Susan Gorin wants to keep her job
She likes it.
The job of supervisor in any California county is a tough one, but Sonoma seems to offer more challenges than most, demanding long work weeks, constant meetings, and lots of traveling in the district, the Bay Area, and beyond. Susan Gorin dropped into the Kenwood Press office on a recent Sunday afternoon to talk about her candidacy to keep the job she first won in 2012.
This time around, she is facing just one challenger, Gina Cuclis, the third runner up in the jam-packed 2012 primaries and the candidate who lives in the unincorporated part of Sonoma Valley, as opposed to Santa Rosa, Gorin’s city of residence.
Sonoma’s supervisory districts have between 100,000 and 150,000 residents and each includes a chunk of Santa Rosa, the county’s largest city and the county seat, conveniently situated roughly in the middle of the county. About 50 percent of the First District’s 128,000 population live in Santa Rosa’s city limits. About 11 or 12 percent live in the City of Sonoma, and the rest live in the unincorporated areas. About 37 percent of the unincorporated area residents reside in the compact “Springs” area, the collective name for bygone vacation resort areas of Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, Agua Caliente and Hooker Oaks, clustered outside and west of Sonoma’s city limits on Highway 12. This is where Cuclis lives. Gorin is an Oakmont resident.
“I’m working hard to represent the First District and county,” Gorin said. “I’m having a great time doing it. I’m having positive conversations with constituents who are grateful I’m addressing issues.”
Dominant IssuesThe issues she’s talking about range from settling minor constituent complaints to addressing the impact of global warming on the Bay Area and the District’s long San Pablo Bay waterfront. Lying in between are homelessness, workforce housing, vacation rentals, water, transportation, the highway corridors of 36, 116, and 121, failing roads and bridges, tourism impacts, winery and tasting room expansion, the looming loss of the Sonoma Developmental Center, the future of the proposed Sonoma Valley trail and other trails, and the potential introduction of recreational and commercial marijuana growing in the First District.
The impending closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center, Sonoma Valley’s largest employer by far, will have huge, some unknown, impacts on the area. Relocating the fragile residents, finding work for the 1,300 people who work there, and finding appropriate uses for the 900 acres of prime real estate and existing structures are daunting tasks.
Gorin has been working with state legislators, county departments and agencies, and several nonprofits to work out the murky future of the SDC.
“We have decided to continue to advocate for continuing services on site,” Gorin said, “promoting an umbrella concept of an aging and disability center, a Federally Qualified Health Center on site, and specific services for the developmentally disabled, including making shoes, sedation dentistry, and both recreational and occupational therapy.”
Ag and TourismOther major issues affecting both the Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County include winery events and vacation rentals.
“I’m happy that these issues are moving forward,” she said, noting that the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) has been developing potential guidelines for future action by the Board through a series of study groups and public workshops. See the front page of this issue for the Board’s recent actions on vacation rentals.
“We may get to a resolution on winery events moving forward,” she said without specifying a date. “I’m pleased to have initiated those conversations. They are important for the overall health of the county.”
Winery events and vacation rentals are both sticky political issues in Sonoma County, with a well-heeled and entrenched viticulture agribusiness element, and a highly organized real estate industry with a vested interest in vacation rentals in one of the California’s premier tourist destinations.
“It’s important to note that there are good reasons for the number of wineries in Sonoma County. It has good, productive land. I want to support agriculture, and not only viticulture. Because of the sheer number of wineries and tasting rooms, it is difficult to market their product, especially as they are smaller. We don’t have a handle on the cumulative impact of what is going on.
“Understand that the county General Plan and its EIR last projected half as many wineries being built by 2020 as we have now. It’s important to do an analysis and we have yet to focus on this. There is no position, no discussion around events. There is perhaps a small discussion looking at where we are going in Sonoma County. Is it healthy for the county? The wine industry? Do we have water? What are the impacts on roads? Impacts on housing, affordable housing, are they producing lower wage jobs?
“While Napa County has a very different Board of Supervisors and different sensitivities and geography, they recognize the need to have increasing constraints on where they are going with wineries and vineyards. Maybe it’s time to rethink where we are going.”
And grapes aren’t the only crop stimulating local political debate.
Gorin is working with Efren Carrillo on an Ad Hoc Committee on medical marijuana commerce. Current state law gives the county until March 1 to come up with some measure to maintain the status quo while it works out a “more comprehensive way of reaching out to constituents, neighbors, and stakeholders to prepare for the potential legalization of recreational cannabis, and close some of gaps on where and how to cultivate. There are lots of thorny issues,” Gorin said.
Vacation rentals are another hot potato, and coming up with viable regulations is likely to take some time.
“The actual action and implementation will take a while,” Gorin said. “PRMD is thorough and takes time implementing Board direction for action. What’s currently being considered is grandfathering. While we can’t roll back what’s been done, the best we can hope for is a different direction going forward. We can come down hard on code compliance and enforcement to weed out irresponsible property managers.
“The proliferation of vacation rentals in R1 zones has been a significant threat to workforce housing.”
InfrastructureRoads are a huge problem for Sonoma County, with very little money on hand to fund more than 20 years of neglected repairs for the county’s infamously deteriorating road system. In the Springs area particularly, Gorin pointed to “crumbling infrastructure and unsafe roads, substandard housing, people too scared to complain.” The First District is home to Save Our Sonoma Roads, the major group advocating for increased road repair budgets.
“Congestion, capacity, safety, and quality of roads all need to be addressed. We need to keep chipping away at repaving our roads, constructing roads, and finding a larger funding source.”
Looking to the future, “the next generation will be threatened by a Bay level increase and tidal action.” Gorin has convinced Napa, Marin and Solano counties to join with Bay Conservation & Development Commission and Caltrans, to gather data, figure out how to approach capacity issues, and how to elevate most of Highway 37 to withstand the challenge.
Perhaps as early as this year, voters from all nine Bay Area counties, including Sonoma, may be asked to approve a “small” parcel tax to fund Bay restoration, including the planning she just talked about.
“Most people in Sonoma County do not understand the significance of this issue on the Bay side. Crossing Sonoma County is an essential transportation issue.”
Another big issue that has cropped up recently involves sorting out recreational needs of Springs residents who are looking for a new public swimming pool, but have potentially lost a home for Little League baseball. In addition, a large group of soccer aficionados wants an all-weather playing facility.
Money, money, moneyResponding to Cuclis’ promise to give up a quarter of the salary if elected, Gorin said she has already given up her retirement benefits, which are “more than 25 percent” of her total salary and benefit package.
The campaign promises to be an expensive one. Gorin has over $100,000 on hand and expects the total cost to run as high as $200,000.
So far, Gorin and Cuclis are the only people who have announced that they are running for the office, but there is time for others to jump in, as March 11 is the cutoff date for filing. Officially, no one can file for the race until Feb. 15. Stay tuned.