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Three new faces vie for west Santa Rosa council seat

District 7 candidates for City Council

Eric Christensen:

Age: 51

Occupation: Business owner

Neighborhood: Courtside Village

Reasons for running: Homelessness, as well as pandemic recovery and housing affordability

Quote: “I’ve seen firsthand why the current homeless policies are failing us; we must chart a more sustainable path forward that balances the need to help our most vulnerable access housing and services with the reality that existing policies have negatively impacted our quality-of-life.”

Campaign website: EricforSantaRosa.com

Daniela Pavone

Age: 43

Occupation: Attorney

Neighborhood: Barndance Lane

Reasons for running: Homelessness, COVID-19 and climate action

Quote: “I’m fully aware that I was given opportunities not available for others, but I also know I made the most out of every opportunity available.”

Campaign website: Pavonefor7th.com.

Natalie Rogers

Age: 39

Occupation: Marriage and family therapist

Reasons for running: Lack of diversity on council, homelessness, and affordable housing

Quote: “As we deal with complex challenges of affordable housing, homelessness, police reform, a recessionary budget, road repairs and struggling local businesses, I know my capacity to listen and bring people together can help us find solutions and turn things around.”

Campaign website: www.natalierogersforsantarosa.com

One of three political newcomers vying to represent the west side of Santa Rosa will join the City Council as part of a transformative Nov. 3 election that will complete the council’s shift to a district-based body.

Eric Christensen, Daniela Pavone and Natalie Rogers have lined up to compete for District 7, which spans parts of west and southwest Santa Rosa. The district’s boundaries generally include the area south of Guerneville Road and west of Stony Point Road to the city limits, including Elsie Allen High School in its southeast corner.

None of the three candidates have ever held or even run for office before. One will become one of at least two new council members; incumbents Ernesto Olivares and Dick Dowd are set to leave the council, and two others, Councilmen Chris Rogers and Jack Tibbetts, are seeking their second four-year terms.

Eric Christensen

Christensen, 51, owns the Factory VFX firm, which does visual effects work for movies. He lives near the Joe Rodota Trail and works in an office in the Corporate Center Parkway — both recent hotspots for homeless encampments that have taken over public paths or rights-of-way in the city.

Christensen, a longtime Santa Rosan who graduated from Cardinal Newman High School, cites the local homelessness crisis as his primary reason for running. He recalled encountering human waste, frightened employees and unsuccessful attempts to have the city and police crack down on people doing drugs and having sex near his office. An experience that began with empathy for him turned to disgust and frustration, he said.

“It was a real sense of city services disappearing and that the city was putting its head in the sand and ignoring us,” he said.

Christensen suggested hiring more city staff with experience addressing homelessness and better managing processes for existing programs. He also endorsed a Texas nonprofit’s approach of buying a large chunk of land as a place for chronically homeless people to live and providing them with services, jobs and other support. Christensen, who claims to be outright “against all sales taxes” on his campaign website ― the city has one major proposal on the ballot, merging and extending two existing quarter-cent measures, a measure Christensen opposes. He said he would prioritize leveraging grants and reevaluating current spending to pay for the changes in homeless services and programs he suggests.

“Even though we have been temporarily housing some of them, we’re not breaking the cycle of homelessness,” Christensen said.

Other priorities of his include supporting small businesses recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and making it easier for developers to build affordable housing. He also said outreach programs such as “Coffee with a Cop” could help Santa Rosa improve police relations with the public.

“I know that the city attempts to do more and more of that,” he said. “We need to have much more of an interaction between the community and our public safety officers.”

Christensen has been endorsed by the North Coast Builders Exchange and the North Bay Association of Realtors.

He reported raising $7,364, including $2,074 he loaned his campaign, and spending $4,645, with $1,279 in campaign debt as of Sept. 19, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Santa Rosa city clerk’s office.

Daniela Pavone

Pavone, a 43-year-old attorney who bought a home on the southern edge of District 7 three years ago, also cited homelessness as the “triggering factor” that led her to launch a campaign for public office. She called out local officials’ lack of expediency in providing portable toilets and handwashing stations for homeless people in the downtown area during the early days of the pandemic shutdown, when other facilities were no longer available.

