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First District Candidates Face Off in Sonoma

John Sawyer and Susan Gorin answer questions on the environment, Highway 12, pesticides, pensions and more.

Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, candidates for the First District seat on Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, answered questions from the public at a forum in Sonoma Thursday night.

Labor issues, business, agriculture, the environment, medical marijuana and campaign financing were among the topics.

The candidates agreed on a number of subjects: the need for pension reform; making Highway 12 improvements a priority; curbing the number of events allowed by new wineries; banning plastic bags and opposition to sanctuary counties.

Sawyer and Gorin parted ways, however, on project labor agreements (PLAs) and a living wage ordinance.

Sawyer said Gorin "must have consumed the union Koolaid that says we can't bring projects in on time without PLAs. I'm fully against PLAs," he said. "I don't think union members are the only ones who should be able to work in Sonoma County."

"I have support from trade unions who find these are important," Gorin said. "They level the playing field."

Regarding a living wage ordinance, Sawyer said it would be "too onerous" on small businesses.

Gorin said she would support it, however, and that she has helped move it forward.

"Many contractors and non-profits don't pay a living wage. A living wage ordinance isn't onerous; it's just. This is a very expensive area to live in."

Gorin took issue with Sawyer's record on the environment, as she has throughout the campaign.

"You have not taken one leadership role on the environment," she said. "It's more than just a vote. It's about caring about transportation, public safety and the future. Don't turn Sonoma Valley into Santa Rosa."

Gorin accused Sawyer of being funded by "big business interests" compared with her support from "unions, neighbors and friends."

She questioned his support by the "Farm Bureau, contractors and quarries."

Sawyer responded, "My opponent talks about agriculture and business as though they are villains. These are the people who create jobs and pay our bills. I'm proud of my endorsements and the money I've received." He accused Gorin of having "sour grapes" over endorsements.

When an audience member asked what the candidates would do about pesticide use in the valley, Sawyer replied that he thinks all the necessary regulations are in place and that he'd look at any area of concern as necessary.

"This is not an area that embraces the use of a lot of pesticides," he said.

Gorin , on the other hand, said, "I've talked to people next to vineyards and they have asthma, etc. They were there before the vineyards. Biodynamics is the direction of the future. We cannot continue to poison each other or our soils."

An audience member asked whether the candidates supported medical marijuana.

"Yes, because many people have a need," Sawyer said. However, he said he does not support having more dispensaries in the eastern part of Sonoma County."

Gorin said, "If a proposal comes forward that is appropriately distant from schools, I would consider it. Many people find it onerous to drive to Santa Rosa, when they have conditions like glaucoma or cancer.

Sawyer accused Gorin of moving into the First District so she could run for the office.

"I moved to Santa Rosa 30 years ago," she responded. "It doesn't matter how long you've lived in the district. What matters is what you've contributed. I've served with John for six years and frankly I believe Sonoma County deserves better. 

On new winery events, Sawyer said no permits for events should be issued to new wineries until the impact of all the winery events in Sonoma Valley can be assessed. Gorin agreed, saying new wineries should not develop their business plans based on events, but rather on winemaking.

Both agreed creating sidewalks in the Springs area is a priority. Gorin said that as mayor of Santa Rosa she had suggested flexibility in zoning and permits to accomplish improvements in that city. Sawyer said incentives and creativity are needed. They agreed that completing improvements along Highway 12 is a priority but that the funding source is yet unknown.

Thursday night's forum was presented by The League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women. A recording of the forum will be available for viewing in a few days on the League of Women Voters' website, LWVSonoma.org.

About 50 people attended the forum at the Community Room.

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