Recap of Jan. 17 Sebastopol City Council Meeting
Annual audit, energy upgrades for the library, committee assignments and outcry over the new public comment policy
All council members were present at the Jan. 17 Sebastopol City Council meeting, including Mayor Neysa Hinton, Vice Mayor Diana Rich, Councilmember Sandra Maurer, Councilmember Jill McLewis, and Councilmember Stephen Zollman.
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The issues at the Jan. 17 City Council were primarily procedural, so this will be a rather short report.
(Note: The consent calendar consists of items that are routine in nature or don’t require additional discussion, often because they’ve been discussed extensively at a previous council meeting.)
The council unanimously approved all the items on the consent calendar, including approval of minutes for the Jan. 3 and Jan. 10 (closed session) city council meetings; the use of continued teleconferencing of council meetings; the sponsorship for Sebastopol Walks 2023 (see the Sebastopol Walks calendar at the end of this article); and the extension of a proclamation of Local Emergency for COVID-19.
The city council unanimously approved and accepted the annual audit of the city’s finances, ending June 30, 2022. The audit firm hired by the city, Badawi & Associates, found that the city’s financial statements accurately represented the actual financial situation of the city:
“In our opinion, the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the respective financial position of the governmental activities, the business-type activities, each major fund, and the aggregate remaining fund information of the City, as of June 30, 2022, and the respective changes in financial position, and, where applicable, cash flows thereof for the year then ended in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.”
(God save us, this is what the entire presentation sounded like.)
To be clear, the auditor’s approval doesn’t mean the city’s finances are in great shape—as many public commenters pointed out. The auditor’s stamp of approval simply means that the city’s financial statements are complete and accurate.
Energy upgrades for the library
In 2022, the city of Sebastopol won a $715,968 matching grant from the California State Library Association for energy-efficiency-related infrastructure improvements to the Sebastopol Library. City staff was able to use money previously budgeted for library improvements for the matching portion of the grant.
The grant money will allow the library to make the following improvements:
Replacement of an existing natural gas HVAC unit with an electric heat pump
lnstallation of a new roof
lnstallation of rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV)
Using an existing contract for matching funds for the grant required some fancy bureaucratic footwork: In addition to a resolution accepting the grant, the city council had to amend the Sebastopol Library’s lease agreement, lengthening it to 10 years, and approve a change order to their original contract with Syserco Energy Solutions, lnc., to facilitate the installation of the new roof and solar PV.
The upshot is that new energy improvements are coming soon to the Sebastopol Library.
Councilmember Diana Rich and commenter Steve Pierce congratulated Public Works Director Dante Del Prete and staff for taking advantage of this grant opportunity and for coming up with the creative matching funds solution.
Committing to committees
As you might recall from a previous council meeting, the city council is experimenting with a new method of parceling out committee assignments. This year, for the first time, council members submitted a request form to Mayor Neysa Hinton, who made preliminary assignments based on council members’ interests and experience. At the Jan. 17 council meeting, those choices were revealed and after some extremely mild horse trading, these choices were set in stone – or, actually, written in red in a Google Doc. See the list of committee assignment here.
Seeking a new City Manager/City Attorney
Speaking of committees, the city council created a new ad hoc committee to investigate whether the city should seek to hire a new combined city attorney/city manager to replace retiring City Attorney/City Manager Larry McLaughlin or split the position into its constituent parts and seek two people to replace him – and other issues related to hiring for these positions. Mayor Neysa Hinton and Councilmember Jill McLewis will serve on the ad hoc committee along with City Clerk and Assistant City Manager Mary Gourley and City Manager/City Attorney Larry McLaughlin.
Bubbling up in public comment
Loretta Castleberry, co-owner of Coaches Corner, complained about a homeless tent camper in the parking lot of the Community Center and expressed the hope that a new homeless encampment would not be allowed to regrow on Morris Street and also that some sort of more permanent shelter would be found for the tent camper in question.
Kyle Falbo asked why the Bodega Avenue repairs were taking so long to start and requested a reason for the delay and a timeline as to when it will be completed. He also complained about the state of the roads in Sebastopol, noting that the city had the fourth worst road conditions in the Bay Area.
Falbo also disliked the council’s decision to move public comment for items not on the agenda to the end of the evening. Falbo suggested instead that the city council set a short time period for public comment at the beginning of the evening, and that, if comments exceed that fixed time period, additional public comment be moved to the end of the evening.
In his comment, Steve Pierce seconded Falbo’s suggestion. Then in his role as a Climate Action Committee member campaigning for electrification and electric appliances, Pierce reminded listeners who were wary of electrification that many traditional energy appliances also don’t work during power shut-offs.
Commenter Oliver Dick echoed Castleberry’s concerns about the homeless issue at the Community Center. He also suggested that the Climate Action Committee meetings be limited to people who live in the city limits of Sebastopol.
Linda, an EMF (electro-magnetic frequency) activist who at every city council meeting comments on every item and usually manages to bring her comments around to the EMF issue, also wanted to put public comment for items not on the agenda back at the beginning of the meeting. She also complained about the Climate Action Committees’ push for electrification because of, you guessed it, EMFs.
In response to these public comments, Mayor Hinton said that the council will in the future create a 10-minute public comment session with two-minute comment periods at the beginning of the meeting, with additional public comments at the end.
City Manager McLaughlin gave a couple of project updates in his report.
As if in response to Falbo’s complaints about the postponement of the Bodega Avenue repair project, McLaughlin noted that the repairs scheduled for mid-January had to be postponed due to the torrential rains and that weather combined with contractor scheduling meant that the repair had to be rescheduled for early March, weather permitting.
Parklets: The parklets on Depot Street and North Main Street (in front of the former People’s Music building) have been removed. The one in front of Retrograde is still there, and the city is working on a permit for it with Caltrans. As part of that permit process, the city has to create a set of Parklet Guidelines, which are winding their way through the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission, with the goal of having a draft set of guidelines before the city council on March 7.
In her report, Assistant City Manager Mary Gourley mentioned that there will be a special city council meeting on the Fire Department Feasibility Study on Jan. 31 at 6 pm. The next regular city council meeting will happen on Tuesday, Feb. 7, starting a half an hour later than usual at 6:30 pm, because of Design Review Board interviews beforehand.
You can watch the Jan. 17 council meeting in full here.