Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins a near lock to win reelection to 5th District seat
It has been a quick three years in office for Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.
She was sworn in amid major Russian River flooding in January 2017. The October wildfires that year marked the worst natural disaster in county history, and the county saw record-breaking floods and fires return in 2019, book-ending another tumultuous year for county residents and leaders.
Hopkins, 36, of Forestville, is running for her second term on the Board of Supervisors representing the county’s 5th District, including west Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, the lower Russian River, all of the Sonoma Coast and northwestern hills from Cazadero to Annapolis.
She launched her first bid for the seat five years ago as a virtual political unknown - an organic farm owner and former newspaper reporter who prevailed in 2016 over a seasoned legislator, former state Sen. Noreen Evans. She ran for office then, she said, because she felt local government wasn’t doing enough outreach with residents, citing her own experience in a land-use case.
“I was pissed,” she said.
She is running for reelection, “Because there’s so much work still to be done.
“I really want to see it through.” she said. “I love my job, and I want to keep doing it, and I want to keep serving the community.”
She is the overwhelming front-runner in a low-key race against fellow Stanford alumnus and Santa Rosa-area resident, Michael Hilber, 60, who is known for opposing local tax measures.
He wrote the opposition ballot statement against a proposed 2015 countywide tax to support road repairs that was defeated. He also penned the opposition statement for the March ballot against Measure G, the half-cent countywide sales tax to support fire services, which Hopkins has championed.
But Hilber, a self-employed electrical engineer, hasn’t mounted any organized campaign, has made few public appearances and has done no fundraising. He said he doesn’t see any value in it.
“I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning,” Hilber said. “Signs are wasted money, and they pollute the environment.”
So Hopkins, a popular and well-respected incumbent, appears to be a near lock to win reelection. She has had little interaction with Hilber in her time in office and the two have rarely crossed paths on the campaign trail.
Wednesday night’s sparsely attended League of Women Voters debate at the Roseland Library was one of those instances.
The candidates offered a sharp contrast in style, preparation and knowledge of the county, its most pressing issues and key constituencies. Hopkins fared better on all counts, a point Hilber later conceded -offering afterward that it “didn’t go too well” for him.
The biggest gap came in the two candidates’ familiarity with the massive, diverse 5th District. They were asked to discuss their handle on the region in a question about representation of the LGBTQ community and Latino residents.
Hopkins touched on everything from the “sainthood” bestowed upon her by the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the drag queen philanthropy group, to the county’s improved bilingual communication in emergencies with Latino residents, thousands of whom live in the 5th District.
“It’s critical that we stand up for all communities,” she said. “I have faced criticism for supporting the pride flag that flies in downtown Guerneville on county property.”
Hilber, in his answer, said he used to do some work in Guerneville.
“I guess I love the area,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.”
Where Hilber said he was loath to get involved in issues like immigration policy, saying he would defer to the sheriff, Hopkins touted her leadership in getting a resolution passed to discourage county investment in companies that profit from immigrant detention centers.
“It’s not acceptable to have kids in cages,” she said. “Now more than ever, we need to stand up.”
Engagement with public
Hopkins’ primary goal when she ran for her first office remains the same today: to give west county residents a greater say in local government.
“I think there’s a general frustration in unincorporated communities about lack of voice,” she said in an interview two years ago. “They have only me. Essentially, there’s a structural disempowerment of rural communities.”
That deficit of representation in the county’s largest supervisorial district drove what Hopkins considers the signature accomplishment of her first term: establishment of two municipal advisory councils that can speak for the Lower Russian River and Sonoma Coast.
When the Russian River flooded in early 2019, the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council hosted a special meeting to provide information to residents. And the Sonoma Coast Municipal Advisory Council responded to community concerns over a planned footrace on Highway 1, initially envisioned as a marathon but then halved and shelved last year amid lingering regulatory hurdles.