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Patrick Slayter Answers Ken Foley's Questions
The mayor provides his own answers to questions that candidates could address
This is how you do it.—DD
In response to: Ken Foley Has Questions for Council Candidates
By Patrick Slayter
I am not a candidate, but I found these questions to be particularly appropriate and thought it would be good to provide my version of answers.
The current City Manager is also the City Attorney. When he retires should the city return to a separation of the two positions?
Yes, the two positions should be held by different people. Larry McLaughlin has been a unique City employee for many years, having the experience, knowledge and temperament to fill both positions. However, the reality is that the City has budgeted for and employed outside legal counsel for years and we have a main point of contact with a large law firm that has expertise in all facets of municipal law.
Also, the skillset Larry holds would be virtually impossible to fill with another dual-position individual.
Should the city return to in person meetings for the city council, planning commission and all other city boards and committees?
Yes, however, the level of citizen input has increased substantially over the last two and a half years so the value of the online meetings is not lost on the current Council or staff. The expense in equipping the City to hold hybrid meetings is substantial, more than most would think, and policies and procedures for running hybrid meetings would need to be established. None of this is particularly difficult, but it is time consuming and without a dedicated Council Chamber meeting space, the expense would need to be appropriately budgeted.
The city intends to replace approximately 1600 water meters with so called "smart meters". Should this decision be reversed or modified? Please explain.
The decision should not be reversed. The electronic water meters are one small part of a comprehensive energy upgrade plan across all City facilities; things like more efficient electric pumps at our municipal wells, a new roof with adequate insulation and a photovoltaic system for the library building, are part of the program. There are 12 to 15 individual parts of the plan and full details of the upgrades are available from City Hall.
Some critics of the new water meters say they don’t save any energy. That is true; they do not directly save energy, however, their ability to provide real-time water use information to residents of Sebastopol will allow real-time water savings to be made. If we use less water (which, with the drought, we all should be thinking about) the City will need to pump less, thereby reducing the amount of electricity needed to run the pumps.
Another point about the meters is the quantity of inquiries City Hall receives about water use and water billings. With the old meters, they are read once every two months and City staff have a difficult time answering questions due to a lack of data. If a home suddenly starts spiking water use due to a leak, a homeowner might find out about it after several weeks all the while running up a water bill that could be well into many thousands of dollars for the cost of the water and any repairs. The new system will allow City staff to watch for outsized spikes in use and alert residents of a potential problem.
The communication signals are extremely minimal in number (three or four per day from each meter) and extremely short in duration (significantly less than one second per event).
The concerns some community members have about ever-increasing wireless communication devices are a common point of discussion. I consider these concerns important to listen to, however, I am not a scientist with any deep understanding of the physics, so it is important for me to rely on trusted sources for data to make decisions that effect the residents of Sebastopol. In this case, when it comes to electromagnetic radiation, it is true that the World Health Organization classifies magnetic fields as a possible carcinogen, it is important to note it is in Group 2B, which also contains coffee, diesel fuel, dry cleaning, working as a firefighter, pickled vegetables, styrene and working in the textile industry. Context matters.
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?
I am currently serving on the following Council committees: Fire, Community Vitality, Objective Design Standards, Agenda Review, Staffing Study.
My liaison positions are: Sebastopol Area Senior center, Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce, Sebastopol World friends
My regional board appointments are: Sonoma Clean Power (twice chair), Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency, Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO).
The need for new committees comes up from time to time and the Council creates these and makes appointments as needed.
The city has hired a consultant to explore a possible merger with another fire department. What is your position on this potential change?
The question shouldn’t be, “should we remain a volunteer municipal fire department?” or, “should we consolidate with another agency?”, but rather, the question should be, “how can the City provide the best possible fire and emergency service for our residents?”. There are significant cost implications with any change – and the Fire Department has needed increased funding for several years. The Council-created committee has used the base question of, “How can we get to a 24/7 staffed firehouse in a five year timeframe?” as a guidepost throughout this work.
Any candidate taking a position on this issue is doing so without the benefit of an independent study currently underway by a third party expert, MATRIX Consulting. It is premature to assume comprehensive knowledge exists on this important issue. At this point, any position is largely based on emotion, unencumbered by staffing, equipment, apparatus, and financial data and analysis.
