Sebastopol City Council Meeting Recap for Sept. 6
Sonoma County Tourism eyes vacation rentals, the city responds to an affordable housing critique, and Calder Creek Naturalization moves forward.
(Note of Conflict of Interest: The author of this piece is the Relaunch Sebastopol contractor for the city, which includes a mandate to increase tourism, which is discussed below.)
All council members were present at the July 19 Sebastopol City Council meeting, including Mayor Patrick Slayter, Vice Mayor Neysa Hinton, Councilmember Una Glass, Councilmember Sarah Gurney and Councilmember Diana Rich.
The Sebastopol City Council had what looked like a relatively light agenda for its Sept. 6 meeting – with just three items to discuss – but it morphed into a marathon meeting which stretched beyond five hours.
September is National Senior Center Month
September 15 - October 15 is Latin American/Latino Heritage Month
California Coastal Cleanup Day is September 17, 2022
September 19 – 25 is Pollution Prevention Week and September 17 – 24 is Creek Week
Public comment: Aside from the usual static from EMF opponents, the only other public comment came from council watcher Kyle Falbo, who questioned, as he often does, why the police budget takes up an ever-increasing percentage of Sebastopol’s city budget. (It’s now at 47%.)
Falbo argued that, in compliance with a 2021 police review, the city should move forward with a mental health intervention model that relies on using mental health professionals rather than police for handling mental health crises. (This method is known as CAHOOTS, which stands for “Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets.”)
“In the last year alone, there was a 14% increase in the city's budget for police,” Falbo said. “However, the promised and agreed-upon mental health services under a CAHOOTS-style model have yet to materialize.”
He suggested that the city look to Cotati, a similar-sized city which started using a CAHOOTS -style program last year, as a model.
(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.)
After approving the minutes from three past meetings, the council also approved the following:
Receipt of information about items to be voted on at the League of California Cities Annual Business Meeting
Approval of stipends for Sebastopol Community Sculpture Garden artists and event sponsors (SebARTS and the Santa Rosa Youth Symphony) of $3,500 in total.
Approval of master agreement for architectural services with Interactive Resources, an architecture and engineering firm, that will provide design services for the city’s Capital Improvement Program.
Cal OES request for assignment regarding Kincaide Fire services.
Sonoma Tourism would like to include Airbnbs and other vacation rentals in the Sonoma County Tourism Business Improvement Area.
Representatives from Sonoma County Tourism came to the council with a proposal to remove the $350,000 revenue threshold for lodging establishments in the Sonoma County Tourism Business Improvement Area (BIA), so that all lodging operators (including Airbnbs and other vacation rentals) in the BIA would pay 2% of their collected rents to promote tourism and marketing by Sonoma County Tourism.
Sonoma County Tourism's budget for 2022-23 is roughly $9.2 million, with $6,160,496 coming from the BIA and $3,052,022 from the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax. This measure would raise an additional $2.3 million for the BIA, which would be spent on increasing tourism to Sonoma County.
Representatives from Sonoma County Tourism argued that the additional funds are needed to compete in crucial tourist markets like Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas and Denver. They promised to include vacation rentals in their promotion efforts – and they spent a lot of time showing the city council how much work they already do to sell Sebastopol to the world at large.
Because this is a county-wide proposal, this consent resolution simply adds political weight to the case for the removal of the $350,000 threshold.
The actual process for making this proposal a reality goes like so: the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors opens the process to change the threshold, then sends a letter to all lodging establishments in the county that would be affected by the change; those establishments then have 15 days to dissent. At the end of the 15 days, unless 51% of those notified dissented, the board of supervisors will hold a public meeting and the proposal to drop the $350,000 threshold will become a reality.
Council member Neysa Hinton, who runs an Airbnb in town out of her house, said she wouldn’t mind paying the 2% charge. Like other vacation rental owners, she would simply pass it on to her visitors, she said, and she didn’t feel the amount was enough to discourage tourism.
