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Sonoma County Gazette
Healdsburg by The Voices of Healdsburg

Mayor Mansell’s End-of-Year Reflections


Nov 30, 2018
by Vesta Copestakes


“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Zora Neal Hurston

What does this final month of serving as Healdsburg’s mayor and my last of four years on city council invite? My town struggles with balance. “Nothing in excess.” My heartfelt experience as an elected official reveals the ancient Greek inscription’s truth: Excess causes lasting harm. End of year reflections invite meaning-making. As a seasoned literature teacher, I am practiced in the art of making connections.

Question:  How would my tenure on Council be different if I had not come to the dais with the vision of a 36-year public school teacher? It is a rarity. In fact, I have yet to encounter one active or retired classroom teacher who is an elected official. I have met, worked with, plenty of business owners, some retired police officers, attorneys, architects, and engineers, among other occupations. Being an active high school English and Speech and Debate teacher/coach offers me a unique balance of adventurous, youthful, emergent thinking, and the culture of business-oriented decision-making of Council. No answer to that question yet.

My “answers”:  Like my students, I study and hope to learn. Like my fellow council members, starting with an $86 million annual city budget, I read and analyze arguments, draw conclusions, and make critical decisions about: land use and zoning, the oxymoronic affordable housing, housing bonds, incentivizing ADUs, ecological planning, meaningful emergency preparedness, and public pensions.I have argued for the value of sustaining a culture of inquiry during public and special closed/privileged meetings, the critical need for governmental transparency, the necessity of arts, the study of tourism’s impacts, especially with drought and disasters, the influx of new money and the inability to put a dollar amount on the "cost" of second, vacant homes.

The ultra-wealthy who come into town are perceived as having a low-impact on our city resources. After all, they pay property taxes, so the conclusion is the vacant homes cannot be "quantified" as detrimental to our economy. According to our city’s legal opinion, no second home tax may be applied without a clear impact fee nexus study to prove a negative financial impact.

Questions:What attracts people to Healdsburg? Who supports our economic vitality, hospitality industry, and our city services? How does the marketing of “small town charm” affect real estate acquisition and result in gentrification? I have listened to false dichotomies regarding environmental stewardship, the creation of workforce housing, and the wine country’s successful, thriving tourist industry.

I hear my beloved community’s concerns. Our winery, hospitality, health care, and city workers, and our public school employees, all vital to our community, cannot afford to live in the town they serve. Last month Measure P passed, bringing the hope we can build some deed-restricted rentals in our city without the growth restrictions of our GMO. Clearly, Healdsburg City voters understand the economic market does not create or sustain essential balance.

Some argue, by inviting more wealthy guests to our town, we create more purchasing of second homes, a drain on our rental stock, and we feel the effect of “flipped homes.” New buyers ask, how close is the property to the Plaza. How soon may we tear down the existing house and build our new house, swimming pool, guest cottage?

Healdsburg attracts wealthy investors. No matter how philanthropic—no matter how many winery events to support Latino winery workers’ children, the health of our pristine Russian River, our local health care foundation, or our public schools, this “wonderful” in-coming wealth contributes to our housing shortage, to insufficient wages, to shrinking public school enrollment, and to our "loss of neighborhood" crisis.

Investing in a community means so much more than an addition to a portfolio or a real estate transaction. My Santa Rosa City high school 11th grade students/ debaters discuss social capital, of valuing our community in words, and with examples, that do not exclusively equate to dollars. We ponder central questions such as: How and why do communities change? What risks are we willing to take to be part of community? What are we ready to give up? One answer from this soon-to-be former mayor: We are learning that financial growth does not sustain community.

~ Brigette Mansell, Healdsburg Mayor, 2018


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