City Council members are required to recuse themselves from any discussion where they might have a financial interest. Does it not make sense to hold true to that requirement for this important decision as well? The voices of those with a financial interest in the outcome are important to listen to, as they are the ones doing the work, however, the problem is the inherent conflict of interest due to the compensation they receive.
I suggest community members and candidates study the recent document produced by the Fire Committee which answers many questions about the study, the current state of things as well as providing information about compensation our volunteer firefighters earn. This document can be found here: https://ci.sebastopol.ca.us/Article/10-10-FAQ-The-Future-of-Fire-and-Emergency-Serv
This would be a good time to correct a common misconception about staffing and department heads. Many people think the City Council is responsible for hiring and appointing department heads, most specifically, the Police Chief and the Fire Chief. This is not accurate. The Council is not, and should not, be responsible for staffing decisions.
With the type of government the City of Sebastopol uses, the Council has three direct employees; the City Manager, the City Attorney and the City Clerk. In other words, the Council works for the people of Sebastopol, the City Manager, Attorney and Clerk work for the Council, and all the department heads work for the City Manager. The City Manager is responsible for hiring and managing department heads. The Council sets the policy, and the City Manager ensures the staff carries out that Council-derived direction.
This is not to say the Council doesn’t have opinions about who holds these important positions or that the City Manager doesn’t consult with the Council on these appointments, but ultimately, staffing decisions are the purview of the City Manager.
Should the city also explore contracting with the Sonoma County Sheriff for police services?
Absolutely not. The Sonoma County Sheriff Department has a much different culture than the Sebastopol Police Department and the provision of municipal police services under a contract agreement would not serve our community best, nor would it be in the City’s best financial interest.
How will you keep Sebastopol citizens informed of what the city council is doing?
This has been an issue for years. If a resident is not on the City’s email list to receive the Council, Planning Commission, Design Review Board, and other committees’ agendas, the nuts and bolts of government actions are difficult to closely follow. If anyone is interested in receiving these emails, please contact the office of the City Clerk to be added.
The City’s Outreach Coordinator has been a tremendous help with this effort as well.
Council members have seen a significant increase in the amount of time it takes to be effective as an elected official; over my tenure it has probably quadrupled. Staying up to date on social media posts is difficult and I have leaned on trusted media partners to help get the word out.
Individual Council members’ use of social media can be helpful, but it is important to remember these accounts can represent only one person’s viewpoint and are not the official position of the City or the City Council.
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?
The City is in compliance with State laws that have recently changed regarding relaxed setbacks, parking requirements and density. Much of this is out of the City’s control, although we have taken additional measures where we could to spur housing in what is commonly called the ‘missing middle’. As a City, we have done very well in reaching regional housing allotments in the lower income brackets.
Greater density in an established city, with all the services, jobs, transit, and schools is the most sustainable way to build and I heartily support increased densities within the City.
Do you support converting unused or underutilized commercial buildings to housing?
Yes, unequivocally. We have one large property in town (that I won’t specify) that is ideal for a transition (or partial transition) to housing. There is a large and mostly unused parking lot, several empty commercial spaces, and signalized traffic control at the site entry and exit points. It is a great location for dense housing; close to schools, shopping and transit. The issue with this is that it is privately owned by more than one entity and there is little-to-no incentive for the owners to consider investing many millions of dollars in the construction of housing.
Should Sebastopol promote housing for all income levels?
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG - the regional body tasked with this work) provides target numbers (called Regional Housing Allocation or RHNA) for housing development in four income brackets and it is up to the Cities to identify adequate building sites for this number of dwellings. This is on a several year cycle and new targets were released within the past year. For more information, see: https://abag.ca.gov/our-work/housing/rhna-regional-housing-needs-allocation
Sebastopol has target numbers for new housing units, just like all communities, and there are needs in each bracket. So yes, Sebastopol should promote housing, partnering with developers who actually do the building. Governments cannot build housing by themselves, but nor can developers build housing without a realistic and logical path to receiving entitlements and ultimately, building permits. This can be a fraught process, as even non-profit developers cannot construct housing in a market with ever-increasing labor and material costs without a logical development procedure, financial assistance and a willingness from government to help them accomplish shared goals.
If anyone is interested in getting involved with the development of an updated General Plan chapter called “the Housing Element”, this work is currently underway and information is available from the Planning Department at City Hall.