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LETTERS to Sonoma County Gazette READERS from Readers

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LETTERS to Sonoma County Gazette READERS from Readers - April 2015

A desire to say thank you to a stranger who helped me.

Alan from Sonoma who has something to do with electric bikes responded to a post I have on Craigslist for an RV I can’t do anything with, he could have taken advantage of my ignorance but informed me of how to solve my problem and I want to say thank you in a large way.

Thank you Alan very much

Marc McCord

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Dear Vesta, 

Just thought I’d let you and your readers know how incredibly easy it was for me to donate my vehicle to Habitat for Humanity. I had anticipated a headache-inducing transaction, but this was absolutely simple! All I needed was the pink slip. 

I went to cardonationwizard.com, followed the prompts, filled in the blanks, and was done. Within a few minutes, someone from the towing company called and I arranged to have the car picked up within the hour. Done! Bye Bye! I was then sent an email with information for my tax donation. 

I wish everything were this easy! And I would not have known about this service, if not for the ad in the Gazette. Thank You! 

Kate Vasey

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Regarding Dr. Trapani’s March article in Family Pet:

I understand that any small business faces challenges, and no one wants to deal with customers who refuse to pay for services already rendered. But there’s another side to this story. I can feel the frustration that some of Dr. Trapani’s clients may be feeling, and it comes from the arcane, mysterious way that medical care for both humans and animals is priced in our country today. 

Dr. Trapani compares his own business to both Nordstrom and Safeway. The fact is, few of us can afford to shop at Nordstrom, and likewise few of us can afford to pay for Nordstrom-style health care for our pets, no matter how much we love them. But both Nordstrom and Safeway do something that veterinarians and doctors generally don’t do, and here lies the frustration: these stores clearly price all their merchandise, so one can decide up front exactly what one can or can’t afford. 

Of course it’s hard to predict exactly what a medical treatment is going to cost up-front; each case is unique. But I think health care providers and insurers are hiding behind this argument in order to avoid transparency they may fear could cut into their profits. I have heard many reasonable proposals for dealing with this. One idea I think should be made law -- doctors and veterinarians should make statistical data freely available on the costs of various procedures: “Procedure X during the past year at this practice cost on average A, with a minimum of B and a maximum of C. In D% of cases, supplemental procedure E was also required, which on average cost F. etc.” With electronic record keeping the norm these days, generating this kind of information should be very easy to do in a way that protects individual clients’ privacy.

Richard Engel
Santa Rosa

RESPONSE from Michael Trapani....

Mr. Engel’s comments are well considered, but I must point out that we have a cost control option available to every veterinary client: The Estimate. A detailed estimate of anticipated cost can be developed for any veterinary procedure upon request, and ballpark estimates are given to nearly every client prior to initiating care of their patient. Veterinarians can easily provide up front information about costs to help clients make financial decisions. A typical veterinary office answers several calls from people “phone shopping” every day. There is no lack of information about what the cost of veterinary care will be. But the availability of these estimates and price quotations does little to decrease complaints about fees because people don’t complain about being surprised, they complain about the total.

My article was about hospital etiquette, that is, a discussion of what constitutes good or bad behavior 

during a visit to the veterinary hospital. I also try to offer my readers a glimpse into the life of a small veterinary practitioner and the reality of the business of veterinary medicine.  In my personal experience I know of no other business where otherwise satisfied customers will complain so vehemently about paying for the goods and  services they have requested and received. 

I think this results from a failure to anticipate normal maintenance costs  attendant to pet ownership. When we purchase a car, we understand that there will be costs associated with its upkeep that far exceed the price of fuel. Somehow, it’s easy to forget that pet ownership includes costs that go beyond feeding - until a problem arises. People get frustrated by unanticipated expenses, and that’s understandable. But it’s not OK to take that frustration out on the veterinary hospital staff.

The conclusion of my article was clear: Be up front with your veterinarian about your economic limitations and we will do what we can to help you within the limitations you set. 

