Four candidates vie for expanded State Assembly district
By Christian Kallen
There are four candidates for the new state assembly District 12 seat, which now includes Kenwood, Glen Ellen and the Mayacamas. There’s no incumbent to run against, as Marc Levine (the former District 10 assemblyman) is one of eight candidates challenging state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. The district’s center of gravity remains to the south: three of the four have built their public careers in Marin – Sara Aminzadeh as a member of the state Coastal Commission; Damon Connolly as a member of the Marin Board of Supervisors; and Ida Times-Green as board president of the Sausalito Marin City School District. Only Sebastopol’s Steve Schwartz is from Sonoma County, the founder of a non-profit food collaborative.
The Kenwood Press asked all four candidates several open-ended questions about their reasons for running, what regional issues they are most concerned about, and how familiar they are with the Sonoma Valley, much of which is now in the redesigned assembly district. They all graciously responded via email, two at great length and two more concisely.
Far and away, broad issues of climate change were foremost concerns of the candidates, including related issues such as drought, wildfire resiliency, evacuation planning, and groundwater sustainability. The fate of the Sonoma Developmental Center also figured in the responses of three of the four candidates.
Sara Aminzadeh declared, “I’m a climate candidate, meaning that climate action is a top priority and an area with which I have significant experience and expertise.” Aminzadeh is an attorney focused on environmental justice and vice president of partnerships at the US Water Alliance, a national nonprofit that seeks to “build a sustainable water future for all.” Her appointment to the California Coastal Commission came in 2017, and she was reappointed in 2021 for a second four-year term. She said she has been “researching and writing about sea level rise and coastal climate change since law school and also led legislative and advocacy efforts on these topics.”
“I often say, climate action is what is sending me to Sacramento,” Aminzadeh, 40, told the Kenwood Press. “But as an Assembly member, I will work on the vast number of urgent issues facing my constituents.” She lists these issues as “wildfire prevention, mitigation and preparedness; response and recovery; work to address the housing and homeless crises (including for seasonal hospitality workers); and drought mitigation.” She lives in Kentfield with her husband and their young son.
Damon Connolly concurred. “Long term, the most important issue facing this Assembly District and California is the climate crisis.” He was elected Marin County supervisor in 2015, representing a district that includes San Rafael, following several years on the San Rafael city council and service on the local school board.
“The most important issues facing our state today are the same issues I’ve devoted my entire life in public service to solving,” he told the Kenwood Press, citing “the existential threat of climate change and the rising risk of wildfires to the urgency of a rapid transition to a green economy and green transportation options.” As well as wildfire and drought preparedness and response, the 58-year-old supervisor added that “dealing with the fallout from the pandemic” presented a different set of problems. “It has exacerbated inequities in our society for housing, jobs, the environment, and healthcare that need to be addressed.” Connolly and his wife live in San Rafael with their two daughters; he is leaving his county supervisor seat to run for the state office.
Steve Schwartz also focuses his climate concerns on Sonoma County. “We need a fire prevention plan that works in harmony with ecological systems as much as possible, and engages private landowners with incentives and technical assistance. There is no scenario with a six-month prevention ‘blitz’, and then we just move on to the next thing. This needs to be an ongoing commitment; underbrush grows back as fuel stocks for wildfire!”
The 56-year-old former Peace Corps volunteer raised his family on a small organic farm outside of Sebastopol, and has long worked in food security with Sonoma County Farm Trails and other groups. He was also Chief of Staff to California Assemblymembers Julie Bornstein and Virginia Strom-Martin in the 1990s. “We need to maintain the character of our communities and the beautiful open space and robust agriculture that Sonoma and Marin counties are known for. This relates to investments in climate change resiliency, excellent schools, and workforce housing.”
Ida Times-Green is a social worker for the Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services office, and since 2018 has served on the local school board (like her mother Betty Times before her). She is also concerned about the environment, but her primary concerns are more social. “There are numerous issues facing our more affordable housing, homelessness, wildfire resiliency – with the climate crisis being an existential threat.”
“It’s about more than just this district – it’s about the future of California, and the planet. I believe there is also an ethical imperative to solve the climate crisis simultaneously with the crisis of inequality. We need to build healthy, sustainable, equitable communities throughout the district.” Her global perspective on climate change was brought home to her when last October, “torrential rain created high water rise closing the only access to the Marin City community,” where she lives. “My personal experience brings me to understand that this election is critical in so many other ways.”
Views of the Sonoma Valley
When it came to their perspective on Sonoma Valley’s needs in particular, the candidates’ answers varied in almost direct proximity to the region – Sebastopol’s Schwartz declared it “a magical place,” while Sausalito’s Times-Green admits “my relationship to the Sonoma Valley is still growing,” drawing a parallel between the two counties, as Marin is 80 percent open space, much like Sonoma.
Sebastopol’s Schwartz seems familiar with Sonoma Valley and its needs. “Challenges include finding the balance between facilitating traffic flow and supporting agricultural events and tourism. Through my non-profit work, I have spent a lot of time in the Valley over the last 20 years, including hosting a national conference; supporting food access to lowincome families impacted by the fires; and helping grow community gardens organized by faith groups in the Valley.” He also opined on the fate of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC): “We have not seen a consensus on the number of housing units that would make sense at the SDC site, but that should be left to local community decisionmaking rather than any mandate from Sacramento.”
Supervisor Connolly said, “I’ve frequently worked closely with Sonoma leaders and advocated for Sonoma Valley interests and values. I have a strong understanding of what is most important to this region, but I also know that a key component of being a good representative is the consistent openness to new information and ideas that comes with regular communications with the community.” He recognized the importance of the proper handoff of the SDC from state to local control: “These include ensuring protection of the wildlife corridor and open space, right-sized development with community buy-in emphasizing affordability to help meet the housing needs of the Valley, and maintaining respect for historic preservation and resource conservation.”
Ida Times-Green called attention to the precarious state of the Valley’s water resources. “California is still under drought alert, so water reliability and management remain core issues for Sonoma Valley. With severe drought that lasts for years, the Valley is seeing increased competition for diminishing water resources, erosion, and groundwater depletion.” She also said that crucial issues such as wildfires and drought “must be addressed with locally tailored programs of land management, healthy forestry practices and vegetation management”, and called for “a minimum wildfire resilience standard” in homes and other structures.
Aminzadeh targeted the SDC as the most important local issue. “From my perspective, balancing the need for economic development and housing with historic and natural resource conservation is essential” for the site. She also placed housing issues – including for seasonal hospitality workers – among her concerns. “Sonoma Valley has several unincorporated areas [that] need a strong advocate in Sacramento who understands their varied needs and the need for direct resources.” She said her many years working on rivers and creeks issues – she was executive director the California Coastkeeper Alliance – helped her focus on “action to protect communities from drought extreme weather, devastating wildfires, and rising sea levels.”