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Sonoma County Gazette
LETTERS from Gazette Readers Online and in Print- February 2020

LETTERS from Gazette Readers
February 2020

Feb 6, 2020
by Vesta Copestakes


We Are Appalled 

Women are celebrating 100 years since they fought for and won the right to vote.  At the Santa Rosa City Council special meeting to select a replacement for retiring Council member Julie Combs, a man replaced a woman. We are sure the gentleman is well qualified, however four women were being considered, and by this decision the council in our minds is out of balance. Would we feel the same if a woman replaced a man? No, because there is an imbalance in the power structure.

This is NOT acceptable to us and we are publicly requesting that the City Council reveal to us and to the public their method of how applicants were evaluated,  What stopped the council from drawing straws or tossing a coin in lieu of pulling someone out who was not in the final running and deciding on that individual?  

We have read and seen how strongly Vice Mayor Victoria Fleming spoke out and we support her opinions.  If women do not stand up against this, it will continue for eternity. Are we the only women who feel this way?  We recommend the council reconsider their decision.

The Executive Committee
National Organization for Women
Sonoma County Chapter




David Rabitt

The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) – the voice of California’s 58 Counties – would like to thank Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt for his strong leadership at the national level, representing California County interests. 

Supervisor Rabbitt represented California’s Counties for the past three years on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Counties (NACo). Supervisor Rabbitt continues to play an active role representing Sonoma County as a member of our Association and we are appreciative of his insight and expertise.

Graham Knaus
Executive Director
California State Assoc.  of Counties.



Moving On

You have been a driving force for truth and inclusion.  Your commitment to the Gazette and to those of us lucky enough to call this place home is stellar.  For those of us born here early enough to have experienced ‘the Old Sebastopol’ of the 50s and 60s, your attitude reminds us of how it ‘used to be’ when we did business on a handshake, all the kids in town spent their summers at Ives Park, all the dads knew all the lumber yards and car lots and Joe’s Store was a place Mom sent you with a note to get things with a promise to pay next time she was in.  Having you keep us aware of what is truly essential in life has been a great gift.

I, for one, am grateful!

Now, get some rest and thanks for being willing to do the work necessary to see that The Gazette survives.

Cynthia Stefenoni, Sebastopol


I so appreciate your kind words - yes, I am old-fashioned in my approach to business. It’s personal. Caring for our home is personal. Thank you so much for recognizing that aspect of who I am and how I have published the Gazette! ! 




Two Thoughts…

First, your sale of the Gazette!  I can easily understand why you kids want some free time to enjoy life (I’ll be 90 in 2021), but I hope you are going to continue writing a column.  In fact when you’re no longer in charge, you can start advocating for your own concerns.  Even better.

And that leads me to the long article in the Sunday PD about an attempt to launch a recall of Lynda Hopkins. I don’t believe there has EVER been a Supervisor who has worked as hard as Lynda works FOR her constituents.  I’m  fairly confident that you share this thought.

Rather than blame Lynda for the Rodota Trail encampment, this person should be launching a drive to help with the housing of these unfortunate people — and the Supervisors are doing this as fast as they can.  The City itself removed them from sheltering themselves under the Freeway overpasses so maybe he wants them shunted to a forest, far from sight.  Then he can go back to forgetting they exist.

I’m sure Lynda has about 90% support — even in Santa Rosa.  She’s smart and constantly engaged.  She put aside all District 5 issues, which includes my area in Santa Rosa, when we needed a comprehensive response to the 2017 fires.  She’s a magnificent example of what a public servant should be (a nightmare job at best).  I can think of people who may deserve this calumny, but Lynda isn’t one of them.

Would it be wise, in the February Gazette, to have your West County contributors weigh in on what Lynda has meant to their towns?

Arthur Hills


GOOD IDEA, Arthur.
I asked my Facebook friends. 22 COMMENTS... here’s a sampling:

I’ve lived in district 5 for 26 years. I have never felt more represented by anyone until Lynda came along. I voted for her, and am still very happy I did. No one, no one, has ever been boots on the ground, and as accessible as Lynda has been. And she has done this while raising a family. She may be super human! She speaks her mind, doesn’t cow tow to the powers that be, stands behind the truth and facts, and communicates with her constituents articulately.