Michael Trapani
Bodega Bay Veterinary Hospital
Family Pet columnist


Sonoma Clean Power

Vesta,

It still seems a bit misleading. I think consumers see the ’non-profit’ as they’re buying electricity that’s generated from a non-profit corporation and not from Calpine or Constellation/Exelon. As far as the ‘clean energy’ from Constellation, there is no way to get any energy from just one source on the grid. Since Constellation/Exelon power is mainly nuke and natural gas generated, plus coal I think. it again is misleading as to their small amount of clean generation - solar, wind, hydro generated according to their own graphs.

Comparing their generation sources, PG&E comes out cleaner with only one nuke plant, a lot of hydro, the Geysers, natural gas and their solar sources. Anyway, weird that they started this thing up and then gave themselves executive pay - Geof in particular! Plus the splinter lawyers who started their own company to do spin offs in other counties - without producing a kilowatt of real clean energy….

My take on it.

Thanks., Greg


Dairyman’s Winery and Event Center west of Santa Rosa

 This outrageous project;

  a) will, since all its visitors will be there to drink alcohol, significantly increase the number of drunk drivers on Hwy. 12;

b) will have an intolerable impact on the current, already-burdened, traffic load on the Hwy. as well as in Sebastopol;

c) will spoil the safety, the peaceful ambience of the very rare Joe Rodota Trail, for pedestrians and bicyclists;

d) will completely violate the intent of the “Urban Growth Boundary” policy seeking to discourage sprawl;

e) will require obscene quantities of water, as we enter our new global-warming, drought-focused California lifestyle.

Our county is saturated with the frivolous, socially-unredeeming, endeavors related to wine, wine tasting, and wineries such as this one. They are mostly overly ambitious, greed-based, “boozy” enterprises, with too many of them now winding up in bankruptcy court. This one will be a particular disaster to our area;  please, please vote against it!

Robert Beauchamp, Sebastopol

Please do the right thing and vote against this project!   There are ample reasons: 

Protecting the Laguna and the Joe Rodota Trail, as well as the rural greenbelt and the way of life for those of us in West County, especially Sebastopol.  The traffic alone would create such a nightmare on Highway 12 just a very short distance from the Laguna parking area. And then, there are the animals who live in this natural setting and don’t forget the birds! Oh, yes, and the WATER problem. It will not go away, no matter which way you vote. But it will devastate people whose wells will drain due to the huge usage of the Dairyman Wine facility.

It’s just the wrong project in the wrong place altogether!

But then, of course, you all know how wrong this would be, and you know how the citizens of West County / Sebastopol feel about this. So, forgive me for pointing out the obvious above; one must simply do so as a matter of self-preservation.

Thank you for doing the right thing and everything you can personally do to prevent this wine factory from doing so much damage and harm to us and our beautiful rural area.

Laura B. Morrow

Incessant Barking

I didn’t know I had been unusually lucky.  After many rental addresses always surrounded by numerous dog owners with barking that rarely stood out, I was thrilled to be spending my first night as a homeower in Forestville. I called it quits at midnight, exhausted from another day of moving and needed a good night’s sleep with much left to do.

Dog barking woke me up at 2am and kept going.  I managed to fall back asleep in some break but got jolted awake again at 4am and the dogs were still barking at 6am.  I was miserable the whole next day from sleep deprivation as I have now been countless more times.

I immediately tried approaching the owner nicely and was told “dogs bark, get over it”.  I then tried complying with the only legal recourse which mandates that my Section 5-126 rights will only be enforced if I first visited all my stranger, maybe unfriendly, recluse, absent, also loud, disinterested, senile or possibly drug addict new neighbors to beg them them to sign legal documents with me.  I tried. I heard things like ‘they have hated the barking for years’ but weren’t interested in signing anything, ie: go away so they could go back to hating the barking. 

I have now had no reliable expectation of a good night’s sleep or peace 24/hrs a day for 2.5 years in what is supposed to be my sanctuary.  I was surprised to find out I am a dog hater for having a issue with 3 hours of barking with no end in sight at 1am like this week again.  This neighbor’s exact recent words are not rare among people who feel entitled to ignore their lonely, begging dog’s relentless barking at any time of day:

“...Too many yuppies moving to the country and then complaining about every little sound.... they better not call me if my dog barks at night. I’d rather get rid of whiny people who can’t get along with others. Dog haters should live in gated communities and leave the normal population alone...”.

