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Election season is in full swing, with six candidates running for three seats on the City Council this November. The race includes three incumbents — Gabe Kearney, Tiffany Ren?, and Mike Healy, as well as three challengers — Planning Commissioner Alicia Kae Herries, technology business executive Jason Davies and business attorney and former Planning Commissioner Kathy Miller.

The Challengers

This will be 45-year-old business owner and former software executive Jason Davies' second bid for a City Council seat, following a run in 2010 where he finished fourth in a race for three seats.

Davies grew up in Palo Alto and moved to Petaluma in 2000 with his wife to work as an executive at the audio software company BIAS. Earlier this year, he founded a media technology company called Eleven Dimensions Media. Davies first lived in east Petaluma but now has a home on the west side.

Davies said he has long been interested in national politics but first got involved in Petaluma when he learned that the hospital was considering shutting down its maternity ward. He attended a forum at city hall to advocate for keeping it. "You start to realize that actually having an impact on your local community is more feasible, more directly applicable to your life," he said.

Another issue that galvanized his interest in local politics was opposing the Dutra Asphalt Plant. He spoke proudly of his active involvement in opposing the controversial plant as a member of Friends of Shollenberger.

Davies told the Argus-Courier that part of the reason he is running is that he thinks more can be done to bring revenue to Petaluma by promoting local business and attracting new technology companies to Petaluma.

Davies referenced a "combined skill set" of marketing and technology when talking about what made him qualified for council, adding that he had already consulted with Economic Development Director Ingrid Alverde about how to attract and retain businesses.

Davies is serving his second term as chairman of the Technology Advisory Committee and also sits on the board of Petaluma Community Access.

Alicia Kae Herries, 42, is also fairly new to city politics, having served as a planning commissioner since 2010. Before that, she was appointed to the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, where she still serves.

This is her first time running for City Council.

An executive coordinator at BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. in Novato, Herries first got interested in city politics when a dental office proposed expanding in her neighborhood and she and other residents rallied to oppose it, advocating for it to be scaled back.

The neighbors eventually sued the city after it had approved the project, claiming that the city hadn't fully considered the environmental impacts of the project, among other things.

Herries has also been active in opposing the East Wasthington Place shopping center.

Herries, who has lived in Petaluma since 2005, has been involved with a number of community groups, including the Petaluma Downtown Association and Petaluma river cleanup efforts. She also describes herself as a strong supporter of Friends of the Petaluma River, Mentor Me Petaluma and Save Shollenberger Park.

Herries lives on the east side of Petaluma near Leghorn Park.

Herries says she has stayed in politics because "I am a high-energy person who enjoys rolling up my sleeves and creating solutions that provide the best possible outcome for the long term."

Kathy Miller, a 48-year-old attorney, is running as a "team" with the most seasoned candidate in the race, Mike Healy.

While she's not currently serving on a board or commission in Petaluma, Miller previously served as chair of the Planning Commission before the City Council controversially consolidated it with the Site Plan and Architectural Review Committee and removed all but three of the 12 sitting members on the two boards in 2009.

Miller, an eastside resident, says she has remained involved in city affairs since then, particularly as a founding member of Petaluma Friends of Recreation, the coalition of parks advocates who put the Measure X parcel tax on the November ballot to fund parks improvements.

"I've always been committed to being involved; that's why I sought out the Planning Commission," she said.

She said she harbors no ill feelings after being removed from the Planning Commission, describing herself as a "moderate" who is willing to listen to all sides and carefully weigh arguments in making a decision that's in the best interest of the city.

Since moving to Petaluma 12 years ago, Miller, originally from Texas, has served as a board member for the Polly Klaas Foundation, as well as serving on the St. Vincent's Parents and Friends board and doing grant review for the Petaluma Educational Foundation. While on the Planning Commission, Miller also served on the Development Code Advisory Committee.

Miller says that much of her political involvement is due to her children. She has two teenagers, both active in sports, and it was through her daughter's soccer board that Miller first got involved with PFOR two and a half years ago.

