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Recall effort targets Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, citing Santa Rosa homeless camp

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Frustration over a large unsanctioned homeless camp in west Santa Rosa is fueling a nascent recall effort against first-term Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who is set to defend her seat in the March primary even while fending off the potential recall campaign.

Stuart Kiehl, a Santa Rosa resident who lives near the Joe Rodota Trail homeless camp, filed a notice of intent to recall Hopkins on Thursday with the Registrar of Voters, launching a process fraught with hurdles and one that has been successful in Sonoma County only twice — both times in 1976, when voters recalled liberal, conservation- minded supervisors Charles Hinkle and Bill Kortum.

Kiehl, a charter boat operator and political newcomer, will center his recall effort on the encampment. In his notice, he calls it a “public cesspool” and says Hopkins has allowed it to fester in her district.

“Hopkins is the boss; her jurisdiction, her watch, her failure,” the recall notice reads, in part.

Once served with the notice, which also must run in a legal advertisement, Hopkins will have the opportunity to issue a response, which must be printed together with any petitions circulated for signatures.

Hopkins lamented the cost to taxpayers for such an effort. Deva Proto, the county’s registrar of voters, said a recall election, should it come to that, would cost $250,000 to $400,000.

Hopkins also lamented being singled out for alleged inaction on the camp, pointing to her efforts to fix the growing crisis. In late December, the Board of Supervisors approved nearly $12 million to support short- and long-term shelter and housing options in the works for camp residents.

“I have been the person sticking my neck out there in terms of pushing for creative solutions,” Hopkins said. “I think sometimes when you stick out your neck, it ends up on the chopping block.”

To succeed, Kiehl will need to gather about 8,200 signatures from registered voters within Hopkins’ mostly rural, west county district in just 160 days. The effort would be difficult with volunteers alone, and Kiehl gave no indication he has an organized base of volunteers.

Hiring signature gatherers can run between $4 and $10 per signature, according to Ballotpedia, meaning the effort would need to raise tens of thousands of dollars. Kiehl, who runs a charter boat service out of the San Francisco Bay, has no track record of raising that kind of money.

Hopkins’ paid political consultant, Rob Muelrath, dismissed the recall effort as ill-conceived and misguided.

“Clearly, the person putting up the recall has not been doing their homework,” Muelrath said. “One, there’s an election in March. The second issue that people need to really be aware of is Lynda Hopkins has been one of the strongest leaders in finding solutions.”

The recall process would need to begin before July, as no recall effort can begin within six months of the start of a supervisor’s term, Proto said. And if it doesn’t happen by then, there’s a 90-day grace period beginning Jan. 1, 2021, further putting off any potential recall of Hopkins.

“There would be no way to recall someone before the March election,” Proto said. “That would not work within the legal timelines.”

Hopkins faces one opponent in the March election, Santa Rosa resident Michael Hilber, and he has vowed not to raise any money.

News of the March election surprised Kiehl.

When asked why he wouldn’t spend the effort supporting an existing opponent of Hopkins, Kiehl admitted he thought the election was in November.

“I only started this stuff two weeks ago,” he said. “I just started getting going. … She’s probably going to be in office. There is no harm in having this parallel recall taking place. I don’t see there to be any conflict with the election aspect.”

The most recent attempt at a local recall came in 2017, when critics targeted then-Sheriff Steve Freitas over a number of issues, including his leadership in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Santa Rosa teenager Andy Lopez. Freitas retired before the recall effort could gain traction.

A recall notice was filed against then-Supervisor Paul Kelley in 2009, but it didn’t succeed in bringing about a recall election, Proto said. Before the 1976 ousters, the last recall effort to reach the ballot was in 1963, targeting Supervisor E.J. “Nin” Guidotti. The election failed and Guidotti retained his seat.

Kiehl has never run a recall or any other political campaign, although he participated in the Wright Area Action Group, a neighborhood organization that rallied against Sam Jones Hall, a nearly 200-bed homeless shelter near the Joe Rodota Trail that was built in 2005, is owned by the city of Santa Rosa and is run by Catholic Charities.

Kiehl said his campaign will focus solely on the issue of homelessness. People and businesses are being ruined by the encampment, he said, charging public officials with inaction.

“Hopkins is the captain of the ship,” he said. “She’s in charge. She has allowed this to happen and has done nothing about it. If she can’t solve it, she’s gotta go.”

Hopkins has acknowledged missteps by government, calling the growing camp “a failure of government at all levels, from the federal down to the local.”

“If there was an easy answer, we would have solved this by now,” she said. “I’m assuming responsibility, and I’m driving solutions.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @tylersilvy.

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