For our readers who don’t know you, can you provide a bit of background about yourself and what led you to serve on the Planning Commission?
I am a professional air pollution consultant, and my work incorporates both science/technical aspects and legal/regulatory aspects. I've developed an appreciation for both the need for specific rules and the burdens associated with the overwhelming number, complexity, and ambiguities of them, and a lot of my work has been associated with dealing with the latter, largely for industrial facilities (e.g., refineries, manufacturing facilities, electric power generating stations, etc.). My work is also constantly subject to critical review by highly qualified people, and I appreciate the validating aspect of that. I live and work in Petaluma, am married and have a 10-year-old son. I grew up in Oregon to a couple of great supportive parents who always set good examples; and through a combination of both hard effort and good fortune had the opportunity to get a great education (B.S. in Chemistry from Harvey Mudd College, M.S. in Chemistry from UCLA, M.S. in Technology and Policy from MIT). In my free time I enjoy swimming, playing the piano, and playing obscure strategy board games.
I think that like most (if not all) Commissioners, what led me to serve on the Planning Commission in the first place is that my Supervisor (David Rabbitt) asked me to. I didn't really know much about what the position entailed at the time and I talked to a few Commissioners about the position to make sure that I could make that commitment.
Is the Planning Commission your first position of service to the community?
No. As a kid I was an Eagle Scout, and we did a variety of community projects; that may have set the stage for me volunteering for things later in life. As an adult, I have been a volunteer tutor, and a Big Brother; I was also a high school teacher for a short period of time (it was a paid position rather than a volunteer one, but I'll still count that as a "position of service to the community"). I served as the educational outreach chair of the Air & Waste Management Association's New England Section for many years, have served as a peer reviewer for scientific journals, was president of Petaluma's Toastmasters club, and am also a member of the Government Affairs Committee of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce (and was previously a Board member). I've given math and science presentations at my son's schools, am co-chair of the education committee for the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma, and deliver Meals on Wheels with my family. I've probably missed a few things from that history...but I can see that as I look back at the things that I've mentioned here, they reflect my overall bent towards education and communication. (I know some people who have a somewhat pessimistic outlook on human nature, and typically they have done little to no volunteer work. My advice to them has been to go do some.)
Can you name a few highlights of your time on the commission?
That's tough to say; almost everything we decide is probably going to affect someone positively and someone negatively. I appreciate hearing from all the various perspectives. I should say more specifically that I particularly appreciate the fact that although we are dealing with contentious issues, the overwhelming majority of people who participate at the County's hearings (including Permit Sonoma staff) communicate sincerely, make valid points, and communicate in a mature manner. (It surprised me a little, since I've been to public hearings in numerous other jurisdictions where exaggerations, misleading statements, hysteria, invective, and posturing/grandstanding can take over; and while that can sometimes seem effective from one party's short-term view, it is often unfortunate and counterproductive on multiple other levels.) So maybe one of the highlights for me was after one of the more heated public comment periods, Commissioner Carr saying something like "I think that first of all everybody needs to CALM DOWN" and seeing the people on both sides seem to actually do that.
20 years from now, how do you envision Sonoma County?
In college, one of my professors once told me that "predicting the future based on the past is a bit like trying to stay on the road while looking only in your rearview mirror. You can do it successfully, as long as the road doesn't change." I expect that there will continue to be strong support for maintaining the urban growth boundaries and beautiful hillsides, so I expect the more densely populated parts to grow upwards rather than outwards. I see it continuing to be a beautiful and desirable place to live, which also means that I am concerned that the county will continue to be unaffordable for too many people. I imagine the average age of people in the county may increase, as younger people move to more affordable areas to buy homes.
What is your favorite spot in Sonoma County?
I haven't been everywhere in the county yet. I drove all over District 2 shortly after I became a Commissioner, and of course I've traveled to parts of the other Districts, but there are still a lot of parts I haven't been to yet. My favorite scenic tour to take visitors on is going out on Bodega Avenue towards the Sonoma Coast, up the coast towards Jenner, and then back in through Guerneville (sometimes visiting Armstrong Woods) and then visiting some of the Dry Creek wineries. Just this year I've taken some relatives (from Germany) and my college roommate's family (from Costa Rica) on that circuit. It's a beautiful county; when my wife and I went on our honeymoon in Tuscany, she remarked on the train how beautiful the landscape was with its rolling hills and vineyards and I had to say "yes…it reminds me of Sonoma County." We are all very fortunate to live here.