Animal Control has long been overwhelmed with 2-3 legitimate barking complaints like mine and worse per day and acknowledges that the current legal solution is a failed cumbersome law without any definition or teeth for any effective enforcement.  On April 7, 2014 they first presented a proposed revision of this law for Unincorporated Sonoma County changing the number of people required to sign the complaint for further action from 2 to 1. The proposed changes stopped there and I realized a new definition of uisance barking and uncumbersome enforcement plan was also needed.

I submitted a definition as simply, but verified ‘Chronic, Unattended, Repetitive Barking” and that a offer of mediation and warning/ticketing system be enacted as the only real fair, efficient and effective solution.  It was appreciated and passed around to all concerned, including Supervisors.  I am continuing to research local opinion, other CA ticketing systems during this planning process and invite all dog owners and non-dog owners to offer their opinion in this Nuisance Barking Survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FWJQ8P3

In the name of peace and the greater well being of both mistreated neighbors and animals,

Alexia Sokolov
Forestville, CA  

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NOTE: I apologize for leaving these letters out of the March editon. Missed the entire folder! Here they are - and an OpEd following that was written after the March 19th meeting with the district board and LAFCO. ~ Vesta

DETACH from PALM DRIVE HEALTHCARE DISTRICT

A growing group of Russian River corridor constituents has taken the first step in detaching from the Palm Drive Health Care District. The District board has been informed of our intention to detach and are scheduling a special board meeting in Monte Rio to publicly discuss this option along with their attorney, a LAFCO representative and a bond expert. 

Detachment does not require any approval or permission from the District. LAFCO recommends discussion with the local agency first. Like any government process, this will take time and many steps to complete. 

Why would the Russian River corridor detach?

First of all, many believe the River corridor was included in the District as a rich income source supporting a hospital facility for the Sebastopol community.  The District boundaries are defined by nine elementary school districts with Forestville, Guerneville and Monte Rio school districts making up 42% of the parcels and 42% of the District taxes.

There have never been any Palm Drive District services offered directly to the River corridor community.  Although there is some interest in pursuing programs in our area it is too little, too late.

The River community includes many nonresident second homes and vacant parcels who’s owners have no say or vote about the tax burden.  This is truly taxation without representation. To further aggravate the inequity, the River corridor makes up 27% of the district registered voters, many who are not parcel owners.  And, with all but one District board member from Sebastopol, we have a snowball’s chance in hell of convincing anyone that we matter.

Are the Palm Drive Health Care District current plans financially sustainable?  The District is in the midst of it’s second bankruptcy.  After a year, there is still no exiting plan.  With the most recent plans depending on all the parcel tax monies and heavy philanthropy, sustainability is seriously questionable. There is no point in putting more money in a financial, astronomical black hole that offers no service to our area.

Sustainability is further in question with very large numbers of District constituents with Kaiser, Sutter and St. Joseph membership unable to access Sebastopol services.  With 80% of the predicted consumers on Medicare, low reimbursement for services is eminent.  MediCal numbers are not insignificant. You get the picture!

What we do have is the detachment process.  The decisions will be made by the registered voters of the Forestville, Guerneville, and Monte Rio school districts.  No other part of the District may vote on this issue.  It is up to us.  It may be our only option to have a say in this morass.

It’s like I said before, hang on to your wallet, it’s going to be a rough ride!

Jeanette Dillman
RussianRiverDetachment@sonic.net

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Having a hospital in Sebastopol truly raises the stature of the community. And for the wealthy enclaves of Bodega Bay and Occidental an emergency room in Sebastopol could be a real life saver.

But Palm Drive supporter, know this, we on The River are sick and tired of pay for your hospital. Many of us are physically closer to Santa Rosa and Healdsburg than we are to Sebastopol; in terms of travel time we are much closer to Santa Rosa. And few of us can afford any insurance plan that covers Palm Drive.

If we do show up and patronize this facility do we get any special discount for providing this facility with a steady cash flow? Maybe anyone who pays  the parcel tax could qualify for the Medicare reimbursement rates?

It feels like we were gerrymandered into this district to capture a large number of parcels to tax with fewer voters. We on the lower Russian River are being asked to subsidize this facility that doesn’t serve us. This is happening in a context of another problem we are having with Sebastopol. We are seeing a huge influx of homeless people who are being rousted from the Sebastopol  encampments by the Sebastopol PD. The Homeless people are being told that, unfortunately, Sebastopol doesn’t have  services for them but we do at The River.

