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Tibbetts vacates Santa Rosa council seat

Being a father trumps politics
Tibbetts vacates Santa Rosa council seat
Former Santa Rosa City Councilmember Jack Tibbetts (left) at the 17th annual Oakmont Veterans Day program on Nov. 15, 2021. Tibbetts is pictured with Capt. Bob Cortelyou, U.S. Navy, retired; Debbie Knapp; and Capt. Jim Knapp. Photo by Julie Kiil

 

By Chris Rooney

With a new baby at home, a demanding full-time job leading an active nonprofit agency, and serving on the Santa Rosa City Council, Jack Tibbetts determined something had to give. The no-brainer decision was to put his political career on hold, so Tibbetts announced his departure from the council effective Dec. 21.

The remaining six councilmembers held an emergency session to discuss replacing Tibbetts; they will fill his seat in early 2022 by appointment after reviewing applicants.

“I am excited to be a good father and husband, but the thought of not being there for the Veterans Day events, club meetings, and working with Oakmont on important issues makes me deeply sad,” Tibbetts said. “Eastern Santa Rosa — and Oakmont in particular — will forever hold a special place in my heart and memory. At first, I found it comical that the youngest politician would get districted in to represent the oldest district in the city, according to average median age. But in retrospect, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I see people in Oakmont as members of my extended family.”

Tibbetts was reelected to a second term in November 2020; his current term ends in December 2024. Tibbetts won a council seat in 2016 at the age of 26, making him the youngest person to be elected to the Santa Rosa City Council. Tibbetts also serves as the executive director of Society of St. Vincent de Paul District Council of Sonoma County.

“As a young person, I was seeing many other young people being squeezed out of opportunity, and I wanted to change that,” he said of his inspiration to become politically active. “Particularly around the cost of obtaining an education and the cost of having a place to live. I came from a household of relative privilege, so I felt an obligation to spend my time lifting others up around me, so that’s what I committed myself to doing.”

His father, Nick Tibbetts, has been a well-known Sonoma County political consultant. Tibbetts attended Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa and then UC Berkeley. He said housing, homelessness, and — “by necessity” — fire recovery became his most crucial issues.

As for accomplishments, Tibbetts said housing efforts led the way.

“I am probably most proud of setting aside the funds necessary to establish a down-payment assistance program,” he said. “I think we focus a lot on affordable rental housing, and that is good and needed. But if we want to see people thrive, they need to own the home and build equity in property. I see that as the greatest financial tool that, unfortunately, most people do not have. We need to change that.”

During his time in office, Tibbetts said he developed an appreciation for his constituents’ activism.

“Oakmont is incredibly unique,” he said. “First, it is incredibly wellinformed and politically active — 9.2 out of 10 people in Oakmont vote in elections. That’s among the highest in the nation. It is also filled with a lot of pioneering people who come from incredible personal and professional backgrounds. I have assisted people in creating microgrids, vegetation management plans, solar panel installations, emergency exits, and, of course, Los Guilicos Village. I am continually inspired by the level of knowledge and compassion and strength I see among the residents there. It was truly an honor to represent them on the council and I hope they feel as though I represented them well.”

Tibbetts was quick to note some decisions drew fire from the community.

“To highlight this, I would be remiss if I did not touch on my experience with the Los Guilicos debacle,” he said. “The [Sonoma County] Board of Supervisors decided to place the village at the old Juvenile Detention Center with no public noticing, other than the board meeting when it was decided. Understandably, Oakmont generally had a feeling that landed on a spectrum between concerned and furious.”

“When I stood in front of about 400 people in the Berger Center, I did not know what to expect. But I spent hours afterwards answering every single question until every last person left. In that moment, I truly appreciated Oakmont. They are informed, they care, and they will work with you. As a result of that meeting, together, we created a national model for addressing homelessness and there have been zero incidents in Oakmont to date. That was an example for the country on how to approach tough political issues. It wasn’t vitriolic. It was a thoughtful and well-informed dialogue that led to progress. That’s Oakmont in a nutshell, and my hat is off to them.”

While he said he won’t plan a return to the political front until his son is off to college, it didn’t mean Tibbetts couldn’t see some issues that require immediate attention.

“The biggest issues down the line will continue to be affordability — or lack thereof — in Santa Rosa. I think we will continue to see the old Sonoma County get replaced by new money from the Bay Area and Peninsula as remote work becomes the new normal,” he said. “I won’t pass judgment on that. People move to opportunity. But I think the council should be thinking of programs — like down-payment assistance — that help retain ‘old Sonoma County’ and the workforce.”

With a few options to weigh, the Santa Rosa City Council voted unanimously to save the cost of a special election (estimated at between $65,000 and $122,000 by city staffers) and appoint an interim replacement for Tibbetts. The council seat would then become open for election in November.

Applications will be accepted for two weeks, starting in January. The council will review the applicants and schedule interviews, looking to fill Tibbett’s seat in February. 4

Councilmember Victoria Fleming, whose District 4 abuts Tibbetts’s district in northeast Santa Rosa, questioned the idea of having a short-term replacement followed by an election. “We can cut out a ton of work for everybody,” she said, suggesting that the council could operate with just six councilmembers until a new one was elected by voters. The “downside would outweigh the benefits” of making short-term appointments, she argued, but when it was time to vote, she joined her counterparts to make the decision unanimous.

As for Tibbetts, don’t expect the former political prodigy to make a return anytime soon.

“Probably not for a long time, but I do hope to return,” he said. “I truly loved serving my community and, especially, Oakmont and eastern Santa Rosa. It’s a wonderful group of people there who challenged me and kept me on my toes, but were also thoughtful and understanding — the perfect constituency to work with. I hope to be on their ballot again one day, but I need to focus on family right now. I grew up sharing a father with politics and I don’t want my son to have to share me. Especially while he is young. All my time is his now.”

If you live in Santa Rosa’s District 3, are a registered voter, and would like to apply for the city council vacancy, visit https://www.srcity.org/3684/Council-Vacancy-Appointment-Process.

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