Deb McGauley

She's everywhere, always attending the events that matter to us here on the lower Russian river. She has my whole hearted support.

Michael Fauss

I love that she has carried her baby with her to work and meetings, proving you can work for the community and take care of your family.

Caren Catterall

I love Lynda’s unwavering dedication to her district and her family, it is inspiring. Her passion, work ethic, and commitment are uncompromising. She hasn’t had an easy term, fires, floods, the JRT crisis to name a few but she perseveres!

Bonnie Hill

I love that she’s honest. She’s done everything she said. She’ll tell you where she stands, even if it’s not politically correct. Nobody works harder. She responds to everyone. She shows up everywhere. She’s a good problem solver. She’ll listen to different views about a difficult problem, and come up with a solution that makes sense. I could go on, but In a nut shell, we’re lucky to have her as our representative. I don’t expect she’s gonna have any problem. The 5th district loves her!

Jeniffer Wertz

She has a good ear heart eye, she has language, and good sense, she is willing and relentless when it comes to problem solving, she is pragmatic and a dreamer, and she doesn’t pander. doesn’t say yes when she means no, and when she doesn’t know, she says so and goes about finding out. and she is aware of the diverse nature of her constituency and our county.

Judi Goldberg

She is reasonable, sensible and thoughtful in all of her decisions. She is a role model to women everywhere, proving that moms can find success and still be good moms

Olivia Rabellino.



Poison Drop on the Farrallones

It is time for our region to stop the proposed poison drop in the midst of our Marine Sanctuary and fishing grounds and then emulate the protections now in place in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains by banning brodifacoum and similarly hazardous second-generation pesticides in the currently-pending Sonoma County update of our Local Coastal Plan, along with addressing the predicted washed-up dead Western Gull carcasses that will eventually wind up on our beaches if the poison drop offshore is allowed to proceed.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s poisoning scheme will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council on February 19 at the Bodega Bay Firehouse from 9 am to 4:45 pm.  While this panel’s recommendations are only advisory, public comments are welcome at all Sanctuary Council meetings at the appointed time. See:  for the precise timing of the public comment opportunity there.  Interested citizens will also have a second opportunity to again provide public comment at the Coastal Commission hearing on this issue to be held in Sonoma County this June.  For your remaining questions, or to take action in writing, please see

Richard Charter



Hide the Dog? 
Expanding the authority and budget of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO)

A foundational duty of our Sheriff is to secure the public respect and cooperation vital to the ability of his — our — deputies to do their jobs.  For that reason, he should support expanding the authority and budget of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), and a citizens’ ballot initiative to do just that. Resistance to independent oversight of those we pay to protect and serve us would otherwise suggest a function that is above accountability, and that couldn’t be more untrue.

The vast majority of our deputies perform their very challenging work within the bounds of the laws and Constitution that make their jobs so important, and so difficult.  Any fool with a badge and a gun can beat, choke or shoot someone they believe is misbehaving, but ours is a democracy where even suspected criminals have rights.  It takes professionals to avoid excessive force when engaging and sometimes arresting those who may be uncooperative, even violent, so they can be bound over for trial.

As confirmed by reactions to a torrent of videos nationwide, the public is increasingly alienated by ‘out-of-control’ policing.  

If officers who don’t understand that can’t be dissuaded from disgracing those who do, a time may come when even our Best & Finest can’t convince 12 jurors to trust their word.

IOLERO oversight should also be welcomed so the public can know how professional the vast majority of our deputies behave and appreciate the difficulties they face.  Otherwise, the question arises:  Who’s hiding what?  Sadly, suspicions can too easily become fact for a public exposed almost daily to confirmed reports of incidents such as:  

~ An unarmed man in NYC surrounded and strangled to death by police for selling loose cigarettes. 

~ Fleeing suspects, shot in the back in PA, CA and elsewhere. 