Sebastopol  is now the home of West County Community Services, a major player in Sebastopol’s booming nonprofit sector and one of the major providers of services to the homeless. We have some emergency “beds” at the Vet’s Hall and every week or so a truck pulls up to a parking lot and they toss food onto pallets and speeds off in a few hours.

Unfortunately, many of the homeless are not using the shelter and they are setting up encampments on the river bank. Sebastopol is benefiting from having West County Community Services there. They are renting a large space and have paid employees who surely contribute to the local economy.

Don’t even think about asking us for more help with your hospital while you continue to ship us your homeless population. You have a Vet’s hall for an emergency shelter; you have public parking lots for food distribution. In fact, many would argue that Palm Drive would make a wonderful homeless shelter. 

It could have a clinic too!
Mike – Ernie Loconsolo

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 Hi Vesta … here’s my dollar’s worth:

Re:     Detachment from Palm Drive

I truly understand why some (not all) Sebastopol residents want to re-open “their” hospital.  I don’t understand why those same Sebastopol residents refer to a growing population of residents along the River Road Corridor (Monte Rio, Guerneville and Forestville School District areas) who support detachment as being greedy and self-centered.  Gail Thomas, of Palm Drive Health Care Foundation, said it best at the last Board meeting … “I want an emergency room 5 minutes from my front door.”  Who wouldn’t?  The reality is, that is not going to happen for the 27% of the voters who generate 42% of the tax revenue for this twice failed district. 

Palm Drive Health Care District (PDHCD) is a special district.  As a special district, PDHCD is tasked with providing services throughout the district – not just Sebastopol.  They have not served the Russian River communities although they have happily collected special assessments from our communities for 15 years ($20M- $25M).  Not a bad deal - for them. 

PDHCD boundaries were drawn to maximize tax revenues.  Our area was included in the district for the high volume of taxable parcels (summer cabins and taxable lots) vs. low voter representation (absent property owners do not have a vote).  If anyone wonders why Cazadero and more northern communities (who must travel through the PDHCD to go to a hospital or medical facility) are not a part of the district, it is because they would have swayed the vote against forming the district.  (Gerrymandering - to manipulate or adapt to one’s advantage). 

Health Care Options.  We now have two state-of-the-art hospital facilities which are actually easier to access.  Sutter is approximately 16 miles and Kaiser is 18.4 miles from the Russian River Fire Department in Guerneville.  Palm Drive is a slow 18.3 miles (via River Road, the preferred route of our ambulance service).  Sonoma County has a substantially large population who now belong to Kaiser and a growing population who are covered by Sutter.  Those remaining few who do have insurance that will cover services at Palm Drive (Sonoma West Medical Center) will still have the ability to go to the hospital of their choosing. 

I’ve grown weary of the scare tactics, listening to bashing by Foundation members of other area hospitals and demeaning comments toward River communities at District Board meetings, not to mention the Board’s failure and refusal to provide requested information regarding financials and asset appraisals, despite repeated requests.  After two bankruptcies, a revolving door of Executive Directors (at least 10) and continued fiscal irresponsibility, I can’t believe that a new name, a fresh coat of paint and a “no wait” ER will somehow magically turn Palm Drive into a going concern or profitable facility.  They expect to open on April 27th - they haven’t even come up with a viable plan to exit bankruptcy?  Talk about the cart way ahead of the horse! 

Barbara DeCarly, Guerneville, CA

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Instead of publishing Rob’s BEFORE the meeting letter-  here is Rob’s AFTER the March 19th meeting letter:

Detach!  Detach!  Detach! 

It was a term heard over and over again from many people, who come from several different Russian River communities; people who vary greatly in both age and background.  The term means separate, remove, disconnect.  It is the perfect term for the people of the River Communities (Forestville, Guerneville, Monte Rio and points in between) in their need to be removed from the district of the flawed, mismanaged and historically unsustainable project know as Palm Drive Hospital.  It is also the perfect term for the Palm Drive Hospital Board as well; I say this because they seem to be disconnected from this part of district they supposedly “serve”.  Disconnected in all ways except from our tax dollars that is, which, as many know, is the real reason they have shown no activity in discussing the possibility of detachment amongst many other things they should have done as a reasonable, responsible board.  

