PD Editorial: Chris Coursey offers a new approach, ideas for Sonoma County

Shirlee Zane is seeking a fourth term on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Her lone opponent in the March 3 primary, former Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey, says it's time for a change.

We agree with Coursey.

Zane has a long record of public service, beginning with the now defunct Hospital Chaplaincy Service, then the nonprofit Council on Aging and for the past 12 years on the Board of Supervisors. Throughout her career, she has been an unwavering advocate for those most in need of public services, especially mental health care.

However, during her third term, Zane antagonized her own constituents in her pursuit of solutions to the county's housing shortage. Elected officials have to make tough choices, she says.

Yet as a homeless crisis unfolded over the past few months, her first instinct was to oppose emergency shelters in her district.

On matters of policy, the differences between Zane and Coursey are mostly matters of degree. Both are progressive Democrats. Both support SMART, housing, aggressive measures to curb climate change and stepped-up mental health services.

There are, however, telling differences of both substance and style.

On housing, Coursey's focus is affordable units and denser development along the SMART transit corridor. He says market-rate development will take care of itself, while government must offer land or other incentives for workforce housing. He supports sanctioned homeless camps at Santa Rosa City Hall and the county administration center to keep the issue in front of elected officials.

Zane made “build, baby, build” a trademark line and championed plans for as many as 900 new housing units, including space for homeless veterans, on county-owned land on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa. There was loud opposition, even before the 2017 wildfire burned up to the edges of the neighborhood. Residents accused the county of secrecy, and Zane blamed NIMBYism as successive development plans failed.

She blamed county staff for allowing a homeless camp to grow on the Joe Rodota Trail and for recommending alternative sites in her district that she couldn't support.

Coursey developed a reputation for collaboration on the City Council. As supervisor, he says he would try to win support for a smaller development on Chanate Road by inviting input from neighbors. If Zane is right, he won't succeed. But there would be a better chance for a fresh start with a new supervisor.

Some mental health advocates want a sales tax or a tax on plastic to expand services. Coursey says he will insist first on a thorough review of chronic budget issues at the county's Behavioral Health Department. Zane expresses confidence that those problems were resolved with the appointment of a new director.

It has been 36 years since Sonoma County voters unseated an incumbent supervisor, and we recognize the value of Zane's experience in a job that includes managing a $1.8 billion budget, more than 1,300 miles of roads, safety-net programs and the region's water supply.

Coursey, too, has experience with government finance. As a member of the Santa Rosa City Council, he shared responsibility for a $440 million annual budget. And as a reporter for The Press Democrat, his assignments included dissecting the county budget.

After three terms, Zane can point to accomplishments such as creation of a mobile support team to assist with mental health crises. But on housing and homelessness, her record is mixed. Coursey, who provided steady leadership as mayor after the 2017 fires, offers a new voice and some new ideas for achieving many of the same goals. It's time for a change. The Press Democrat recommends Chris Coursey for 3rd District supervisor.

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