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Sebastopol City Council Recap
What happened at the June 7 Council Meeting?
All members of the city council — Mayor Patrick Slayter, Vice Mayor Neysa Hinton, Councilmembers Diana Rich, Una Glass and Sarah Glade Gurney — were present for the first half of the June 7 meeting. Glass had technical difficulties about half way through and dropped off the radar and Hinton left at the three-quarter mark, leaving just three members – the barest quorum – to finish up the evening.
It was a tame city council meeting on June 7, filled with necessary but unglamorous discussions of user fees, streetlighting assessments and utility taxes – and whether or how much to increase them by. The council also stepped into the national fight over abortion rights, becoming one of a handful of city councils to endorse a resolution supporting a woman’s right to choose.
There were four proclamations read at the meeting, proclaiming June 2022 as Elder Abuse Awareness Month, Immigrant Heritage Month and LGBTQ+ Month, as well as proclaiming June 19 as Juneteenth Day, which celebrates the day the enslaved people of Texas were freed by an order of the federal government.
The council unanimously approved the items on the consent calendar, which included the following:
A resolution to continue teleconference meetings based on the COVID-19 state of emergency;
Extension of the emergency proclamation of local emergency due to COVID-19;
Approval of resolution calling and giving notice of a general municipal election to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022;
Approval of artist/sculptures for Ives Park Community Sculpture Garden;
Adoption of resolution approving the Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) List of Roads;
Approval of cancelation of the regular city council meeting of August 16, 2022;
Approval of master agreement 2010-01-36 amendment 33 with GHD for the construction management services for First Street Water Main Replacement Project;
Approval of a revised job description and title change for Police Communications Dispatcher.
Some details about the November election
Obviously, the most exciting thing on the consent calendar was the news that there are three seats up for grabs in the November 2022 election, including those currently held by Councilmembers Una Glass, Sarah Gurney and Patrick Slayter.
Councilmember Gurney announced in a letter to constituents this week that she will not be running for re-election. The others have yet to announce their intentions.
Candidates may pull papers to run for the offices listed above during the nomination period, which opens on Monday, July 18, and continues through Friday, Aug. 12. Since one of the incumbents is expected not to run, that nomination period will likely be extended to Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022.
In order to run for the city council, you must:
Be at least eighteen years of age;
Be a citizen of the United States;
Be a resident of the State of California;
Be a registered voter for not less than 30 days preceding the date of filing as a candidate.
There are no City of Sebastopol filing fees, however, candidates who choose to have their "Candidate Statement of Qualifications" printed in the sample ballot issued by the County Registrar of Voters must bear the actual cost of printing and distribution. Candidates who opt for this printing are required to pay the fee when the nomination paper and forms are filed with the City of Sebastopol City Clerk.
Interested parties can find complete eligibility and filing information on the city’s website here: https://ci.sebastopol.ca.us/City-Government/Elections-Voting
Regular Agenda Items
Hanley picked for Design Review Board. The council kicked off the regular agenda by giving a thumbs up to Melissa Hanley to fill an empty seat on the Design Review Board. As Mayor Patrick Slayter said, Hanley is “a licensed architect, who has deep roots in the community, an extremely worldly vision of design and a host of ideas.” Other council members were equally effusive.
User fees to increase. As if to prove just how exciting being on the city council can be, the council unanimously approved a new user fee schedule. User fees include things like building and planning fees, engineering and encroachment permit fees, fire prevention fees, police fees, public works fees, parks/ special event fees, and more. According to Administrative Services Director Ana Kwong, there no new fees on the schedule, but 224 fees will increase by 3.21% (matching the rise in the consumer price index), and 152 fees will remain unchanged.
Weed Abatement. In May of this year, the city council declared high weeds to be a public nuisance and endorsed the idea that, if a property owner won’t mow their tall weeds, the city will do it for them and charge them for the cost of removal. Landowners have a right to protest this at a public meeting. Forty properties had been identified as targets for weed abatement. No one appeared to protest their inclusion on that list, and in fact, Fire Chief Bill Braga said that 100% of the properties on the list had already been mowed once this year. He will continue to monitor the weed situation on those properties throughout the summer and fall.
Streetlighting assessment. The City of Sebastopol uses a city-wide Street Lighting Special Assessment District to fund the operation and maintenance of the city-wide streetlight system, assessing an annual fee on parcels within the district.
Every year, the council goes through a three-step process to decide what to charge ratepayers for the next fiscal year. The first step is to request that the city engineer prepare a recommendation; the second step – that’s the one we’re discussing - is to decide on a maximum charge for the year; and the third step is to have a public hearing and approve the new rate.
Staff recommended an assessment of $32 for the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of $7, which the council approved unanimously. The point of the increase is to build up the reserve fund for streetlights, raising it from $14,000 to $17,000. Council approved $32 as the maximum rate and scheduled a public hearing during the next city council meeting on June 21, 2022.
Supporting a woman’s right to choose. In light of the threat to Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision which ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a right to abortion, Councilmember Diana Rich and Vice Mayor Neysa Hinton co-sponsored a resolution asking the council to “declare itself an advocate of the fundamental right of a woman to choose,” urge the State of California and Sonoma County to increase funding for the rights of women to choose; and request that President Biden and Congress “work to codify the Roe decision, thereby providing a nationwide right for women to choose.”
Councilmember Sarah Gurney suggested that to increase the impact of this resolution, Sebastopol write a letter to the Mayors' & Councilmembers' Association of Sonoma County, asking all other towns in the county to adopt similar resolutions.
The pro-choice resolution with the request to write a letter to get other cities on board passed unanimously.
Supporting the Sonoma County Library’s Anti-Hate Project with a sidewalk painting. The council unanimously approved an in-kind sponsorship of the Sonoma County Library’s Anti-Hate Project. According to the staff report, “The project will consist of painting the sidewalk from the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, past the Sebastopol Regional Library, to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts and on to Ives Pool. The content of the sidewalk will be statements of Sebastopol values, and also the mission and vision of the entities being connected by this ribbon of art … Timeframe: June 2022.”
Council backs away from raising the Utility Users Tax, but supports an end to its sunset clause. Cities are allowed to tax utility users, and Sebastopol currently has a utility user tax (UUT) of 3.75%. The current UUT, which expires in January 2025, brings in approximately $687,000 a year to the city to fund city services. Any increase to this tax must be approved by a majority of the voters. The council declined to go along with a staff recommendation to put a measure on the ballot to raise the Utility Users Tax from its current 3.75% to 4%, but it agreed to put a measure on the ballot to extend the existing tax and remove the UUT’s sunset clause (meaning the tax would never expire).
Council adopts Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. The federal government requires local governments to develop and adopt Local Hazard Mitigation Plans (LHMP) in order to minimize property damage and the risk to public health and safety that might otherwise result from the effects of a natural or human caused disaster. FEMA requires the plan to be updated every five years to maintain eligibility for federal project grants under the Hazard Mitigation Assistance program. Sebastopol has been working on its LHMP since October 2020, and the council – now down to just three members at the end of a long evening – voted unanimously to adopt the plan.