350 Sonoma Meeting, April 18, 2018, Peace and Justice Center, Santa Rosa

Sunny Galbraith reported on our Zero Waste Subcommittee’s activities and upcoming events. These are posted on our website: 350sonoma.org

Marty Bennett of Jobs with Justice joined us for a conversation about the various factions affecting the rebuild of Sonoma County after the fire. The focus of our conversation was on the Democratic party in Sonoma County and the split between wealthy elites, who are in the minority when it comes to votes, but in the majority when it comes to money and influence, and progressive Democrats who gave Bernie Sanders a majority in the primary election of 2016. 

Marty identified several key players. The Northcoast Rebuilds Foundation was formed by Darius Anderson of Platinum Investors in Sonoma, who has collected a group of community and business leaders to deal ostensibly with the shortfall between the cost of rebuild and the funds available. Darius is an associate of Doug Bosco’s media group which owns the Press Democrat and various other Sonoma County newspapers. Both Doug and Darius have been active in state politics as fundraisers and as leaders of a pro-growth coalition best represented by the board of Poppy Bank.Northcoast Rebuilds purports to involve a wide selection of participants, but has been formed by invitation only. Its current head is Elizabeth Gore, James Gore’s wife. Although members of the Board of Directors do include leaders like Larry Florin of Burbank Housing and Ralph Benson of Sonoma Land Trust, this group is primarily composed of people who have been instrumental in the development of Sonoma County in the past – like Bill Gallaher, the former developer of Coffey Park.

On the other hand, progressive environmental and social justice groups are dispersed through many political, environmental and social organizations and coalitions and are fundamentally disorganized when it comes to influencing political decisions in the county. We are underrepresented on the various city councils and on the Board of Supervisors. We are also underfunded in this costly campaign climate.

This situation means that “the powers that have been” will continue to call the shots in Sonoma County and that decisions made concerning the rebuild may primarily reflect their neoliberal values and policies.

Our circle agreed that disorganized (or even organized) protests will be ineffective if we are not part of the decision-making process. Most critical is organizing to support progressive local candidates for the next election. We must also come together to support Campaign Finance Reform and to repeal such laws as Costa Hawkins that prohibits us from instituting effective rent control. A citywide minimum wage proposal is another critical issue coming before us in this 2018 election season.  Although time is short for action for the coming election, we realize the importance of starting now to make effective political organization our common goal. If we are not at the table, we will be limited to short public comments at the end of meetings and demonstrations that focus on resistance rather than constructive ideas. Progressives must become a significant part of the process, bringing new ideas, programs, and visions into the mainstream conversation.

To begin, we can look at the structural agreements that progressives made in Richmond that supported them in their successful takeover of city government. We could also consider joining the Just Recovery Coalition. Eventually we might consider joining California Calls, a statewide alliance of 31 organizations currently organized around social justice issues in 12 counties with the intent to develop collective power to win systemic reform.

Marty suggests that we stay informed and engaged with development of former Community Hospital property, recently sold to Bill Gallaher, where the need is to develop Community Benefits Agreements with the Santa Rosa City Council, outlining the number of affordable houses, park land, recreation, retail, etc.

We can’t do everything, obviously, and we have our specific areas of concern and interest. But all groups will continue to be ineffective unless we organize to have some political clout and voice in decision making processes.

Anna recommends that people read Charles Derber’s “Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times” to be inspired.

Marty recommends Manual Pastor”s “State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future (2018) and James Wilkinson, “Who Rules Santa Rosa and Why it Matters (2010).