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Our County by Efren Carrillo


Our County by Efren Carrillo - January 2016

by Efren Carrillo

As we enter the new year, it’s appropriate to reflect on the very significant impact of community volunteers.  Sonoma County is known statewide as a hotbed of civic volunteerism.  The Volunteer Center of Sonoma County is partly responsible for that, but it seems like every week another citizen steps forward to provide a solution to a societal or environmental problem on their own initiative. 

The Power of One

These past few months, we’ve seen incredible efforts coordinated by Chris Brokate – a River area resident and business person (Brokate Janitorial) – to clean up our river banks before the rain strikes.  Chris’s Clean River Alliance has worked with local volunteers, the Russian Riverkeeper, and other local organizations to coordinate weekly cleanups of garbage and debris left on the banks of the River.  He has also effectively reached out to some who are responsible for the garbage related to encampments, and asked for their participation in the effort. 

Over the past few months, Chris has organized large and small events, and received support from the Water Agency, Public Works, and Probation Department for supplies, disposal fees, and manpower.  Our office has been proud to help support the work of the Clean River Alliance, and looks forward to a long term effort – which is sorely needed.  This effort started with one person, and has swept up an entire community to participate.  To join the effort by volunteering, contact Chris online  at the Clean River Alliance Facebook page.  Thank you, Chris!

Chris Brokate's Clean River Alliance Volunteers at a cleanup

Fire Service System

At the beginning of December, our Board took significant steps on the multi year path toward a more efficient, effective, and sustainable fire service system for Sonoma County.  After 21 months, outreach with 31 fire agencies,  19 meetings with other affected organizations, cities,  and community members, and many meetings with an advisory group from the fire service community, Assistant County Administrator Chris Thomas brought forward an interim fire services report and request for supplemental funding of dispatch fees for the unincorporated fire agencies. The report also requested the establishment of an Advisory Body, and instituting a Regional approach to fire services.

If you live in the unincorporated area, you probably attend your local fire department’s pancake breakfast or other robust fund raiser while marveling that in this day and age these services are still mostly provided by fellow community members who volunteer to get up in the middle of the night when someone needs help.  As a County, volunteers make up over 60% of the firefighting workforce, and are the backbone of the rural system.  In fact, in the unincorporated area, there are three times as many volunteer firefighters as paid staff.

Fire Departments in Sonoma County do much more than fight fires, they are the first responders for traffic accidents and medical calls as well.  While response times are currently well within targets, we are also facing an aging volunteer force and difficulties in recruiting new volunteers.  While community identity and pride drive volunteer fire efforts, all departments provide mutual aid to other communities and even around the state when called upon.  A forward looking fire system will look at regional cooperation, restructuring where possible, and providing adequate funding to departments so that services are not defrayed.

Our county has grown significantly in the past 32 years.  Cities have seen their population expand by 85%, while the unincorporated areas have become home to an additional 21%.  Funding needs have spiraled due to increased need for paid staff, insurance and liability, and increased equipment costs.  During the data collection for the report, it was discovered that many departments have aging equipment that should have been replaced, including a 47 year old fire engine and 45 year old rescue squad!  Add to that old, inadequate structures in many communities, and there is no doubt that working together to streamline and reduce costs while finding additional revenue sources is a priority.  Thanks to the 70 plus or minus members of the advisory, who worked together to come up with the data needed, as well as put forward their ideas based on their experience running their individual departments.  We look forward to the continued discussion, resulting in a final recommendation to the Board in June 2016.

North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District

Hats off to The Sea Ranch Volunteer Fire Department, which will soon become the North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District!  Chief Bonnie Plakos and Board President Don McMahan continued the efforts of past Chief Mike Scott and Assistant Chief Mike Tufts - who carried the ball for several years - to bring forward an independent District formation for Sea Ranch and Annapolis volunteer fire departments. 

The determined efforts of the department and The Sea Ranch community resulted in a whopping 61% positive petition vote by registered voters in the future District.  State law only requires 25% positive for the Local Agency Formation Commission to form a district, but having such a high percentage will mean that the process can go forward without requiring the extra step of an election.  The Sea Ranch and Annapolis are surrounded by other communities with independent fire districts, so as part of the county system, were somewhat cut off and isolated in the Northwest corner of the County.

Best wishes for what is surely a long awaited, well earned North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District.