Forum for Sonoma County 2nd District supervisor candidates covers drought, transit, homelessness
Transit, housing and the drought dominated the discussion Monday night as the three candidates running for the post of Sonoma County’s 2nd District supervisor sounded off during a candidates’ forum.
Blake Hooper, a Petaluma planning commissioner, and Kevin Hayenga, a freelance video editor and Uber driver, are challenging incumbent Supervisor David Rabbitt, who is seeking a fourth term.
The race has grown heated in recent weeks, particularly between Hooper and Rabbitt. Hooper paints Rabbitt as inaccessible to his constituents and local city officials, while Rabbitt contends Hooper lacks leadership experience and know-how.
During Monday’s debate, co-hosted by the Petaluma Argus-Courier and Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce, the contention continued.
Argus-Courier Editor Tyler Silvy moderated the forum which put the candidates through their paces on issues ranging from pandemic recovery and homelessness, to the drought and transit.
Discussion about the county’s pandemic recovery efforts opened the forum as candidates were asked to reflect on the county’s COVID-19 response.
Climate change was a repeated subject of debate as the candidates discussed groundwater, fire resiliency and water needs.
Despite the slight encouragement offered by April’s rain totals, Sonoma County is facing its third year of drought. The region’s two reservoirs, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, are historically low and rampant wildfire is increasingly a year-round concern.
Hayenga called for the county to invest more in “large -scale” solar projects, support more electric vehicles, increase fire resiliency in unincorporated areas and study other potential water sources including desalination. He noted that desalination has its share of problems including cost, energy and taste, but believes its still a viable option which the county should explore.
“We need to conserve where we can, convert our yards to low use, beef up water recycling programs and assess how much water we will need in the future,” Hayenga said.
Rabbitt, a member of the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority, described Sonoma County as a leader in initiatives such as the solar installation at Los Guilicos, and he highlighted his involvement in acquiring federal funds to support infrastructure for recycled water in three counties, as well as taking excess winter water from the Russian River to put into the aquifer for use during dry seasons.
“There is a lot of good work going on, a lot of challenges ahead, more work to do,” Rabbitt said. “Exactly why we need to have someone in the office who understands the full, big picture of what is happening and the opportunities that exist.“
Hooper said solutions lie in updating the county’s general plan to include a climate mitigation plan that works in conjunction with cities’ efforts throughout the county.
Connecting the urgency of climate change to other challenges facing the county such as housing and transportation, Hooper added that the county will have to “get serious about regional transportation that actually connects well, and high density housing that focuses on transit corridors.”
Transit and housing have been hot button issues for the candidates in light of the increasing costs of housing and the faltering expansion of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, the local rail system.
Throughout the forum Hooper called for the county to establish the SMART train as a “backbone” of the county’s transit systems.
Asked if he saw a path forward for a second SMART station in Petaluma — an effort Rabbitt has committed himself to during his years on the board — Rabbitt said, he did.
He said, ideally, a second station would go at Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard, the site where a joint housing and train station project failed last year due to deadlock in the Petaluma City Council.
Throughout the campaign, Rabbitt has stood by the project as an opportunity to address transportation and housing needs, a view he reiterated on Monday night.
“We could have that station today if the city of Petaluma would approve the Corona Station, coupled with the downtown station, going forward,” he said. “That was 26.5% total affordable housing that was denied that also would have delivered the SMART station over at Corona and McDowell.”
Hooper, who has supported Petaluma’s objection to the project, was quick to respond.
"Here we go again blaming the cities,“ Hopper said, adding that the joint project was problematic because it would have created segregated housing.
While Hooper and Rabbitt, spoke of the need to create housing within city boundaries, Hayenga said he’d push back on proposed housing projects, partly because of the impactfurther development could have on water use and local infrastructure.