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Press Democrat: In first forum, Sonoma County supervisor candidates talk housing, roads and economy

Seven candidates running for three seats on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors offered widely different ideas Wednesday for how the county might address its housing crisis and fix its crumbling road system.

Former state Sen. Noreen Evans argued that taxes from medical marijuana — and potentially those from recreational pot sales, if California voters sanction such sales and use this year — could provide money to help the county fix its roads.

“The only big source of revenue we can look at is regulating and taxing cannabis,” said Evans, one of at least four candidates vying to replace Supervisor Efren Carrillo in what is viewed as the most hotly contested local race this year.

Lynda Hopkins, a Forestville resident and farmer, who also is running for Carrillo’s 5th District seat, said she would be in favor of seeking a ballot measure to raise hotel bed taxes from 9 to 12 percent, generating an estimated $3 million per year to pay for roads.

Hopkins also said she would consider seeking voter approval for a bond to bolster the county’s road repair budget.

“It would have to be specifically allocated to roads so it’s not something that can wind up being siphoned for the general fund,” said Hopkins, 32.

Evans and Hopkins staked out the positions at an hourlong candidates forum Wednesday morning at the Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club. The event featured four candidates running for the 5th District seat and two rivals squaring off again for the 1st District seat — Supervisor Susan Gorin and Gina Cuclis, the president of the Sonoma County Board of Education.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the 3rd District incumbent, also participated but as yet faces no challenger. The filing deadline for candidates in that race is Friday.

The other 5th District candidates on hand Wednesday were Tim Sergent, a Forestville resident and special education teacher, and Marion Chase, a county Human Services Department employee who lives in west Santa Rosa.

Sergent said he is running to fix the county’s roads, rein in public employee pension costs and increase access to higher education for high school students.

“Part of my drive into politics is to fix these fundamental issues,” said Sergent, 59.

Sergent said he’d scour the county’s $1.45 billion budget for additional road repair dollars, as well as consider asking voters to approve a specific tax dedicated to roads.

Gorin and Cuclis, who ran against each other in 2012, both mentioned raising hotel bed taxes as a possible new revenue source for road repairs.

Cuclis, 57, a longtime Boyes Hot Springs resident, said she also would consider seeking a sales tax increase at the ballot box to generate additional revenue for roads, but not “until we do a much better job of communicating to voters what we’d do with that money.”

Voters last year turned down a general sales tax measure billed by county supervisors as the best way to boost the condition of local roads.

Zane, whose mostly urban district includes most of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, highlighted her advocacy for additional road funding and housing projects.

“My number one priority is building the affordable housing that we so desperately need,” said Zane, 56. She did not elaborate on specific locations for projects.

 Zane is seeking her third term in office. If re-elected, she would be the longest tenured supervisor on the board. Carrillo announced in January that he would not seek a third term.

Chase said her entry into politics was sparked by her daily interaction with low-income people. At the county, she helps them apply for Medi-Cal and food stamps.

“My job day after day is seeing what the economy is doing,” said Chase, 50, who advocated for increased attention to mental health services and housing for homeless people.

She also said better broadband Internet service is critical for the small businesses and rural residents in west county. Carrillo and a small number of his constituents have been working on the issue for years.

“There are large areas of unincorporated Sonoma County who are losing out on the economy because they do not have high-speed Internet,” Chase said.

To boost the county’s affordable housing stock, Evans, a Sebastopol resident and former Santa Rosa councilwoman, said she’d support stronger requirements that more new units be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents.

“We need to require affordable housing,” said Evans, 60. “It takes the political will to do it.”

Hopkins said she’d address the housing crunch by reducing permitting fees to attract developers and easing zoning rules, allowing second units in some rural areas.

Gorin, 64, stressed the need to build new housing in existing urban footprints and suggested that the Sonoma Developmental Center property outside Glen Ellen could also support additional housing after its closure, planned for 2018. She also voiced support for stronger protections for tenants that would shield them from slum housing conditions and unjust evictions.

“We need to identify properties in the unincorporated area where we can build middle-class and workforce housing,” Cuclis said.

Most candidates had similar ideas for how to generate new economic activity and spur job growth. They gave the oft-repeated response, saying they would streamline the permitting process for businesses and building and reduce fees. They also said they would invest in early childhood education programs and expanding access to college and career courses.

Officials with the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, which hosted the forum, said it would help inform which candidates the chamber endorses in the June primary.

Keith Rhinehart, who twice has run for county supervisor, has entered the 1st District race. He was on vacation in Florida on Wednesday.

It was not clear if two other potential candidates in the 5th District are still considering a run. Lew Brown, a Rio Nido attorney, and Frank Dice, a bartender in Graton, did not return phone calls. The filing deadline for that race is next Wednesday.

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or [email protected]. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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