Jan 5, 2017
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County
As December closes and the start of the New Year has begun, I can’t help but look at the year that Sonoma County had. Boy, was it a year.
January 2017 started with a bang, or more accurately, a splash.The Russian River flooded, reaching its highest crest in more than a decade at 37.8 feet. For nearly two weeks, West County suffered days-long power outages, followed by mudslides and major damage to businesses, residences and farms.
The floods happened during my first official week in office, giving me the chance to literally get my feet wet. I spent my first weekend helping to evacuate homeless residents from the floodplain of the River, and my first full week coordinating with the County’s Emergency Operations Center through evacuations and emergency procedures.
In June, the Board of Supervisors adopted a $1.59 billion budgetthat included investing more money than ever before into the our road system, which was battered by January’s storms – and had been battered before the storms, too. Our general fund, which is the county’s main source for discretionary spending, was up 5.7 percent from last year’s budget. Within that budget, we allocated $15.7 million for the county’s road operations and pavement program. Already, we’ve seen River Road, Cazadero Highway, Mill Station Road and Occidental Road in West County see improvements, with more on the way in 2018. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy driving the lower stretch of Cazadero Highway much more now than I did this time last year.
In Fall, I was fortunate enough to take the reins from former Supervisor Efren Carrillo and see through the annexation of Roseland into Santa Rosa. The decision, which was finalized by LAFCO in October, marked the largest annexation in Sonoma County history, bringing 7,400 residents into Santa Rosa and giving them better access to services than before.
Unfortunately in Roseland, we continue to face challenges. Efforts to reduce homelessness in downtown Santa Rosa have simply pushed people to the outskirts, including into Roseland and further out to Guerneville. Adhering to the county’s housing first model, the Board of Supervisors is looking to secure affordable housing options for those who are considered the most vulnerable in the county. We need to secure these options everywhere – from the City of Santa Rosa to the lower Russian River. We must remain committed to finding solutions that work for our budget and our neighbors.
In West County we’re already underway on this process, thanks in part to a collaborative effort by the City of Sebastopol andWest County Community Services. The city and the river-area nonprofit teamed up to provide very low income housing and additional services to eight families in the newly minted Village Park, just on the periphery of Sebastopol city limits.
But more work is needed and, quite frankly, it’s going to take a lot of effort. I’m confident it is doable thanks in part to the long budgeting process we went through mid-year. Part of the outcome of the budgeting process included the allocation of $750,000 to address homelessness on the Russian River. More than half of that money was recently awarded to local nonprofits and organizations including RRARA, West County Community Service, SAY, Clean River Alliance and the Russian River Alliance. These organizations were chosen by a task force composed of a peer group of locals and vetted by the county. I’m excited to see what these organizations will do in the following year with the funds allocated. All of the organizations are committed to a housing-first model, and we will be working to get people off the streets and into safe housing.
We continue to work with the Community Development Commission to address homelessness and are actively searching for opportunities to bring more housing into the lower Russian River area where currently the Veterans’ Building in Guerneville is the sole brick and mortar shelter for those who do not have homes.
Unfortunately, this winter has brought a new wave of homelessness and displacement to our county, as the Sonoma County Firestorms that ravaged Santa Rosa, East and North County left more than 5,100 households without a place to live. Permit Sonoma and the Board of Supervisors have been working together to ensure the rebuilding process is as quick and efficient as possible. We have passed urgency ordinances enabling those affected by the fires to find adequate temporary solutions while they begin the process of rebuilding.
This next year will be a year of rebuilding for all of Sonoma County, including the Fifth District. Despite our celebrated budgeting in June, we are facing tight and lean times, due to slashed property taxes as a result of the October fires. Special districts, including fire departments, schools and healthcare districts, across the county, are heading into 2018 and 2019 with drastically smaller budgets than expected. For our schools, that means fewer teachers and programs available for students. For our fire departments, that means less revenue available for replacing aging equipment. It means less money for some of the issues we’ve been looking to change, including roads. We are hoping that the State will step up and backfill lost property taxes, and I remain committed to fighting for increased funding for all of our local fire agencies, even in lean budget times.
At the end of a challenging year, we are still dedicated to being the best Sonoma County we can be. We may be facing lean times, but we are strong and we will continue to improve our communities, even as we recover from the most destructive wildfire in the history of the State of California. In West County, we are getting ready to engage our River and Coastal communities, empowering them to explore local forms of self-governance so that they can better inform the Board of Supervisors as we make decisions that affect them. We also have tourism mitigation funds that can help West County communities address some of the impacts of tourism. I look forward to working with the Fifth District to discuss and decide the best use of those funds.
February 2nd - 7am - DoubleTree Hotel Sonoma Wine Country, One DoubleTree Drive, Rohnert Park
We invite you to join us for a special event highlighting key opportunities, challenges, and initiatives facing Sonoma County in the coming year. The 2018 State of the County will focus on how the County is recovering from the October 2017 wildfires, and plans for the future. This highly anticipated annual breakfast event will highlight key opportunities, challenges, and initiatives facing Sonoma County in the coming year. Jerry Nickelsburg, UCLA Anderson Forecast’s Senior Economist, will be presenting our keynote address. He will provide a special analysis and forecast for the California economy, as well as the prospects for Sonoma County.
Registration will open on Monday, January 8th at noon.
Hosted by Sonoma County Economic Development Board
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