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Next forum

The six Santa Rosa City Council candidates are expected to participate in a public forum from 6:30-8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Odd Fellows Hall, 545 Pacific Ave. The event is sponsored by the Junior College Neighborhood Association, Burbank Gardens Neighborhood Association and the North Bay Organizing Project.

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For more election coverage, visit pressdemocrat.com/election2016.

For PD endorsements, visit pressdemocrat.com/endorsements2016.

On a host of issues — homelessness, housing, marijuana, street maintenance and gang violence — the six Santa Rosa City Council candidates sounded largely in sync at a public forum Thursday night at City Hall.

It took rent control, easily the most contentious issue in town these days, to reveal an even split of three in favor and three opposed.

Don Taylor, who has $50,000 worth of campaign support from an independent expenditure committee funded by the California Apartment Association and two other business groups, said he was flatly opposed.

“I worry about the message (it sends) to the building industry,” he said.

Brandi Asker echoed the thought and said rent control was a “short-term reactionary issue.”

Councilman Ernesto Olivares, one of two incumbents seeking to fill four of the council’s seven seats, called rent control an “old Band-Aid” on the issue.

“It’s not equitable,” he said, noting the rent control measure applies to about 11,000 of the city’s 68,000 housing units.

Incumbent Julie Combs, the council’s strongest rent control supporter, challenged the suggestion that it discourages new housing construction because it does not, under state law, apply to units built after Feb. 1, 1995.

“We need it now to keep our workforce here,” she said.

Chris Rogers said he wrestled with the question of whether rent control would “help the people you need to help” but concluded he was “willing to try almost anything.”

Jack Tibbetts noted that rent control is “not a very targeted policy.” But, he said, he knows people who have been priced out of housing here and it’s appropriate to “take time out, go to the drawing boards” on affordable housing.

Olivares, 58, a retired Santa Rosa police lieutenant, is seeking a third term, while Combs, 60, a retired engineer and co-owner of a consulting business, is running for a second term.

Asker, 36, is a Starbucks district manager; Rogers, 29, is a policy manager at Ygrene Energy; Taylor, 57, owns Omelette Express, and Tibbetts, 26, is executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Council members Gary Wysocky and Erin Carlstrom are not running for re-election.

Observers say the future of rent control could hinge on the outcome of the election, given the tenuous 4-3 balance in favor of it on the current council.

The six candidates were pretty well united on the notion that housing and homelessness need to be addressed together.

“Housing first” is the key to alleviating homelessness, Tibbetts said, noting the negative impacts of litter and human waste from street people in the downtown area.

“All of us have a role to play,” Olivares said, in eliminating the barriers to housing that keep people sleeping in cars and on the streets.

Rogers noted that as many as 800 Santa Rosa Junior College students are homeless and called for more dormitories on the campus.

Santa Rosa’s 1 percent rental housing vacancy rate is “like having no room at the inn,” Combs said.

Taylor, a Railroad Square booster, said downtown shoppers need to feel safe so businesses can thrive.

Cultivation of medical marijuana got a thumbs-up, with Asker saying she was “pro-cannabis mainly because it’s a market that already exists.”

Next forum

The six Santa Rosa City Council candidates are expected to participate in a public forum from 6:30-8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Odd Fellows Hall, 545 Pacific Ave. The event is sponsored by the Junior College Neighborhood Association, Burbank Gardens Neighborhood Association and the North Bay Organizing Project.

___

For more election coverage, visit pressdemocrat.com/election2016.

For PD endorsements, visit pressdemocrat.com/endorsements2016.

Combs noted her grandfather dealt in liquor during prohibition and California is now making marijuana growers into “good citizens” while also protecting neighborhoods from unauthorized cultivation.

Olivares remarked he used to put people in jail for using drugs and is now on the council’s medical cannabis policy committee.

“The recreational piece will bring us a whole lot of problems,” he said, referring to the November state ballot measure legalizing adult use of marijuana.

Rogers, who said he helped write the state’s medical cannabis law as a staff member for Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said that attention should be given to regulating indoor residential pot grows.

Taxing marijuana was also seen — by Asker and Combs, at least — as a way to meet the city’s need for $18 million a year worth of street maintenance, while Olivares drew the biggest laugh from the audience of about 100 people in the council chambers with the remark: “I don’t think we’re going to be able to smoke our way out of this problem.”

Building more high-density, multistory housing was generally endorsed as a way to address the housing crunch while also boosting the city’s tax base.

Combs noted the city is currently putting only $6 million a year into street maintenance.

“We’re kicking the can down the road until we pay for this,” she said.

Rogers said he would support an infrastructure bond measure to keep up the streets.

The candidates also agreed that social measures, such as after-school programs, youth organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, and cops playing soccer with kids are the best approaches to stemming gang violence.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Olivares said.

As the candidates made their closing remarks, Rogers noted he finds city residents exhausted by the election season.

“I want to thank everybody for not talking over one another,” he said, drawing a chuckle from the audience with his reference to the recent presidential debate.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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