It was also because of wanting to have time for her children that she refrained from running for City Council earlier, Miller said. Now that they are older, and at Healy's urging, Miller decided now was the time to run.

"I talk to a lot of people in a lot of different places, from athletic fields to schools to church to the grocery store," she said. "I think I'm in touch with a pretty broad segment of the community."

The Incumbents

Councilmember Mike Healy is running for his fourth term on council. The 54-year-old business attorney has lived in Petaluma since 1982 and said he first got involved in city politics because of "an issue involving my neighborhood." The issue, he said, was the bar Kodiak Jack's, whose noise had neighbors complaining to city hall on a regular basis.

Over the years, Healy has been known for writing ballot measures opposing casinos in Petaluma and Rohnert Park and advocating for the Rainier Crosstown Connector. He's also voted in favor of the Target and East Washington Place shopping centers.

When asked why he's remained in politics, Healy said, "once in a while you get to achieve something really good for the community; I stay in it for that," he said. As an example he described the time some students from Petaluma Junior High showed up advocating for a movie theater in Petaluma. "That motivated me to go knocking on doors," he said. "That's how the theater district got started."

Healy has been involved in a variety of governmental and community organizations over the years, but one commitment he said he was particularly proud of was being a member of the Mentor Me Petaluma Advisory Board.

In a fourth term, he said, "I'd be looking to make real progress on some long term goals, including the Novato Narrows and Rainier, which in both cases I think are right on the cusp."

Current Councilmember Gabe Kearney will be running for his first full term on the City Council. He ran unsuccessfully for council two years ago, then was appointed to a two-year term in early 2011 following David Glass's election to mayor in 2010.

The 30-year-old is the youngest person running for City Council and has said he prides himself on bringing a youthful perspective, as well as an open mind and independent perspective.

"I'll talk to anyone, listen to anyone," said Kearney. Kearney has resided in Petaluma since 1987. He says his perspective on Petaluma is influenced by the fact that he has had a chance to watch the community grow and change over the years. "I recognize the need to grow, but also the need to do it in a way that respects our community," he said.

Kearney is openly gay, another issue that galvanized him to get involved with local politics.

He works as the head of emergency planning and disaster preparedness for Kaiser Permanente in Sonoma and Marin Counties. He's long been active in the community, politically and otherwise: he's served as a parliamentarian for the California Young Democrats, on the Petaluma Planning Commission, and on the Community Advisory Board for the American Cancer Society, among other things.

Current Councilmember and Vice Mayor Tiffany Ren? will be seeking her second term in office. First elected to City Council in 2008, Ren?, 40, put in an unsuccessful bid this spring for the congressional seat that Rep. Lynn Woolsey will be vacating at the end of the year.

Ren? has lived in Petaluma for 23 years. She said her family was always very active politically.

"When I came to Petaluma, I became active in various causes, including domestic violence issues and PTA (Parent Teacher Association)," she said. Ren? said another issue that got her involved in Petaluma politics was living on the east side of Petaluma and experiencing problems with freeway access at East Washington Street, which, years later, is currently under construction. "I'm very excited to see the interchange project move forward," she said.

Now Ren? lives on the west side of town. She says that growth issues are another big concern for her.

During her time on council, Ren?, who owns a web design company, has been active in transportation issues, representing the City Council on the Sonoma County Transportation Authority board and serving on the Regional Planning Committee for the Association of Bay Area Governments. She listed smart growth and transit-oriented development as two of her priorities going forward, also citing a desire to fix ongoing budget issues as one of her main reasons for running again. This summer, Ren? proposed placing a sales tax on the fall ballot to fund a variety of needs in Petaluma. The council seriously considered the tax but ultimately didn't place it on the ballot.

Over the next few weeks the Argus-Courier will be reporting on where the candidates stand on a variety of issues, from development to the city budget.

To learn more about each candidate, see their complete responses to an Argus-Courier questionnaire at www.petaluma360.com.

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@argus courier.com.)

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