Meet Chris Coursey
Chris Coursey, the former mayor of Santa Rosa, had a 30-year career in journalism covering county government and telling the stories of our community before he turned to public service in 2007. He helped pass the SMART measure and later ran for Santa Rosa City Council. Collaborating with colleagues, finding consensus, and tackling the most difficult challenges are what drive Chris’s run for Sonoma County Supervisor.
SON OF AN AIR FORCE OFFICER, REPORTING FOR DUTY TO HIS COMMUNITYChris attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where he studied journalism and sociology. He worked construction jobs in the summers and in the production department of the university’s newspaper to help pay his tuition. From 1975-1977, he spent his summers working at a YMCA camp in the North Woods of Wisconsin, creating a passion for the outdoors that still pulls him today.
His first full-time newspaper job was with the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, where he started as a cub reporter on the “night cops” beat chasing down robberies and murders, car wrecks, tornadoes and floods. He worked his way up the ladder and was an assistant city editor when he was offered jobs by two California newspapers in 1980. He took the offer from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, where a good union contract gave him the ability to cover the higher costs of rent and other expenses that greeted him on the West Coast.At the Press Democrat, Chris started in the Petaluma Bureau and over the years covered the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, wrote political stories and human interest stories, profiled dozens of members of the community, covered World Series and Super Bowls and wrote hundreds of obituaries. He worked as an editor for a brief period and was head of the Newspaper Guild union for about 10 years. In 1999, he became the newspaper’s second full-time news columnist after Gaye LeBaron.
Column-writing brought Chris out of the neutral reporter role and into a higher-profile position in the community. He shared his thoughts and opinions freely with readers, and often helped them see issues from a different perspective. He became a strong voice for equity, the environment, smart growth and better transit options.
BACKING SMART FOR OUR TRANSIT AND ENVIRONMENT
After 27 years at the PD, Chris took a more direct role in our community when he became spokesman and community outreach manager for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) District. It was shortly after the initial defeat of a ballot measure to fund the North Bay commuter train when he became the agency’s fifth employee.
His efforts to educate the public about the complex project were instrumental in winning nearly 70-percent support from the voters the next time it was on the ballot in 2008. By the time he left in 2011, the $500 million project was well on its way. Moving toward semi-retirement, he started his own part-time business in freelance writing, editing and public relations consulting.
COMMITTED TO OUR COMMUNITY
In 2013, Chris heard the call to service again and he threw his hat in the ring for Santa Rosa City Council, finishing as the top vote-getter in a field of nine candidates in the 2014 election. He was immediately named vice-mayor by his council colleagues, and at the end of 2016 they made him mayor of the city of 175,000.
As mayor he was tested by one of the most devastating wildfires in California history. The Tubbs Fire in October 2017 killed 22 people and burned 5,300 homes in Sonoma County, with nine of the victims and 3,000 of the homes lost within Santa Rosa’s city limits. Coursey spent the bulk of his two-year term leading the recovery, working closely with his elected colleagues at the county, state and federal levels and providing a caring, empathetic presence for fire victims and the many other residents traumatized by the disaster.
Coursey emphasized collaboration during his time in office, and focused on results ahead of politics. Along with two other new council members and a new city manager in 2014, he was part of a transformation of a dysfunctional council to a group that worked toward common goals and turned a drifting city government into an organization that got things done. A few examples:
The annexation of Roseland, a complicated financial deal that had eluded city and county leaders for more than 20 years.
The reunification of Courthouse Square, a key economic development project that awaited council action for at least two decades.
A housing action plan that prioritized “smart growth” in the urban core, close to jobs and transit, and incentivized density, affordability and climate-friendly building methods and materials.
An immediate and decisive response to the fires, with a special building permit center exclusively for fire victims established at the very first council meeting after the disaster.
Post-fire collaborative efforts with state and federal partners that ultimately will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in relief funding to Sonoma County, and with county supervisors to create new city-county partnerships to address homelessness and create housing opportunities throughout our communities.
A SONOMA COUNTY FAMILY
Chris is a proud father of four adult children, three of whom live in Sonoma County. His stepdaughter, Diana Brant, is a high school Spanish teacher currently on leave taking care of Chris’s two grandsons, Davey and Thomas, in Windsor, with her husband Jeff Brant. His daughter, Colleen, is a mental health professional working for the County of Sonoma, in Santa Rosa. His son, Alex, is married to Cassie Rodriguez and is a high school English teacher in Rohnert Park. His stepson, Andrew Gilbert, is an IT specialist in Portland, Ore.
Chris’s wife, Theresa, died of cancer in 2010. His partner, Gail Rappl, is a registered nurse at Kaiser Oakland and an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.