Pavone said she wanted to see fewer “Band-Aids” when it came to city projects to address homelessness.

“We are doing some good things in the area of rehousing,” she said of existing city programs, “but we need to be more critical and not just convert every hotel we come across.”

Though District 7 contains Samuel L. Jones Hall, the largest homeless shelter in Sonoma County, Pavone said she’d like to see more visible evidence that service providers are active in the community and available throughout the city.

“It feels like there is not much of a presence here for those resources,“ Pavone said.

Pavone voiced support for Santa Rosa’s wastewater program, in which recycled sewage is pumped more than 40 miles north to The Geysers geothermal power plant, heralding the city’s unique set-up as a model system for dealing with treated effluent that deserves continued support.

District 7 candidates for City Council

Eric Christensen:

Age: 51

Occupation: Business owner

Neighborhood: Courtside Village

Reasons for running: Homelessness, as well as pandemic recovery and housing affordability

Quote: “I’ve seen firsthand why the current homeless policies are failing us; we must chart a more sustainable path forward that balances the need to help our most vulnerable access housing and services with the reality that existing policies have negatively impacted our quality-of-life.”

Campaign website: EricforSantaRosa.com

Daniela Pavone

Age: 43

Occupation: Attorney

Neighborhood: Barndance Lane

Reasons for running: Homelessness, COVID-19 and climate action

Quote: “I’m fully aware that I was given opportunities not available for others, but I also know I made the most out of every opportunity available.”

Campaign website: Pavonefor7th.com.

Natalie Rogers

Age: 39

Occupation: Marriage and family therapist

Reasons for running: Lack of diversity on council, homelessness, and affordable housing

Quote: “As we deal with complex challenges of affordable housing, homelessness, police reform, a recessionary budget, road repairs and struggling local businesses, I know my capacity to listen and bring people together can help us find solutions and turn things around.”

Campaign website: www.natalierogersforsantarosa.com

She also said she would like to see the city emphasize climate action to a greater degree, though she criticized the City Council’s decision last year to pass an all-electric ordinance, mandating that most new homes be built without natural gas hook-ups.

"I appreciate what they were trying to do, environmental wise,“ she said. ”But it’s a very aggressive move, and I think it was too big of a jump for the contractors and builders to make that leap.“

Pavone acknowledged she “got into this race a little late” and didn’t have a formal campaign manager or consultant. She reported $1,865 raised, including about $665 she loaned to her campaign, and $3,495 spent, including about $3,100 in campaign debt, as of Sept. 19, according to campaign finance filings.

"We haven’t really focused on endorsements,“ she said. ”We have focused on reaching out to the community and talking to the neighbors and talking to the neighbors of District 7.“

Natalie Rogers

Rogers, 39, a marriage and family therapist who works for Sonoma County as a behavioral health clinician, said she was running to add diversity to local leadership. She touted her perspective as an African-American woman and as a working mother and union member as strengths that she could bring to the City Council, in addition to her career skills.

“I’m a trained listener,” she said, “and I think that is definitely something good to bring to the table.”

Rogers cited police reform, affordable housing and homelessness among the entrenched issues on her mind, though she did not cite any specific city policy she would like to see introduced, continued or be ended.

She said her short-term priorities include local economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — she cited child care support and a small loan proposal championed by Councilman Tibbetts — and deciding how to use the $95 million in PG&E settlement funds the city received in July. At the district level, she said she’d like to see better sidewalks, roads and bike lanes.

“We have a lot of potholes on this side of town, so how can we make it safe for drivers and pedestrians?” she said.

Rogers has outraised and outspent her two rivals, reporting $16,825 in donations as of Sept. 19, including a $1,075 she loaned her campaign. She’d spent $8,362 of that to date.

Rogers, who described herself as a progressive and a forward-thinker, touted endorsements from the Sonoma County Democratic Party and elected officials including Rep. Mike Thompson, Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and Vice Mayor Victoria Fleming.

“They’ve all been very available, and I’m very appreciative of the support that they’ve given me,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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