Discover more from Sebastopol Times
Diana Rich Answers Ken Foley's Questions
In what is becoming an essay contest, we have a new entry from an elected official, not a candidate. Candidates, there is still time to enter...
By Diana Rich
This is in response to Ken Foley Has Questions for Council Candidates. You can also find Patrick Slayter’s answers here, which Diana said she did not read before answering Ken Foley’s questions for herself. —DD
Sebastopol Times is a reader-supported publication without advertising. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The current City Manager is also the City Attorney. When he retires should the city return to a separation of the two positions?
Yes, in my opinion we need a City Manager and separate City legal counsel. Larry McLaughlin has done a great job balancing the two very different roles, but with his departure I think the City would be best served by having those roles separated.
Should the city return to in person meetings for the city council, planning commission and all other city boards and committees?
At the outset, I’ll mention that the governor has announced a change that will go into effect at the end of February, and will eliminate the current broad freedom for elected officials to meet only via zoom. City Staff is researching options and will present them to the new City Council in January.
My personal preference for all these meetings would be to move away from zoom meetings and back to either in-person or hybrid. Making sure the public has access to our governmental process is particularly important to me. Everyone has done a great job of making the zoom environment as engaging as possible but it’s just not the same as being present with people. As to choosing between in-person or hybrid, I’m hoping we can make hybrid work. There are some technical and cost challenges which I know City Staff is trying to sort it out. The reason I’d argue for hybrid is engagement: we’ve seen many people attending via zoom who simply wouldn’t attend if we went to in-person only: parents with kids, people who just don’t want to go out at night because they’re tired after a long workday, and many others. Bottom line: Hybrid seems to be a good solution that allows full engagement, subject of course to budgetary and technical limitations.
The city intends to replace approximately 1600 water meters with so called "smart meters". Should this decision be reversed or modified? Please explain.
I don’t feel it makes sense to reverse the smart water meter decision. The City Council received presentations about the smart water meter proposal and considered lots of public comment on the issue. I feel the use of the smart water meters meets our town’s environmental goals. It gives each citizen a method for tracking their water use, in a convenient way that allows them to know if they’re wasting water so they can make changes right away. It similarly allows the City to track water use and take action as needed. It’s data and information, and that’s useful for driving more responsible use of resources.
We talk about climate change a lot, but in Sebastopol we know that it’s time (long past actually) for us to do something about it. From my perspective, this change empowers people to do something on the climate action issue. The water meter change was also part of a major energy saving package that our Public Works Superintendent put together. I realize there are people who feel differently than me on this issue, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with them. I respect their opinions, and I really admire their advocacy, but ultimately as an elected I have to vote in the way that I feel benefits the City as a whole. So reversing it is a “no: for me.
As to modifications, we’ve made some to the original plan by offering an opt out choice that allows people to retain manually read water meters. We specifically decided not to charge a fee for the manual reading. That feels like the right balance to me. But as with other issues, I’ll be interested to hear what the new City Councilmembers have to say on this topic.
Which city committees do you want to serve on? Are there any committees that should be eliminated? Any there any NEW committees that should be implemented?
My regional appointments are Zero Waste Sonoma and the Marin Sonoma Mosquito Vector Control District. I am also on the City Councils Budget, Climate Action, and
Fire committees, and am the Council’s Liaison to Service Providers for the Unhoused. The current committee list is a good one for the current City Council. That may be different for the new City Council.
Although I don’t see any that need to be eliminated now, we should continue only those that the new City Council agrees are relevant and worthwhile. I would pull out of the discussion the regional appointments and the groups with appointed citizen volunteers (such as the Climate Action Committee). Those I feel strongly we either cannot or should not abandon. As to the rest, they are either committees doing deep dive work that is then reported out to the full City Council for decision-making, or they are liaisons to our nonprofits and others in the community. I expect it’s these last two categories that are likely to change depending on the priorities and interest of the new City Council.
As to my personal committee interests, I am open to the discussing changes at the December meeting when the new City Council will make committee decisions. I enjoy and appreciate my engagement on committees, but I don’t feel any sense of ownership over any assignment. There’s plenty of work to be done, and it’s important to make sure that the new Councilmembers get to engage through committees that align with their interests. I won’t be shy about advocating for those assignments I feel are a particularly good fit for my background and experience, but I also don’t feel there are assignments that I absolutely need to retain.
The city has hired a consultant to explore a possible merger with another fire department. What is your position on this potential change?
This is easy. We need to wait for the report from Matrix Consulting. I was originally very convinced that consolidation was the best route, from a financial and service perspective. But I am now very pleased that we have an outside consultant getting us neutral advice and recommendations. We’ll need to consider what the report says, work with the fire fighters and community members, and come up with the best path forward. I’m pleased that the report will come out in late November. It will give everyone in town a chance to review it, and then the new City Council can make final decisions.
Should the city also explore contracting with the Sonoma County Sheriff for police services?
Personally, I’m opposed to the idea of contracting with the Sheriff for police services. It just doesn’t feel like the right move to me. It would be a heavy lift for me to change my mind. It would require substantial data showing that there were major benefits (service and financial) to the City from making that change. But even writing that sentence makes me uncomfortable. I pride myself on keeping an open mind, but I honestly just can’t imagine changing my mind on this one.
How will you keep Sebastopol citizens informed of what the city council is doing?
I’ll keep doing what I do now. I am responsive by email or text or phone. I dedicate myself to providing source data rather than just stating my opinion. I distribute my personal E-News as frequently as possible. I keep my personal website updated and also share City information on Facebook. When any public comments come my way I read them completely. Around town I engage with anyone I meet, sometimes just with a wave and a smile, but with a conversation if they show interest. I keep myself informed by doing my own research so that I can then help inform the public and also be responsive and prepared at City Council and other meetings. I listen with an open mind to what I hear from others, and do my best to always act in the best interests of the town.
Should the city relax parking requirements, setbacks and other impediments to promote more housing? Do you support more dense housing such as duplexes, accessory dwelling units in ALL zoning districts?
I do support more housing, but not everywhere in town. Our City allows different densities in different parts of town, subject of course to the need to comply with State laws that favor dense housing as a general rule. This works for me. I feel the efforts our City has already taken to encourage housing are excellent and proactive. There’s only so much additional housing we can accommodate in Sebastopol, because we have limited buildable inventory within our City limits, but I feel we’re doing our very best to increase housing options as much as possible.
Do you support converting unused or underutilized commercial buildings to housing?
Yes, I support the idea, but the question becomes how to fund a project like this. The City does not have the money to purchase property outright. That means finding the right developer who can make a project like this “pencil out.” So far, despite efforts by various people interested in this idea, the right developer hasn’t been identified. But is it a great idea? My answer is a definite “yes.”
Should Sebastopol promote housing for all income levels?
Yes, more housing at all income levels is important. The City of Sebastopol has specific housing targets imposed by the regional Association of Bay Area Governments. We’ve been doing very well at meeting these targets. But housing needs are not just about the targets, they’re about recognizing that our needs go beyond those points. The challenge is in finding the right developers who want to build new housing here. But am I in favor or more housing? Absolutely yes. One cautionary point, though: We all know that we have a traffic problem on the main thoroughfares through town. Keeping an eye on how our traffic (and related quality of life) are affected by the location of housing (especially high density) is one of those variables to keep in mind for me. Not a deal breaker, but a factor.