Willy Linares to leave Rohnert Park City Council

Willy Linares, who was elected to the Rohnert Park City Council in 2020, is resigning to focus on family, citing competing pressures from being an elected official and his full-time job.|

Rohnert Park Vice Mayor Willy Linares is resigning from his council seat less than two years after being elected, joining a growing line of young people stepping down from public office in the past year across Sonoma County.

Linares, who submitted his notice to the city on Monday, said he wants to spend more time with his growing family.

He began mulling over the decision as his wife got closer to giving birth to twins, he told The Press Democrat. With three children under 3, it would be too difficult to balance the demands of being an elected official and his day job, he said.

“We found a way to navigate my time away” while raising their oldest daughter, he said, “but asking my wife to parent three small children alone during all my council responsibilities really weighed on me.”

His resignation is effective May 25 or sooner, if the council appoints a replacement. The council is expected to discuss how to fill the seat at its April 26 meeting.

Linares is part of a wave of resignations that last year saw five younger officer holders step down, with most citing economic strain and the needs of family.

The resignations come amid a push to get more young people and people of color to run for office. But once they get elected it can be difficult to remain there.

The demands that accompany public service mean it can become a full-time job between preparing for and attending meetings, public appearances and meeting with constituents without the full-time pay. To supplement their limited stipends, many younger council members must work a full-time job.

Mary Watts, first vice chair of the Sonoma County Democratic Party, said having worked to increase diversity in elected office and as a young mother who ran for office herself she understands how important it is to have different voices at the table but knows there are barriers.

She described the resignations as a “pattern” and said it’s frustrating to see people continue to leave.

Linares, marketing coordinator for Sonoma Clean Power, was elected at age 36 to represent District 1 in the city’s southwest in November 2020. The election, the first for Rohnert Park under a switch to district-based races, saw two challengers — Jackie Elward and Gerard Giudice — upset longtime council members and ushered in a new, more diverse and progressive majority that included Linares.

For Linares, who grew up in the Sonoma Valley and is of Guatemalan descent, winning was a chance to represent the city’s large Latino population

“It means so much to me to be Latinx and have a position in City Hall to help elevate our community,” Linares said at the time. “I’m so proud they put their trust in me to give them a voice, and I’ll do everything I can to ensure they have a seat at the table.”

Linares told The Press Democrat he was able to accomplish what he set out to do and helped the city connect with a community that was historically underrepresented.

Linares Letter of Resignation.pdf

He also helped improve representation on the city’s boards and commissions, increasing representation among not just Latino members but Black and Asian members, something he said was lacking.

Beyond improving diversity, Linares said he was proud of the city’s work to increase police accountability under measures approved by the council last August.

He also pointed to work to improve Southwest Boulevard, a corridor that runs through his district, as a highlight of his time in office.

Linares’ resignation follows that of Amy Harrington, Logan Harvey and Rachel Hundley in Sonoma, Jason Tuner in Cloverdale and Jack Tibbetts in Santa Rosa, all of whom left office last year.

Watts said community and political groups who are recruiting candidates must do a better job of educating candidates on what the job entails and the time commitment. And the support for candidates must extend beyond Election Day to when they’re in office, she said.

Teaming up new elected officials with a mentor who can guide them through their first few months can help make the learning curve easier, she said.

Increasing compensation is another way to help people stay in office and she encouraged city councils to consider that move as they review changes to their city charter. A city committee in Santa Rosa has taken up the issue.

Linares said higher council pay could have made it easier for him to stay in office and could broaden the pool of candidates who run. Council members in Rohnert Park receive $5,809 annually.

The current structure favors retirees and people who are independently wealthy and makes it harder to attract diverse people, Linares said.

He said he hoped his resignation brings attention to the issue.

“I truly enjoyed being able to do this work for the people of Rohnert Park,” he said. “I would love to see a future where I could earn a wage that allowed me to serve my community and provide for my family.”

Elward, Rohnert Park’s mayor, thanked Linares for his service and said the two accomplished much while working together

“While we will miss having him as one of our team members, I understand and fully respect his decision to prioritize his family,” she said in an emailed statement. “Serving as a councilmember is a demanding role, requiring many hours to do the job well that most of us don’t see.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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