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Brian Barnacle launches Petaluma City Council campaign

In the past year, Petaluma native Brian Barnacle has become a frequent critic of City Council decisions, weighing in at meetings on the city’s development approvals and energy policy.

But, as a member of the public, his acerbic commentary has come in three-minute bursts, limited by a council policy designed to give everyone a chance to speak. Now Barnacle, 35, wants a bigger say in city decisions and is seeking essentially unlimited speaking time on the dais.

“After a council meeting, I felt like I wasn’t being listened to,” he said. “I reach out, I write letters, but it seems like (the council) can just dismiss it. I woke up the next day and my wife said you need to run. She said you need more than just three minutes.”

A political newcomer with a background in city planning, Barnacle last week announced his campaign for city council. He joins three incumbents -- Mike Healy, Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller -- and at least two other challengers -- Dennis Pocekay and Lizzie Wallack -- in the race for three open seats in the November election.

The founder of a consulting firm geared toward decarbonization and community development, he listed building affordable housing, improving traffic safety, reducing climate change, recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and increasing government trust as his main campaign themes.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for a number of things we have going on,” he said. “Our General Plan update, the future of our fairgrounds. Those are real issues we are facing. I have a vision for what a different paradigm might look like.”

Earlier this year, Barnacle filed an environmental lawsuit against the city over its approval of the Corona Station housing development. He and opponents of the project contend that the development is not dense enough to be considered transit-oriented and would lead to more car trips and unsafe streets.

If elected, he would be in a unique position of leading a city that he is also suing, a near certain conflict that would require him to sit out discussions of the litigation. However, he said he hoped to settle the case before the election.

“We want to settle it,” he said. “We’re for the train station at Corona. The lawsuit has already made the project better.”

He said he could not go into specifics of terms he is seeking in a settlement, but it would likely involve an overhaul of the project’s design and more study of its environmental impact.

Barnacle’s background and ideals lean progressive, but he said he does not self-identify as a progressive politician, or a moderate for that matter.

“I don’t like labels,” he said. “I want to be labeled as a Petaluman.”

His roots are in agriculture, growing up on a farm outside Petaluma and raising dairy cows in 4H. He graduated from Petaluma High School, where he played football, coached youth sports and served in student leadership.

Barnacle went to Santa Rosa Junior College and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he studied city planning.

After living in Oakland and Portland, Oregon, he moved back to Petaluma two years ago. He has worked in the clean energy industry, including energy efficiency, solar, battery storage, electric vehicles and microgrids and has experience forging public-private partnerships.

At the end of 2019, he founded Outthink, the startup consultancy that helps companies and nonprofits reduce their carbon footprint.

In a recent interview, Barnacle weighed in on several key local issues. Asked if he supports a potential sales tax measure to shore up Petaluma’s budget, he said: “We need more direct revenue, but I don’t know that this is the right time for a sales tax. I’m interested in what the polling shows. We need to be more aggressive in going after state funds.”

He said he doesn’t have a plan for what the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds should look like once the fair’s lease expires in 2023, but he wants a transparent process, “bringing in all voices, including the agriculture community.”

He was skeptical of the need to build the Rainier crosstown connector after the freeway is raised for the future road.

“It’s expensive and unfunded,” he said. “I haven’t seen the analysis to justify the claims. Show me the traffic and environmental analysis.”

Barnacle is married to his “partner in crime” wife, a Petaluma florist, and they enjoy hiking, camping and watching live music.

In his campaign statement, he said he would represent Petaluma’s values on the council

“Born and raised in Petaluma, I have a deep understanding and love for our community,” he said. “I want to preserve our most cherished features — the rolling hills, River, historic farms, quaint downtown — as well as our community values. I pledge to represent those values if elected.”

Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.

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