Santa Rosa voters returned two incumbents to the City Council and chose two relative political newcomers whose support for rent control means the controversial new law — currently suspended by a referendum petition — will continue to enjoy council support.
In final returns, Jack Tibbetts, a member of the Board of Public Utilities and top fundraiser in the race, led with 21 percent the vote. He was followed closely by incumbent Julie Combs, a champion of rent control and now the only female member of the council, with 20 percent.
Newcomer Chris Rogers, a former aide to state Sen. Mike McGuire and rent control supporter, and two-term incumbent Ernesto Olivares, a rent control foe, rounded out the field, with 18 and 17.5 percent, respectively, after all 74 precincts had been counted. But a change seemed unlikely from mail-in ballots given the wide gap between the top four vote getters and the two runners-up, Don Taylor and Brandi Asker.
Taylor, who owns Omelette Express and has previously run for council unsuccessfully four times, received about 13 percent of the vote. And Asker, a regional manager at Starbucks in her first run for public office, received 11 percent.
Tibbetts, who celebrated with friends and supporters at his Bennett Valley home, said the apparent results were heartening.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to be able to serve the people of this city,” Tibbetts said.
Tibbetts raised the most of any candidate, $76,000, from hundreds of supporters who were capped by local campaign limits at $500 each.
But a single donor, listed as Scott Flater, the son-in-law of influential local developer and banker Bill Gallaher, spent nearly $192,000 on mailers and canvassing in support of three candidates. Almost half, or nearly $94,000, was spent in support of Tibbetts.
He said the next council will have to grapple with the wide gulf between local spending limits and the unlimited amounts allowed by independent expenditure committees. He noted, however, that the candidate who benefited most from IE committees, Taylor, had little to show for it. “I think the takeaway is nothing beats shoe-leather,” Tibbetts said.
Rogers struck a similar theme, noting that his volunteers knocked on 20,000 doors in the city as they focused on having real conversations with voters about their concerns.
“We knew with this amount of money coming in, the only way we were going to win was by actually engaging our actual neighbors in a dialogue,” Rogers said.
Council members serve four-year terms on the seven-member council, with elections for three or four seats alternating every other year, making this year one of significant change.
The decision by two incumbents — Gary Wysocky and Erin Carlstrom — not to seek reelection ensured the council would see at least two fresh faces this year, potentially putting controversial city policies like rent control back in play.
But the election of Tibbetts and Rogers largely ensures that the council won’t reverse itself on rent control. Taylor, who was heavily backed by landlords, threatened to do just that.
Both Tibbetts and Rogers have said they would have voted in favor of rent control, given the severity of the local housing crisis — which has seen rents soar 30 percent in three years. However, each said they would have worked to make it more effective.
Check local election results here