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Gloves come off in supervisors' debate

Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 11:30 p.m.

The contestants for the 1st Supervisorial District snapped and sniped furiously at each other Thursday while differentiating themselves on issues from a living wage ordinance to medical marijuana to reviving a stalled improvement project along Highway 12 in The Springs.

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John Sawyer; Susan Gorin.

Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, both Santa Rosa City Council members, faced off at a forum in Sonoma, the figurative heart of a district that will soon be represented for the first time in two decades by someone not living in Sonoma Valley.

They clashed hard and often, with Gorin often taking the lead. She struck first, in her opening statement, with a reference to Sawyer's newsstand shop on Fourth Street, which he shuttered in 2010.

“While John was inheriting a business and closing it, I was spending thirty years becoming a part of this community and working to serve it,” she said.

When his turn came, Sawyer shot back: “Right out of the chute my opponent becomes negative, and that's not surprising.”

In front of a spare crowd of about 25 people, they continued in that vein through the night, finding in almost every question an opportunity to badmouth one another.

“She's district shopping,” Sawyer said of Gorin's move this year from Fountaingrove, four blocks outside the district, to Oakmont, which put her within the district's boundaries. “I wonder, if there had been an opening in the 5th District if she would have moved there.”

At another point, Gorin said, “I've worked with John for six years, and quite frankly, I think you deserve something better.”

The 1½ hour event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women and held at the Sonoma Community Room. Moderator Edie Mendez posed the questions, many submitted by the audience.

Gorin has the backing of environmental and labor groups, while business and agriculture interests, and public safety unions, are in Sawyer's camp, though the candidates' support does cross those lines.

The ties to those allies showed clearly Thursday.

Gorin supported a living wage ordinance for government contracts such as those passed in Sonoma, Sebastopol and Petaluma. Sawyer didn't.

“It puts an onerous responsibility on business owners who can least afford it,” he said.

Gorin said: “Isn't it fair, isn't it just, that people receiving government funding ... be paid a living wage?”

She also supported a policy of project labor agreements that would require union rules, benefits and oversight for large county construction projects.

“What it does is it levels the playing field. … they bring in projects under-budget, with better conditions of work, and they create local jobs,” she said.

Sawyer retorted: “It's clear my opponent has consumed the union Kool-Aid.”

The agreements would exclude local, non-union workers from projects they were otherwise qualified for, he said.

Sawyer described himself as “sensitive to business,” saying a strong economy “pays the bills.”

On a question about how environmental policies they have backed in Santa Rosa would translate to more rural areas, Sawyer said, “It's elemental to have a functioning economy and all the gears running very, very smoothly” to help pay for environmental initiatives.

And he said he and Gorin ran “virtually parallel” on such initiatives that the city has pursued.

Gorin responded that, “The reality is you have not taken one leadership role in any environmental initiative,” and pivoted from that into an answer about developing energy independence and supporting local food producers.

On some issues, the two found agreement. Both were for countywide ban of plastic shopping bags, and the need to ensure a reliable water supply for Sonoma Valley.

They agreed also on the need to find funds to complete long-planned upgrade to sidewalks and streets in The Springs, along Highway 12 north of Sonoma. The project has been derailed by the state's dissolution of redevelopment agencies.

But neither was particularly specific about how they would do that.

“I will use my relationship with the current supervisors,” said Sawyer. “I think they will come together very rapidly to fund that project. Unfortunately, it is going to take more time, it will be more expensive, it will probably have to be phased.”

Gorin used the question chiefly as a vehicle to plug her work in Santa Rosa, though she later added that she would also pursue competitive grants.

“We will plan and complete this project just as I have planned and completed bike and infrastructure projects all over Santa Rosa,” she said. “Most of the bike and pedestrian lanes in Santa Rosa are the work of planning I did.”

Both also said they would oppose making Sonoma County a so-called “sanctuary county,” which would prohibit local agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

The candidates also agreed, not surprisingly, on the need to upgrade and repair the deteriorating county road system, which needs more than $100 million of work.

Gorin said she would urge the board of supervisors to restore more funding for roadwork from the county general fund, and used the moment to charge Sawyer with “flip-flopping” on whether he would support new taxes to pay for that work.

Sawyer said Gorin had her facts wrong, and said he would “be willing to consider a sales tax of half a percent.” That would raise $128 million over four years, 70 percent of which would go to roads with the rest divided between parks, public buses and bicycle and pedestrian paths, he said.

Asked whether they support medical marijuana, both candidates said they did.

But Sawyer said that while he would feel obligated to consider any application fairly, he would not support a medicinal marijuana dispensary east of Melita Road, at the east edge of Sonoma Valley.

Gorin said she would consider such a proposal if it was “appropriately sited.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)

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