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Our County by Efren Carrillo

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Our County by Efren Carrillo - January 2017

by Efren Carrillo

My last few weeks at the Board of Supervisors were mostly like any other time there...but busier. In addition to wrapping up my year as Chair of the Board and my two terms in office, there were initiatives to address which could not roll over to next year.  Primary among these tasks was ensuring that Andy’s Unity Park would have the support from my fellow board members for full funding, and finishing up the Cannabis Ordinance that Supervisor Gorin and I worked on for the past year along with a very capable and insightful group of County Administrator staff and multiple departments.

The Moorland neighborhood came together after the Lopez shooting with a new sense of urgency about making sure that their voices were heard. Around the same time, the Portrait of Sonoma identified the neighborhood as a priority for infrastructure improvements and health and human services. The Health Department, Regional Parks, and Community Action Partnership began working with neighbors to establish the Moorland Neighborhood Action Team. They started small, with community cleanup days and graffiti removal projects and moved on to prioritizing needs. Street lights were installed on formerly darkened streets, and bus stop locations were moved and improved. Then came the park.

The County was able to acquire the property where Andy Lopez died. Long planned for development by the property owner, the land became home to a memorial altar and playground which had to be respected. Over 20 years ago, the developer of the adjacent subdivision had agreed to build a park for the community. At the last minute, the Board of Supervisors reduced the size of the development and did not require the park to be built. And so, Moorland remained park-less for many years and the lot stood vacant and neglected.

Regional Parks does not typically develop neighborhood parks. If you look at their menu, their parks are beautiful and vast – almost all over 20 acres. Given the nature of the project, and the small size, their team coordinated a community process that included members of the Neighborhood Action Team, Andy Lopez activists, and other community members. The meetings were well attended and robust. Community members made important decisions about the design of the park, elements were added and subtracted based on a projected budget, and went through a lengthy consensus project to agree to the name Andy’s Unity Park.

Once the design was finished, the project went out to bid. As with most projects, funding had been dedicated to the park, but when bids came in they exceeded the projections. Thanks to the community members who sat through a long morning at our meeting to tell us how important the park is to their community…and thanks to my fellow board members for committing to the funding.

A year ago, the timeline for our Cannabis ordinance was 18-24 months…given the expected passage of Prop 64 in November, we accelerated our pace and held many public meetings to prepare for the impacts that legalization will have on our community.

Primary among the goals that we had was ensuring that existing producers of Cannabis would find a regulatory environment which encouraged compliance with the rules. This would both ensure that tax revenues were adequate to cover the public safety costs, and ensure that environmental protections were set in place. Cannabis is being produced in Sonoma County…everyone knows this. But how and where are not always evident. Many producers operate underground, and this impacts our water supply and sometimes results in environmental devastation. We found that the Sonoma Growers Alliance members were intelligent, willing to advocate and comply with regulation, and wanted to work to toward an ordinance which would allow them to come out from the shadows.

We heard from many, many residents who had been adversely impacted by cannabis grows. People whose home life had been upturned by strangers moving in, erecting tall fences, installing security cameras, and sometimes threatening them. It was agreed that cultivation did not belong in residential neighborhoods. People had experienced intimidation, and there have been serious crimes and multiple murders associated with cannabis trafficking. It is a business that is cash based due to Federal rules that inhibit banks from accepting deposits into accounts.

But, when people live on agricultural lands or rural residential lands, where is the line? The hope is that a balance can be struck which will allow existing small producers to survive – only time will tell. The ordinance includes large setbacks, requirements for lighting and energy use which should protect neighbors. And now there will be a clear line for law enforcement as to what is allowed and what is not. 

This is my final column for the Gazette. Next month, incoming Supervisor Lynda Hopkins will be taking over this space as I enter the next phase of my life. I cannot adequately express what a privilege it has been to serve our District. Over the past decade (including the campaign), I have met the most remarkable people and been witness to incredible community efforts to solve problems, protect our environment, serve the needy, and face up to our most difficult challenges. Coming into office during a brutal recession, where massive cuts in personnel and expenses had to be made at the county, it is great to look back on that period while we enjoy more prosperity. 

We can never forget the needy among us – as the gap widens between the very wealthy and the ever-increasing numbers at the poverty level. Much work remains to be done. While I look forward to continued involvement while I raise my young family, I have much to be grateful for. I leave knowing that the District will be in good hands with Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.