~ A gun-waving Phoenix officer terrorizing a mother & her 4-year old suspected of shoplifting a doll.

~ A mentally ill homeless man, beaten to death by six (6) Fullerton police.

~ A Dog, riding in his homeless master’s shopping cart, shot to death by San Francisco police for “behaving aggressively.”

Despite the recent firing of an officer for brutalizing a suspect who later died, Sonoma County remains scarred by the death of 13-year old Andy Lopez at the hands of a deputy later promoted.  Sheriff support for a strong, well-funded IOLERO would evidence a determination to make such tragedies history — not policy — and help combat the distrust our deputies must overcome every day.  And if that’s not reason enough to embrace IOLERO, money should be; i.e., the millions to settle lawsuits, paid by the county to avoid potentially greater damages at the hands of juries disturbed if not outraged by what they might learn at trial.

At the very least, citizens should not have to worry that deputies responding to a 911 might shoot dead the family Dog who greets them at the door, because it’s “behaving aggressively.”  Most wouldn’t, but until IOLERO is strengthened — hide the Dog.

Bob Edwards, Sonoma



NOT a Hospital

I (and most West County voters) won’t vote for anything that spends more of our money until the County dissolves the Palm Drive Health Care District. The District was created in 2004 to oversee a community hospital. 

That hospital has been bankrupt twice, run a consistent deficit, and floated bonds we will be paying for til at least 2034. 

The District recently sold the hospital (at a firesafe price) to a private operator from Texas. There is no real ‘oversight’ role anymore for the District but it refuses to shut itself down and stop spending/wasting the $400K/year for staff (incl. a $150K part time exec. director) and other overhead and unauthorized ‘medical related’ grants.  

This expensive, redundant, opaque, and incompetent District is a slap in the face of taxpayers. 

A group of us is gathering signatures to demand that LAFCO dissolve the District. We need 10% of registered ‘District’ voters (that’s 2400 sigs from Seb/Occi/Graton/Meeker). 

At a time when we’re being asked for more tax money for the train, fire, Analy....then soon for the library, homeless housing.... people are righteously furious that $400K is being blatantly wasted. 

Please sign our petition to Dissolve Palm Drive District!

Nancy Hair, Sebastopol



SMART, Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good

In recent letters to the Editor and at the last SMART Board meeting (1.8.20) I noticed a distinct tendency during “Public Comments” toward a ‘my way, or no way’ regarding upcoming Measure I (Stay Green Keep SMART). People seem to think that all things can be controlled and as individuals they are offended  if it’s not exactly their way. Our system is only a toddler and will grow stronger with the right nourishment. 

Measure "I" will restructure the bonds that were issued to build the infrastructure we now enjoy. There are now 45 miles of rail with 12 stations, more trains and new SF Ferry service, new service to Larkspur and downtown Novato, and Windsor construction due to be completed next year. Significant progress has been made on the Pathway. Although not complete, I have every reason to believe it will be.

This is the first new transit infrastructure in the North Bay for over 60 years, and it wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t saved the right of way to build SMART.We need to support SMART’s Strategic Plan to refinance, saving $12 million a year. This is practical fiscal management. Numbers are up for weekday commuter service, but the continued focus on weekend ridership is a distraction from the real gem of an alternative to the 101 highway. In doubt about Measure I? Go and experience this beauty of a rail system. Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.





SMART Train:

While it is difficult for a supporter of SMART to be completely objective, here is a response to your request for a review of the arguments being used regarding the SMART Train: 

In 2008, voters decided to fund the SMART project, but it has proved too hard to deliver the entire ambitious vision in Measure Q within just a few years.  The Great Recession was well under way when the first 1/4% sales tax receipts came in, so available funds were much lower than predicted.  It also took longer than expected to get the needed permits for construction of the track and pathway, and by the time a contract to build the project could be negotiated, construction costs were rapidly rising.  The project was being financially whipsawed.  The SMART Board had to deliver rail service, and the multi-use pathway in less ambitious stages.  

