a diverse slate of candidates to choose from.”
Dick, McLewis and Colthurst are running as a “loosely aligned” bloc — one they said would work well together on the council and focus on investing in essential services, namely roads and emergency services, and bolstering local businesses.
“We have the same platform,” said Colthurst, 71.
“We have a wide scope, we’re not walking into anything with any preconceived notions and I love that,” he later added.
McLewis and Dick have known each other for years and connected with Colthurst when he decided to run, Dick said.
“This is a huge opportunity for a refresh for the city of Sebastopol,” said Dick, 65.
Maurer has focused her campaign on supporting local businesses and championing climate initiatives and wellness, a nod to her work to reduce human exposure electromagnetic fields and wireless radiation, perennial political issue in Sebastopol.
“My goal will be to look for ways for enhancing community wellness,” said Maurer, 62.
Future of fire department
Sebastopol leaders have grappled in the past two years with whether to consolidate the city’s fire department with a entity such as Gold Ridge Fire Protection District which covers Hessell, Freestone, Twin Hills and rural Sebastopol.
Sebastopol’s department is led by outgoing Fire Chief Bill Braga, who is poised to retire, and staffed by a full-time fire engineer and volunteer firefighters who are paid a stipend. The department has a long list of needs, including equipment and stations upgrades.
Recently, the City Council hired a consultant, Bay Area-based Matrix, to study the issue and make recommendations. A report on the findings is due before the council in coming weeks, Slayter said.
Maurer said she opposes consolidation and believes keeping fire services in-house would be “the right way to go.”
“Talk to the firefighters, they’re the ones doing the work,” Maurer said, criticizing the City Council for hiring the consultant.
Zollman, a former volunteer firefighter in Guerneville, said he hopes the city can keep the fire department local but supports the council’s move to study the issue.
“In a situation where it’s so emotionally charged I think it’s great to step back and get somebody’s eyes on it,” Zollman said.
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