It was an over-full house at the Koret Community Center in Monte Rio on March 19th.  Every chair, and then some, was full with people leaning against walls, sitting on the floor and standing just outside the room, crowding the doorway.  These are many people I have seen at past meetings on a variety of topics which include water issues, potential sewer systems and the like.  These people are frequently at odds with each other over those issues; on this night however this 120+ people spoke with one voice.  For every person in the room I would bet there are 20 or more people who feel the exact same way.  This reality is one the board needs to accept.  

  During the course of the passionate, but never frenzied, meeting there were dozens of great questions posed to the board, most of which were not adequately answered, unless they pertained to processes of the board or legal restrictions to various actions it can or can’t take.  One question that comes to mind was from a senior gentleman who had been a part of the Friends of Palm Drive organization, a group of community members who, approximately 20 years ago, banded together to raise funds and save Palm Drive (yet again).  They managed to purchase the hospital for around $2M. The gentleman who had been a part of this movement asked, “what does the hospital appraise for today?”  The board said they didn’t know.  I find this extremely hard to believe since they are in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings?  

This shows, to me, either deception or incompetence or both!  Neither is acceptable to the tax payer.  We do know that PDH is into the tax payers for over $22M for a hospital that has been closed since April 7th of last year (Happy anniversary Palm Drive, what do we get for a hospital that already has our money?)  I find it hard to believe that the hospital is worth more than 10 times what it was worth when the Friends of Palm Drive purchased it?  I don’t believe they are still friends.  

As I had said, there were dozens of good questions, such as: what have you been doing with our tax dollars since you closed?  What does bankruptcy mean for the bonds and their holders?  Daymon Doss, the current executive director, couldn’t really answer any bond questions (the bond attorney was not present, curious?) but he did say that after they received our money they gave the correct portion to the bond holders and then continued with construction projects which had begun before the hospital closed.  I was under the impression that money was supposed to be used to operate a working hospital?  Why not do something for the tax payers with that money, while the hospital is closed?  Like pay off the damn bonds?  

This entire thing stinks and anyone paying attention to it would agree.  It is basically extortion of smaller communities that were dragged into a bogus deal by larger portion of a district they had no choice but to be in it.  This is truly taxation without representation!

This brings us to the current issue, the district.   

Mark Bramfitt, Executive Officer, Local Agency Formation Commission, aka LAFCO (a governing body which adjudicates various districts in the state), did a fantastic job of explaining how his department was created and operates.  The short story was that there are 3 ways to start the detachment process.  

1.  The Board can pass a resolution and it begins.  

2. The people who want out can get 25% of the land owners in the proposed detach area, who own at least 25% of the property in the district to sign a petition.  

3. Get at least 25% of the voters in the proposed district to sign a petition, that and a $10,000 down payment (that means they will want more money before it is through) to get it started.  

This is absurd; all of the involved agencies are already paid by us!?; as was pointed out by another senior citizen.  There are many other rules and stipulations in this process that I won’t go into, but when it is all said and done, another panel (made up of the 5th district supervisor, members of LAFCO and other area supervisors) can veto the effort.  

Furthermore even if detach is achieved we are still, apparently, on the hook for paying off the bonds as well.  This is total BS, and a justified reason there are multiple legal actions going forward against them, or so I’ve heard.

Welcome to the high price of democracy!  Needless to say the PDHCD Board should do the right thing and pass the resolution for detachment.  These River communities deserve to be out of a system they never should have been in in the first place.  The Board and our supervisor should find a way to get us out of the repayment of these bonds that have done nothing for us but lighten our check book.  Realistically they should be reimbursing us for the money we’ve given so far, but we don’t want that, we just want out. The people of Sebastopol, or whomever it is that actually wants this hospital, should pay for it.  

Seems fair, right?
Robert K. Andersen lll
Monte Rio

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The New Hospital

By Jim Maresca

Why can it work this time when it hasn’t worked before? An absolutely legitimate question.