We have now seen an initial segment serving 10 stations, followed by the extension to Larkspur, and we expect extensions north of the Sonoma County Airport as State and Federal funding allows.  Segments of the bike-pedestrian path are necessarily built following reconstruction of the roadbed and tracks and when funding becomes available. About a third of the active right of way now has a completed pathway and several additional segments are funded and in various stages of completion. 

To realize these accomplishments, SMART needed a talented General Manager with extensive local experience in infrastructure projects.  Although Farhad Mansourian inherited an underfunded mandate, a vision he didn’t originate, and rail vehicles he didn’t select, he was able to assemble a highly capable team and build the system we have today.  To do so, SMART secured $323 million of capital funding grants from state and federal programs.  While some may question Mr. Mansourian’s style, It is hard to ignore his accomplishments.

Many of us fail to appreciate the extreme difficultly, cost and time required to build infrastructure projects of any kind in the US.  High labor and material costs in a growing economy, layers of often conflicting regulations and permitting requirements, obtaining the approval of the Federal Railroad Administration, and satisfying the needs of numerous cities and stakeholders are only a few of the challenges the SMART team faced.  

SMART was also required to implement the first Positive Train Control system for a new passenger railroad in the US. An outdated bridge over the Petaluma River had to be replaced, and SMART saved millions of dollars by bringing a slightly used drawbridge in from Texas and restoring it to nearly new condition. What the SMART team has achieved in a short time with few hiccups is remarkable. 

Train service is expected to improve air quality and the environment generally.  As an example,SMART has published calculations showing that the trains have thus far operated with 1/3 less greenhouse gas emissions (climate changing GHG) than the automobiles that it has taken off the road. This benefit is likely to improve because the number of train riders is likely to increase.  SMART opponents assume that the current railcar emissions will continue, and that GHG emissions from busses and automobiles will decline as electric cars become more common.  The critics of SMART fail to mention the possibility that SMART may shift to renewable biodiesel fuel or transition to other sources of power in the future. 

Neither side has cited the significant amounts of harmful particulate pollution created by rubber tire and road dusts that the railroad avoids.     

Tailpipe emissions and dust some of the elements affecting the large ecological footprint of residents in the North Bay.  SMART and the bikeway can help by enabling residents (particularly younger and older people in Sonoma County) to reduce their dependence on automobiles in walkable communities with smaller apartments along the rail/bikeway corridor.   Apartments with common walls use less energy for heating and cooling and contain far less embodied energy. They also contain fewer resource-consuming possessions than suburban single-family homes.

Electric bikes are making it possible for people living 3-4 miles from a train station to commute by train if their workplace is also within easy cycling distance of a station.  This is a huge economic benefit in that many more people can conveniently seek employment in a much larger area than before, and employers can attract more workers up and down the corridor.     

Transportation is subsidized in many ways, and SMART’s critics try to show that operating subsidies for rail transportation is more costly than buses or private automobiles.  However, SMART staff points out that the differential is minor and likely to diminish as train ridership grows.  In 2018 the subsidy for the train averaged about $1.48 per passenger mile, compared with $1.21 per mile for the ferry and Golden Gate Bus combined.  

The subsidies for driving are imbedded in numerous practices and laws, most notably the way that we include the cost of parking in rent, and public infrastructure.  The attached article goes to great length to describe the legal favors afforded to driving.

A 2017 Federal study stated that, “In addition to helping to understand the rationale for subsidies, social costs and benefits may provide a better way of normalizing the magnitude of subsidies. A strong case can be made that comparing the magnitude of the subsidies to the magnitude of net social benefits, by mode, provides a better view of the relative subsidy than does normalizing by a physical measure such as passengers or passenger-miles.  We have not included analysis of the social costs and benefits of different transportation modes because of the difficulty of providing a value of these costs and benefits.”

Because SMART has been operating for just over two years, we have only a glimpse of its future ridership, benefits, and costs. It’s in its infancy. Commuter ridership is rising and will probably increase with the Windsor and Larkspur extensions.  It would be shortsighted to use a few statistics as the basis for deciding SMART’s fate.

Steve Birdlebough

Sonoma County Land Use Coalition



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