Synopsis of Sebastopol City Council Meeting of March 16, 2021

By Laura Hagar Rush, Townsy Media, March 20, 2021

All members of the Sebastopol City Council — Mayor Una Glass, Vice Mayor Sarah Gurney, Councilmember Neysa Hinton, Councilmember Diana Rich and Councilmember Patrick Slayter — were present for the meeting, which was held virtually on Zoom.

Proclamations and general shoutouts

  • The council declared the month of March as Women’s History Month, giving a nod to the women in Sonoma County who pioneered this concept back in the 1970s and 80s.
  • The council awarded Interim Police Chief Don Mort a certificate of appreciation for coming to the aid of the city while it searched for a new police chief.
  • City Manager Larry McLaughlin took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, which forced city staff to work from home, to thank the staff for their professionalism and commitment to keeping the wheels of city government turning.
  • Mayor Una Glass gave a sympathetic shout out to Rohnert Park City Councilperson Jackie Elward, that city’s first black council person, who got racist hate mail from a constituent this week regarding recent a council vote. Glass and other mayors in the Sonoma County signed a letter in support of Elward and expressing “a commitment to condemn racism, discrimination and all forms of hatred, none of which will be tolerated in our cities.”

Public Comment for items not on the agenda

  • Katie Davis, director of the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, reminded everyone that the Senior Center is providing meals, free rides, and classes to local seniors and that it has two big events coming up: a virtual bingo fundraiser, organized by the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, on April 17; and Rumi’s Caravan, a beloved, local, poetry-out-loud (and in this case, virtual) event on April 18. Both benefit the Senior Center.
  • All the other public comments (four of them) opposed the proposed 84-unit Woodmark development, an affordable housing complex that a design review board member last year dissed as fitting right in in the Central Valley. (Ouch.) Several of those opposing the complex at tonight’s council meeting came from Burbank Heights, the affordable housing complex across the street from the proposed development.
  • In response to concerns about Woodmark expressed during public comment, Mayor Una Glass asked city staff to give a brief update on the proposal. (Council member Slayter and Hinton had to step out of the virtual room because they live nearby the property in question and are therefore assumed to have a conflict of interest as neighbors of the development.) City Planner Kari Svanstrom said Woodmark had initially applied through the city permitting process, but withdrew that application and told the city it would reapplying under the more lenient SB 35 process, “which is a streamlined ministerial process that we’re subject to under state law,” Svanstrom explained. (SB 35 was designed to speed the development of affordable housing statewide.) She said the city would make a decision about whether Woodmark is eligible to apply under the SB 35 process by early April.

Consent Calendar: (Passed unanimously)

  • Approval of minutes of the city council meeting of March 2 and the city council special meeting on March 3.
  • Approval of subcommittee recommendation for the next Locals Who Make a Difference recognition program honoree. (Interesting note: the new honoree, Hunter Valencia, is the son of the most recent honoree Elizabeth Smith. Because of the name difference council members didn’t realize this, but they ultimately decided it didn’t matter since Hunter, who is still in high school, is a fine fellow and a model for us all.)
  • Extension of local emergency proclamation due to COVID-19.

Presentation: Requirements of SB 1383

Leslie Lukacs, executive director of Zero Waste Sonoma, gave a presentation on SB 1383, a zero waste initiative which was voted into law in 2016 and will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. This presentation was meant to give the city a heads up about its responsibilities under the new law. The goal of SB 1383 is to reduce landfilled organic waste by 75% by 2025 and increase the recovery of edible food from sources such as grocery stores and restaurants by 20% (thus keeping them out of the landfill) by 2025. The upshot of this nobly intended law will be a cleaner world and higher garbage rates. Larry McLaughlin said the financial impact on the city in terms of staff time would be negligible.

Regular agenda items:

  • What to do with all those 19th amendment flags and banners. The council decided to keep 98 suffrage flags that the city had made in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, recognizing women’s right to vote.  (The Boy Scouts of Troop 71 agreed to install them each year on the anniversary of the vote in August.) The council also agreed to offer a number of suffrage banners, first to the West Sonoma County Historical Society, and then to other nonprofits in town, with councilmembers Sarah Gurney and Diana Rich facilitating that process.
  • A bite-sized apple fair. The Gravenstein Apple Fair, sponsored by Farm Trails, has decided to have a smaller fair this year: just one day instead of two and socially distanced. There will be a drive-through part of the event (at which they expect about 1,000 people) and a by-reservation-only walk-in event for 200 to 500 people. After being reassured that those tickets will be reserved for locals, the council voted 3-2 to give Farm Trails, which, like all nonprofits after COVID, is in financial straits, a $2,000 sponsorship plus police services for traffic the day of the event. Hinton, Gurney and Glass voted in favor, while Slayter and Rich were opposed. Both Slayter and Rich like the fair, but felt giving grants willy-nilly outside of the city’s usual granting process was unwise.
  • Changes to the planning commission. After much consideration, and following the advice of the planning commission itself, the council voted unanimously to reduce the size of the commission down to seven by eliminating the alternate position; open up a process to fill a current vacancy; revisit next year the question of dropping the number of commissioners down to five; amend the municipal code to require a majority of committee members be residents. (It also allows for but does not require up to two business owners who do not reside in the city limits, plus one non-resident non-business owner from the city’s sphere of influence). The council requested that staff prepare a couple of different sphere of influence maps for them to consider.)

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