By Albert Gregory
Eddie Alvarez has claimed victory in Santa Rosa’s city council election Nov. 4, winning the seat to become the first representative of District 1 and only the second Latino council member ever, according to the Sonoma County Voters Registrar office.
With all 13 precincts reporting, Alvarez, who leads by a 15% margin, will be the first elected official to represent District 1, which includes the neighborhoods of South Park and Roseland, after Santa Rosa moved to a district-based city council starting in 2018.
Alvarez was born and raised in Roseland, which the city annexed in 2017, is the owner of The Hook cannabis dispensary and manages the Joyeria Maria jewelry store.
He chose to get involved in politics when he felt law enforcement was harassing his community with DUI checkpoints every Friday evening on Sebastopol Road in 2007-08.
“The only people coming home on Friday at five in the afternoon are the working class,” Alvarez said. “I was like, ‘You know what, something has to be done to protect my friends, my family and my customers…’ and it’s my duty to make sure that they are taken care of.”
The District 1 resident will bring that local perspective to city council, according to Thomas Bonfigli, a community advocate and 43-year resident of Southwest Santa Rosa who is not the legendary former Cardinal Newman High School basketball coach he shares his name with.
“He literally grew up on the streets of Southwest Santa Rosa and that is to be viewed as a plus because he’s a self-made guy. He has worked very, very hard. One of the things I recognized about him early on was that he had the spirit of Southwest Santa Rosa in his veins and that was one of the things that impressed me most. He’s going to do very well, bringing all that life experience, and that business savvy and acumen to the table,” Bonfigli said.
Alvarez would be the second Latino member to ever sit on Santa Rosa’s city council after former mayor Ernesto Olivares, who chose not to run for re-election, which makes Alvarez the sole Latino on the council.
Alvarez received 45% of the votes and his closest rival, electrical engineer Jorge Inocencio, 27, received 30%, followed by community organizer Duane De Witt who received 12% and Elizabeth Valente, who dropped out months ago, also earned 12%.
“Part of my reason for running was wanting representation. I also wanted the younger generation to have a seat at the table. That didn’t happen this time, but at least we got the Latino part,” Inocencio said.
Having a local representative will give a direct voice to the community, according to Roseland residents like Mariana Martinez.
“It just feels that there’s that communication that’s going to occur, that the community actually are able to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on,’ and will actually be able to push the rest of the city council to actually do something about the entire neighborhood,” Martinez said.
One immediate impact from Alvarez could be improving parks, according to Bonfigli and De Witt.
“He built a coalition with an environmental group, as well as the labor groups. So, I think that he could perhaps help us to get more open-space parks and playgrounds over here,” De Witt said.
Since election night Alvarez has already met with South Park officials to renovate the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial park on Hendley Street and add more services and sports fields.
The Sonoma County Democratic Party, the Sonoma County Latino Democratic PAC, the Coalition for a Better Sonoma County PAC, the Sonoma County Conservation Action environmental non-profit organization, The North Bay Labor Council, along with Santa Rosa labor unions International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 665 and Service Employees International Union local 1021 endorsed Alvarez.
The Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club and PAC has been advocating for district elections for many years but Santa Rosa was resistant, until one of their club members spoke to an attorney at Shenkman & Hughes in Southern California, who was working on district elections throughout the state, and he sent a letter to the city threatening a lawsuit if they didn’t move to district elections, according to Michaele Morales, vice president of the Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club.
Kevin Shenkman’s lawsuit said California cities like Santa Rosa are violating the California Voting Rights Act, which states if minorities are underrepresented the cities should move to district-based elections.