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Assembly candidates on local issues

Connelly’s word count trumps Aminzadeh’s brevity

By Christian Kallen

Early in September, the Kenwood Press sent several questions to the two candidates in the November run-off for the seat of Dist. 12 representative to the State Assembly, Damon Connelly and Sara Aminzadeh. The two were the top vote-getters in the June primary election, and although neither received 50 percent they finished ahead of the two other candidates.

Our questions focused on three main areas: Housing, the ongoing plans for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), and communication with Valley residents. This last question was posed because as drawn up in 2021, the new District 12 covers the northern half of Sonoma Valley, which was not in the comparable district (then District 10) for the preceding decade.

The two candidates’ replies were widely different in length – Damon Connelly, formerly a Marin County Supervisor, supplied over 1800 words in response. Sara Aminzadeh, a California Coastal Commissioner, only supplied about 200 words, primarily on the topic of housing. Here are their replies on that question.

Sara Aminzadeh

“California is facing unprecedented homeless and housing crises. Growing numbers of older adults, veterans, and families with children are at risk, and there are few housing options our local workforce can afford. Sara believes that home ownership should be possible for every family with that dream, with reforms and investments that set cities and counties up for success. “As our Assemblymember, Sara will lead efforts to expand the affordable housing stock to make it possible for our families, teachers, firefighters, and essential workers to live in the communities we love, and preserve our clean air by reducing traffic gridlock on Highways 101 and 37. Connecting homeless people and families to compassionate, effective services focused on addiction, mental health, and transitional housing to provide support and entry into permanent housing are top priorities for Sara as human and social equity issues.”

Damon Connolly

“The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers for our community are too high given our region’s extreme wildfire risk and the vast open space and agricultural lands that must be preserved for present and future generations. It is undeniable that there is a shortage of affordable housing options in Sonoma County and throughout our region, and I will provide a local voice in Sacramento to ensure that we appropriately and holistically address the housing crisis.

“However, the edict from Sacramento prescribing mandates does not account for the Valley’s serious wildfire and evacuation risks, as well as our cherished open-space and agricultural lands. If elected as your next Assemblymember, I would take the expertise and voices of Sonoma County residents to the Legislature to ensure that state policy is based on the priorities of our community, not the priorities of Sacramento politicians. This includes approaches like AB 1445, which requires future housing elements to account for emergency evacuation capacity and the impacts of climate change. Additionally, we need to reform laws like SB 9, which while well-intentioned, similarly do not take into account the environmental risks and public safety of our region.

“As your Assemblymember, I would collaborate with the state to support these types of commonsense reforms and expand funding opportunities for flexible local strategies with accountability to address the housing affordability crisis, including acquisition and conversion, infill development, increasing the supply of accessory dwelling units, the rezoning of underutilized commercial property, and other opportunities for housing with community voices at the center. These are the types of solutions that we can use to increase affordable housing options in a way that best fits the unique needs and landscape of the Sonoma Valley, minimizes impacts on open space, and reduces wildfire risk.”

The Sonoma Developmental Center

Connolly also provided similarly lengthy responses to our questions on the Sonoma Developmental Center’s sale by the state. He did not weigh in on the recent proposal from the California Coastal Commission to study a “Climate Center” for the SDC campus, as that is a relatively recent development.

Neither did Aminzadeh – although it should be noted that she is a member of the California Coastal Commission. That was the launching point instead not for a response on the SDC, but to a question about the environment: “As a California Coastal Commissioner, Sara has mastered the art of balancing local concerns with wider, state goals of decarbonization and other environmental efforts. Sara is well-equipped to handle this avatar role.”

Connelly’s thoughts on the process to sell the SDC were as follows: “The future of the Sonoma Development Center is an extremely important issue for the Sonoma Valley region, and we must make sure its outcome is the best fit for our community, not the best fit for Sacramento. Above all, the project must prioritize the risk of wildfires and evacuation routes, as well as the protection of the wildlife corridor and our open space. Transparency and input from our residents are key to making this transition a success.

“Having worked alongside local Sonoma representatives and community activists, I know that the transfer of this site to public ownership is front and center in the minds of Sonoma Valley residents. With robust community input, we can make sure that this project emphasizes affordability and is the right size for the area. This cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. I remain closely engaged on the outcome of the Sonoma Developmental Center and will continue to work closely with local leaders and community members as your next Assemblymember to ensure that the State is a responsive partner in this process. Additionally, I would seek to secure funding from the State to address any environmental hazards, like asbestos, that have been left over from its prior ownership. Together, I will continue to work to ensure that this project is the best fit for the community.”

Staying in touch with the community

While Aminzadeh’s responses were more general than Connelly’s she did weigh in on how a Marinbased assembly member would stay in touch with the Sonoma Valley constituents. Her response: “Sara plans on hosting town halls, listening sessions, email updates, and other forms of public accountability to stay informed on the needs of Sonoma Valley and to inform Sonoma Valley of the needs of our state and planet.”

Connelly’s response specifically on that topic was: “I believe the most important aspect of serving as an Assemblymember is to work with constituents, communicate their needs to the state, and make decisions based on what’s best for the community, not what’s best for Sacramento. As your next Assemblymember, my role will be to always listen to our district’s residents first to determine the best solutions to address our unique issues. As stated previously, I will continue my open-door policy as an Assemblymember, establish a district office in Sonoma County, and hold open forums to ensure that our residents are able to voice their opinions directly to their representative.”