The simple answer is that we will not be trying to do the same thing- Sonoma West Medical Center will be different.   But it’s more complicated than that.

The old model of a community hospital is no longer sustainable in the new, post-Affordable Care Act health care financing world.  In that world a small community hospital performed almost all of the same basic services as larger hospitals – it just did less of them.  

As reimbursement rates have declined as part of the national effort to reduce overall health care costs, it became more and more difficult for many services to reach the necessary economies of scale.

The one service that we heard about most during the closure process was the emergency department.  It is well known in medicine that, for certain emergency conditions such as stroke or heart attack, time to treatment is critical.  For an emergency department to be able to handle the range of emergencies necessary to reach economies of scale it must be accompanied by an intensive care unit (ICU).  This has led us to develop a plan that would have an emergency department/ICU at its core and have other services that would generate sufficient positive cash flow to make the entire enterprise sustainable.  The emergency department will be run by the same team that has successfully implemented the “no wait” emergency room concept at St, Helena and Healdsburg hospitals.

Since a small hospital cannot do a wide range of services sustainably, the key is to choose a few things and do them very well.  

The population in western Sonoma County is older than the population at large.  In Palm Drive hospital significantly more than half the patients were on medicare,  with many of them being what are called medi-medi, both medicare and medi-cal.  So it made sense to look for specialties that served an older population.  Among the services selected are treatments for joint replacement, brain function disorders, female incontinence, and rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.  By focusing on a few things and doing them very well we believe we can not only provide superior service to local residents but can also draw additional patients from the surrounding areas.  The doctors who perform these services at Sonoma West Medical Center are entering into revenue sharing agreements with the center in return for administrative and marketing services.  Our financial models show that the revenues from the combined emergency department and specialty “Institutes” will be sufficient to bring the entire operation into positive cash flow within two years

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LETTERS are welcome from any perspective on Sonoma County topics. BUT - beccause page space is limted - if your letter is on a subject outside Sonoma County - I will gladly publish it on our website at www.SonomaCountyGazette.com  Please send you LETTERS to vesta@sonic.net


Comments:

Vesta,

As Chairman of the Sonoma Clean Power Authority Board of Directors, I'd be pleased to clear up a few misconceptions that have arisen in the Letters section recently.

First, SCP does provide more renewable energy than PG&E, a fact agreed to by both of those parties and shown clearly in 2014's Residential Rate Comparison, done in partnership with PG&E. No smoke, mirrors, or pieces of paper, just a greener mix of renewables like wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass that equals 33% of what we deliver, large hydropower (also carbon free) at 37%, and general systems power (primarily natural gas) at 30%. And unlike PG&E, no nuclear.

Second, our pricing is less expensive than PG&E, and by a significant amount. When we started, SCP was 4-6% below PG&E. We are now providing cleaner power at rates 6-9% cheaper, and 11% lower for low-income customers. In SCP's first twelve months, we saved rate payers in Sonoma County about $6 million, while providing one of the largest green house gas reduction efforts in our region as well. 

Third, that investment in cleaner power does make a difference. When we contract for geothermal power, for example, a geothermal unit is turned on and operates on our behalf, with significantly lower emissions.  If, instead, we contracted for power from a fossil fuel plant in the Central Valley, then that plant would increase its output – and unfortunately its emissions as well – to account for our needs. 

So how do we provide both lower rates and pay for cleaner power? Simple, we do it by removing the profit margin from the equation. Instead of needing to make a profit on the resale of electricity to provide stockholder benefits, like PG&E, we use that income to keep rates competitive and to invest in cleaner power. That's a "win" for everyone.

As far as "giving ourselves executive pay", no one on our Board of Directors, Business Operations Committee, or Ratepayers Advisory Committee makes a dime. Not one. Our employees, less than a dozen, receive market rate salaries with relatively low benefits, another comparison where SCP comes out well. There is no "bureaucracy" at SCP, just a handful of people motivated to bring an exciting opportunity to our county.

The bottom line is after years of careful planning, our inaugural year has proved this model works. We've done exactly as we promised; provided cleaner power at competitive rates. We look forward to continuing to do our best to provide benefits for both the environment as well as your pocketbooks in the years to come.

Mark Landman
Chairman,
Sonoma Clean Power Authority