Crunching reams of campaign finance reports, an online political data service has confirmed one of the bedrock truths of Sonoma County politics, ranking Sebastopol — friend of solar power, internationalism and the environment; foe of nuclear power, Wi-Fi and SmartMeters — the most liberal city in the county.
Tucked into the hills west of the Laguna de Santa Rosa and suspended — some would say — in a 1960s time-warp, the city of 7,500 has a lock on left-leaning sentiment that landed it among the top 100 most liberal cities in the nation, according to Crowdpac, the data service that calculated ideological rankings for 4,994 U.S. cities and towns with a population greater than 6,000.
Sebastopol was ranked the 56th most liberal community, behind Berkeley (ranked 7th) and Arcata (47), but in front of Santa Cruz (91) and way ahead of Santa Rosa, which came in at 348.
Sebastopol Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney, an attorney who’s lived in town since 1978, said she wasn’t surprised at the conclusion reached by Crowdpac.
“I would hope it would be mine,” she said, describing Sebastopol as a “gray-hair, North Berkeley sort of community.”
The city has drawn notice — or notoriety in some circles — for its fight against PG&E over SmartMeters, its rejection of a free downtown Wi-Fi network and the declaration it made to be both a voluntary toxics-free and nuclear-free zone.
Its voters also elected a Green Party majority city council in 2000 and put a medical marijuana dispensary operator on the council in 2012. An array of solar panels stands near the town’s southern gateway and signs proclaim a sister city relationship with Yamauchi-Takeo, Japan and Chihrin, Ukraine.
“What I know is we have a loud voice in a small population,” Glade Gurney said.
Cloverdale, the county’s northernmost city, with about 8,700 residents, was the second-most liberal place in the county and 107th nationwide in the Crowdpac rankings.
Incoming Cloverdale Mayor Mary Ann Brigham said she was “a little bit surprised” by her blue-collar town’s score.
But Brigham, who ran a brewpub where she heard local chatter for 13 years, said Cloverdale is “a bit more left-leaning than most people think.”
Lately, she said, she’s amazed by the number of folks, including some who are “pretty hardcore Republican-minded,” expressing support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who identifies as a “democratic socialist.”
Palo Alto-based Crowdpac, founded by two Stanford University professors, said its ideological scores were based on campaign donations to state and federal candidates since 2002. It rated Sanders to the left of Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul farthest right among Republicans.
Petaluma was scored the third-most liberal in the county and 177th nationally, followed by Cotati (208), Healdsburg (257), Sonoma (314), Rohnert Park (332) and Santa Rosa (348). Windsor was not included in the ratings.
Vashon Island, located in Puget Sound west of Seattle, got a nearly perfect liberal score and was No. 1 in the nation. Hereford, the north Texas town known as the “beef capital of the world” and as the “town without a toothache” due to the high level of naturally occurring fluorine in its water, was the nation’s most conservative community, based on the campaign contributions of its residents.
The side-by-side East Bay communities of Berkeley, Albany (9th nationwide) and El Cerrito (10th) made the list of top 10 liberal places, joined by Maywood, Ill. near Chicago, three towns in New York state and one each in New Jersey and Maryland.
San Francisco was the 33rd most liberal city, with Mill Valley at 61, San Rafael at 123 and Novato at 300. Ukiah was 515th on the list, with Napa at 614.
The 10 most conservative places were clustered in the heartland and the south, with half in Texas and the rest in Utah, Colorado, Alabama and Georgia.
Political consultants Terry Price and Herb Williams both said they were not surprised by Sebastopol’s top liberal score or Santa Rosa’s place at the bottom in Sonoma County.
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“Hippies still live in west county,” Williams said, adding, “I don’t say that’s a bad thing.”
Price teased that Sebastopol is “basically a communist state — maybe a little more socialist.”
Santa Rosa’s relatively mild liberal leaning is likely due, both consultants said, to the prominence of its business community.
Price said he considers the city of Sonoma as “definitely more conservative” than Santa Rosa, and Williams found Cloverdale’s ranking surprising because “all of north county is conservative.”
In terms of voter registration, Santa Rosa (52 percent Democratic to 20 percent Republican), Cloverdale (49 percent to 23 percent) and Sonoma (51 percent to 21 percent) are fairly similar. Democrats are more dominant in Sebastopol, making up 62 percent of registered voters versus the 11 percent registered as Republicans.
Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, Cotati and Cloverdale are lumped close together in median household incomes of $57,000 to $60,000, while Petaluma ($80,590) and Sebastopol ($52,326) are the economic outliers.
Gurney, who has served on the Sebastopol council for 11 years, said west county’s geography, climate and style attract liberal folks.
“We are very real people here,” she said, describing the city as “authentic and genuine in a world of corporatization and homogenization of culture.”
For the complete ratings, go to www.crowdpac.com.