Rodoni launches 2020 campaign

David Briggs
Supervisor Dennis Rodoni drew 150 supporters to his first fundraiser in Point Reyes Station last weekend.  

Dennis Rodoni is rounding out his first term as Marin County’s fourth district supervisor, and his sights are set on 2020. Though he has yet to hear of challengers, he told the Light that he’s ready “to run a full-hearted campaign.” With support from several speakers, including State Assemblyman Marc Levine, the supervisor announced his intention to run at a kickoff fundraiser dinner held last Saturday night at the Dance Palace.  

“We’ve taken a very local approach: there are a lot of the same issues, but they express themselves differently in each village,” said Rhonda Kutter, a Point Reyes Station resident who serves as one of his two aides. “Dennis is a great listener, and he is super patient. I have learned a lot by watching him in that way.”

Supervisor Rodoni is a Point Reyes Station native and a contractor by trade with a lengthy resume of public service. He defeated Novato dairyman Dominic Grossi in 2016 with 52.9 percent of the vote. Many of the same issues debated in 2016 remain hot topics today: affordable housing, the park service ranch settlement and tourism, to name a few. 

Over the past two years, he has championed the work of local housing groups, expressed his commitment to the continuation of ranching in the seashore, helped Bolinas residents draft new regulations of downtown parking, and taken part in conversations across the district to address traffic, trash and other impacts of heavy tourism. 

The greatest victory of his term so far may be the passage of Measure W, which pulled 74 percent of the vote last November. The measure increased the transient occupancy tax in West Marin from 10 percent to 14 percent, a move expected to generate $1.3 million annually for emergency services and affordable housing. Overnight visitors started paying the higher tax in January; this summer, the Board of Supervisors will approve allocations of the new funds based upon recommendations made by citizen and county working groups.

“That was the big moment: convincing the community that the measure was the way to go,” Supervisor Rodoni recounted. “Some of my political advisors told me not to take the risk. But I didn’t care if I lost: it was the right thing to do. Generating $1.3 million for West Marin forever? That’s a big deal for West Marin.”

The West Marin Chamber of Commerce, and particularly its hotelier and B&B owner members, fought a bitter campaign against the measure, arguing that their supervisor was unfairly singling out their industry. Some proposed a sales tax as an alternative.

In part as a result of his work on Measure W, Supervisor Rodoni learned just how complex the county’s budget is. Residents often ask exactly how much of their tax dollars are returned to West Marin, and in many cases, there isn’t a simple answer; however, he said, by his most recent calculations, just about 20 percent of the taxes residents pay in coastal Marin goes to cover countywide use: “We do pretty well. I want people to know that,” he said. 

The biggest defeat he has weathered so far was a failed attempt to purchase the San Geronimo Golf Course—originally his idea—to convert it to parkland. That was “the most difficult, and disappointing” initiative, he said. The fate of the property remains unknown: residents, the county and the Trust for Public Land reached a settlement last month which stipulates that those parties take part in a dialogue. 

Following his win in 2016, Supervisor Rodoni described his platform to this newspaper as one of promoting open and transparent government. True to his promise of making himself and other county officials more available to residents, he has held extensive office hours in each community of his sprawling district, which includes West Marin, the Canal, Corte Madera, Homestead Valley and parts of Novato. 

The housing crisis and homelessness remain at the top of the priority list for many residents, the supervisor said.  

He highlighted that the county’s purchase of the Coast Guard property in Point Reyes Station, which he said is expected before the end of the year, could bring 36 new units of affordable housing to the area. 

As far as homelessness, he is part of a conversation between Health and Human Services, the Point Reyes Station Village Association and West Marin Standing Together to explore how to tailor more services to West Marin. “Because southern and western Marin have been put on the backburner, neglected, and that needs to be addressed,” he said. 

There are a number of other initiatives coming down the pipeline that excite him—among them, an ordinance that would ban single-use plastics; the 2020 census, which has historically seen gaps in West Marin; and the release of the draft environmental impact statement on the amendment to the Point Reyes National Seashore’s general management plan. 

On the latter, he commented, “We think it is really important to work with the community throughout that process. We are hoping to achieve longer, 20-year leases for ranchers.”

Back in 2016, Mr. Grossi, a fourth-generation rancher, nabbed high-profile endorsements from then-District Four Supervisor Steve Kinsey and his predecessor Gary Giacomini—as well as from this newspaper and the Marin Independent Journal. Yet he lost by a narrow margin, perhaps because some were turned off by his previous affiliation with the Republican party; Supervisor Rodoni is a lifelong Democrat. 

“Dominic had absolute and complete support from all of agriculture; there were just a couple ranchers I even know who decided to support Dennis,” said Kevin Lunny, a beef rancher in the seashore. “There was reticence when he first came on board, concern, but bit-by-bit he has been earning the support from agriculture.” 

The bid for reelection is not the only iron Supervisor Rodoni has in the fire. This week, the Board of Supervisors nominated him, his fellow Supervisor Katie Rice and a San Francisco Supervisor, Aaron Peskin, for a seat on the 12-member California Coastal Commission. Mr. Peskin currently represents Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco.

The commission has been criticized in recent years by Marin County officials for pressing regulations that hinder agriculture on the coast in the process of updating the Local Coastal Program, though Supervisor Rodoni said he has seen trust increasing between the two agencies.

He said he considers himself a back-up candidate for the commission seat, and that his role as supervisor is the number-one priority in his life. He says he doesn’t stop work each day until he has responded to every call and email. Since January 2017, he’s put 40,000 miles on his Chevrolet Volt. 

“District Four is certainly very challenging, because geographically it is so spread out, but I am really enjoying this,” he said. “And at the end of the day, I come home to this beautiful place. It’s my saving grace.”