Brandi Asker, Jack Tibbetts, Nelly Schuler launch Santa Rosa City Council bids

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Four seats are opening up on the Santa Rosa City Council next year, and some fresh faces are stepping forward to vie for a voice on the seven-member body.

The three new candidates, none of whom have run for elected office before, will join at least three incumbents who plan to defend their positions, meaning voters will have several options to choose from in the 2016 election cycle.

The most recent entry into the race is Jack Tibbetts, a 25-year-old environmental activist and member of the city’s Board of Public Utilities. He officially kicked off his campaign last week, but his plans were hardly a secret.

The son of a longtime Santa Rosa political consultant, Nick Tibbetts, he has been rumored to be planning a council run for months, a bid he confirmed in an interview with a Press Democrat reporter earlier this month at a county meeting on options to house homeless people.

He has all the markings of a serious candidate. He is working with a San Francisco-based political consultant, has a professionally designed website and is raising campaign cash.

“I’m all in and I’m all in early because I want to reach all 48,000 (active Santa Rosa voters),” he said.

Tibbetts, who grew up in Santa Rosa, since April has been a community and government affairs director at California Clean Power, which works to help local governments establish energy programs similar to Sonoma Clean Power, the local electricity supplier.

He said he makes a good salary for someone his age, but is keenly aware that given the soaring home prices and rents he won’t be able to afford a house in his hometown anytime soon.

“I see homeowners as the key to the middle class and we’re not creating an environment for homeownership,” he said.

Developers have told him that Santa Rosa’s impact fees are too high and its entitlement process too cumbersome. While he doesn’t feel the city should “grovel” to induce developers to build here, he said he thinks the city should find ways to make it more attractive to them.

While it may be his first run for public office, it’s hardly his first political endeavor.

While a junior at UC Berkeley in 2013, Tibbetts spearheaded a ballot initiative that would have taxed oil and gas companies to fund education, clean energy, infrastructure and parks.

The initiative, which was estimated to raise up to $2 billion annually, failed to get off the ground because Tibbetts quickly realized he’d never get the 505,000 signatures needed in time to qualify. So he switched gears and instead spent his energy supporting a similar bill by former Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa. That legislation has stalled.

Tibbetts lives with his girlfriend in Bennett Valley.

Another new face on the political scene is Brandi Asker, a 35-year-old mother of two young girls who is a district manager at Starbucks.

She said she was encouraged to become politically active by her grandfather-in-law, James Sparks, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council against developer Hugh Codding decades ago and speaks fondly of the experience.

Asker, who lives in Rincon Valley, says the city needs to grow its economy and housing stock to better serve its current and future residents.

“I want to preserve who we are and our agricultural history, but we do need more growth,” Asker said.

She thinks the city should do more to support homeless people, including veterans, many of whom suffer from mental health issues and lack the care needed to get better. She wants to improve partnerships with local schools and she thinks the City Council could use some additional gender diversity.

She also voiced support for the annexation of Roseland, the predominantly Latino, county-governed neighborhood within Santa Rosa.

She said her campaign will be more visible beginning in January.

The third newcomer is Nelly Schuler, a bilingual notary from northwest Santa Rosa. A native of El Salvador, Schuler came to the United States as a teenager. She served in the Air Force, rising to the rank of sergeant, and moved to Santa Rosa after meeting her husband, Richard.

Schuler, 59, has previously been involved in the Red Cross, the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

She feels strongly that the city needs to annex and improve Roseland, expand housing for veterans and do a better job of making the city look attractive.

“Let’s face it, you drive down Highway 101 into our city and to me it’s embarrassing,” she said, citing the weeds in public right-of-ways.

She, too, supports additional growth in the city, but said more care needs to be taken to ensure new development blends in with surrounding neighborhoods.

She said the city has a long history of poor development decisions, from the Santa Rosa Plaza mall decades ago to a new self-storage facility on Highway 12 near Mission Boulevard.

“That doesn’t belong there, period.” Schuler said of the storage business, noting its conspicuous height. “Who gave permission for that? It’s crazy!”

Unlike last year, when an unpleasant political environment contributed to three incumbents choosing not to defend their seats, at least three of the four current incumbents say they plan to run for re-election.

First-term Councilwoman Julie Combs announced last month that she is running again. She held her first fundraiser earlier this month. Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom also said she intends to seek a second term, saying she’s proud of the work she’s done on the council.

Councilman Ernesto Olivares will be running for a third term, according to his campaign consultant Herb Williams.

Councilman Gary Wysocky said he has yet to make a decision about a third term, but added that he believes the current council is the best he’s served on.

Other names being discussed as possible candidates include Planning Commissioner Ashle Crocker, who came in fourth place behind Chris Coursey, John Sawyer and Tom Schwedhelm in the 2014 election. The land-use attorney declined to comment on her plans.

The filing deadlines remain distant, so other candidates could very well pop up in coming months. Candidates need to pull nominating papers from the City Clerk by July 18. The first look at campaign finance statements comes in February.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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