Mayor Patrick Slayter was the only councilperson who seemed actively annoyed by this proposal. He reminded the council that when the county had tried to pass a TOT tax in west county to support fire departments and local schools, the tourist industry had led the fight against it and ultimately defeated it.
“I think that if we are not willing as a community to support our own fire departments and schools, I'm not sure we need to spend that additional money, which is basically within spitting distance of the same amount of money [Measure B would have raised], on promoting this area to tourists. I know that the economy is circular and they will import money and I get all that, but I think there are too many unanswered questions for me.”
Several council people asked whether Sonoma County Tourism knew about Sebastopol’s new tourism efforts via Relaunch Sebastopol. Alas, they did not. And both they and Relaunch Sebastopol (i.e., this author), came in for a drubbing for this lack of collaboration. (Calls were made the next day to remedy this.)
In the end, however, the motion consenting to the removal of the $350,000 threshold for lodging, passed 3 to 2, with Slayter voting no and Glass abstaining.
Response to the Grand Jury report on affordable housing
The Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury oversees all aspects of county government, as well as special districts and city governments in the county. This year the Grand Jury released two different reports about affordable housing: one about the monitoring of living conditions in affordable housing and another about increasing the stock of affordable housing. Local governments named in the reports, including Sebastopol, have 50 days to respond to the report’s findings.
Sebastopol’s response was prepared by Planning Director Kari Svanstrom, and she presented the highlights of the report during the meeting.
On the topic of monitoring the livability of affordable housing units, the Grand Jury found that “all agencies in the county were overly reliant on self-reported information from owners and managers, and that direct observation and verification through on-site monitoring were rare and essentially ceased during the COVID-19 shutdowns. A low priority was often given to monitoring, and the staffing to do it was usually insufficient. The Grand Jury concluded that there was little probability that illegal behaviors, if they existed, would be detected using current procedures.”
This accurately describes the case in Sebastopol, where the city’s affordable housing monitoring contract with the Sonoma County Community Development Commission expired in 2017 and was never renewed, due in part to bureaucratic disarray within that county agency and then with COVID.
The news was a little better for Sebastopol on the availability of affordable housing, because, unlike surrounding cities, Sebastopol has already met its state quota for the development new housing units across all income groups. The only change the city council made before approving the report was a request to emphasize that fact more strongly.
You can read the Grand Jury report on affordable housing here. http://sonoma.courts.ca.gov/info/administration/grand-jury/GJ-2021-2022
You can read the city’s response to their findings here. https://ci.sebastopol.ca.us/getattachment/Meeting-Event/City-Council/2022/City-Council-Meeting-September-6,-2022/Agenda-Item-Number-9-Grand-Jury-Response.pdf.aspx
Calder Creek Naturalization Plan moves forward
The Ives Park Master Plan, which was approved in 2013, includes the concept of naturalizing Calder Creek, which now runs through the park in a concrete channel surrounded by unattractive chainlink fencing.
In February of this year, the council brought in consultants, including Switzer Foundation Fellow Jessica Hall, to help envision what the naturalization of Calder Creek might look like. Hall and Ann Riley from the California Urban Stream Partnership presented a three-phase creek naturalization plan, that begins in Ives Park (Phase 1), but also envisions daylighting of the creek to the east and west of where it bisects South Main Street (Phase 2) and at the trailhead of the Joe Rodota Trail off Petaluma Boulevard (Phase 3).
The council voted 4 to 1 (Councilmember Gurney left before the vote) to approve Phase 1 of the Ives Park Calder Creek Naturalization Plan. (Note: there is no funding yet for this multi-million-dollar transformation.) They also voted to authorize staff to execute a service agreement with California Urban Stream Partnership (CUSP) and to authorize staff to work with CUSP to submit a grant application on behalf of the city to the Coastal Conservancy to help with the naturalization planning.
In a final action, the council voted to receive and approve Planning Commission Workplan Update (See that plan here.) https://ci.sebastopol.ca.us/getattachment/Meeting-Event/City-Council/2022/City-Council-Meeting-September-6,-2022/Agenda-Item-Number-6-Planning-Commission-WorkPlan-Update.pdf.aspx)