Jan 8, 2019
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County
I’m looking forward to this new year. While I noted in last month’s newsletter that we’ve accomplished quite a bit in 2017 and 2018, I also mentioned that we still have a lot of work to do to continue to improve our communities throughout West County. For 2019, the Fifth District office has one New Year’s Resolution: to focus on improving West County’s infrastructure.
Now, a lot of people think of roads, bridges, sidewalks and buildings when they hear the word ‘infrastructure.’ Those are certainly important physical infrastructure components, but there’s much more to our district’s infrastructure than just roads and bridges. I consider vital social services part of our “social infrastructure,” a list that includes programs of local non-profits as well as government services. And I also believe we need to invest in “intellectual infrastructure,” or planning efforts to address disaster preparedness as well as future community needs.
Like most rural communities throughout America, we struggle to maintain adequate physical, social, and intellectual infrastructure throughout rural West County. Low population density and sprawling geography makes it very challenging to adequately serve all of our far-flung communities. But I love a good challenge, which is why 2019 will be a campaign to improve all types of infrastructure — in an effort to enhance what it’s like to live, work and exist in our beautiful corner of the world.
Read more to learn about the infrastructure we're looking to build over the next and to learn about what's going on in West County.
Even though we’ve poured $18.3 million into west county roads in the past two years, there’s still more work that needs to be done. In early 2019, my colleagues and I will discuss and create the county’s next two-year road maintenance plan. That means, roads that don’t currently have funding for paving or improvement (unlike Cazadero Highway, Bohemian Highway, Jonive Road, Coleman Valley Road, Pleasant Hill Road, Guerneville Road and Todd Road, which all have projects scheduled for 2019 from funding that was approved in 2017) will be on the table for discussion.
Beyond making our roads smoother to drive, we also need to work on ensuring that our rural and coastal communities have evacuation routes that could function in the event of a wildfire or tsunami. Since we don’t have funding available to improve existing roads — for instance, by creating emergency pullouts or widening shoulders — we will be lobbying the state to provide funds for these kinds of efforts. After what happened in Butte County, those of us who live with only one major road in and out of our communities are even more aware of how quickly that road could be overwhelmed and become gridlocked in an emergency. Safety is paramount. And on that note, let’s not forget that physical infrastructure includes communication systems, too: we need to aggressively pursue rural broadband throughout the North Coast. We need to not only identify effective emergency notification systems for all of West County, but also educate residents about those systems.
In addition, we’ll be pushing to bring new funding resources into our local fire and emergency service agencies, some of whom currently operate in unreinforced masonry buildings. This means that the buildings housing our most critical emergency equipment and personnel could not withstand an earthquake. This kind of funding — the many millions of dollars needed to replace aging local fire houses — is not currently available in the County budget, so we will be working with local fire agencies to pursue new revenue streams that could help us enhance fire services.
Now more than ever, it is time for West County communities to come together in readiness and resilience. Many of our local fire agencies are currently understaffed. We need to work with our local fire agencies to find funding to meet their current and future needs, especially considering that fire danger is higher than ever before, and the size and scope of fires throughout California are setting new records each year.
Human infrastructure isn’t just about fire, though. Supporting our nonprofits and community groups in the next year will help create a solid base for the Fifth District, especially should disaster strike. Whether we’re facing floods, fires, earthquakes or droughts, it is important to ensure all of our west county communities, from the most remote to the most populated, are ready.
What does that look like? It involves developing plans to support quick, efficient, safe evacuations. It also involves supporting the establishment of more community groups like COPE and CERT. (If you’d like to learn more about this, or volunteer to be a local CERT or COPE leader, please email Amie at amie.Windsor@sonoma-county.
But beyond preparing for disaster, I am looking to increase the capacity of our human infrastructure to help make everyday life a bit better for our communities. For the Coast and River areas, that involves kicking both Municipal Advisory Councils off and empowering them to make recommendations to the entire Board of Supervisors. It also involves bringing Whole Person Care and a Mobile Support Team (emergency psychiatric services) into Guerneville and the Lower Russian River community. Finally, it involves continuing to invest in efforts to reduce homelessness in the lower Russian River.
As we increase our human infrastructure, we’ll be better suited to provide the basic services that everyone expects from their government. But equally critical to human and physical infrastructure is the ability to plan for our future, which is where “intellectual infrastructure” comes in. We need local disaster response plans. We need Specific Area Plans that allow us to plan for future generations of West County residents— to create opportunities for things like safer bicycle and pedestrian pathways, better transit services, and affordable housing where we need it.
I hope to work with our newly created Municipal Advisory Councils to both prepare for future disasters and work towards a bright future for rural West County. (For areas not currently represented by a MAC, don’t worry, we will work with your town directly.) Importantly, 2019 will mark the kickoff of our new Sonoma County General Plan. The planning process will span multiple years, but we want to make sure that West County is at the table from the very beginning, deciding our future together... because you know what they say. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. (And while we’ve got some wonderful farms and restaurants in West County... I’m hoping that I speak for all of us when I say that we’re not planning on being on anybody else’s menu.)
I’m thrilled to announce the launch of a program I’ve been working on for two years: expanding emergency psychiatric health services to the lower Russian River. On Jan. 15, the Department of Behavior and Health Services will launch the expansion of the county's Mobile Support Team. For many years, the Mobile Support Team has only operated along the 101 corridor: in Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Petaluma, taking calls from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and Santa Rosa Junior College Police Department, as well as the police departments from Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Petaluma.
Starting Jan. 15, the Mobile Support Team will also serve Sebastopol, Graton and the Russian River corridor. We are hoping that this vital service will help connect West County residents in crisis to the critical care they need.
Since January 2018, 78 individuals experiencing homelessness in the Lower Russian River have been housed through the combined efforts of the Homeless Housing and Services projects in the region.
Funding for the projects came from an earmarked $1 million I secured during the 2017 budget cycle to address the surge of homelessness in the Russian River area. Those funds were dispersed by the county's Community Development Commission through grants.
In early January 2018, we awarded funds to five local nonprofits and organizations.
I'm happy and proud to report that those groups took the grant money and worked it. Look at the one-year results below:
Sonoma County’s annual point-in-time homeless count is looking for volunteers. The count will take place on Jan. 25 and needs around 100 volunteers to help count Sonoma County’s homeless population.
The homeless count helps ensure that the county receives homelessness assistance funds (approximately $3.4 million) from the Department of Housing and Urban Design. In order to receive the money, however, recipients like the county need to conduct a point-in-time census.
There are two different volunteer roles looking to be filled: field team counter and deployment center team member. Team counters work with homeless guides and drive or walk over assigned routes to count the homeless. There are 90 volunteers needed for this role, and those who volunteer should be able to walk two miles and be comfortable being in the field. Deployment center team members, of which there are 10 volunteers needed, work at deployment centers to send out team counters.
Participating volunteers will be sent out from one of five locations around the county including Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Petaluma and Guerneville. Volunteers are expected to be able to walk approximately two to three miles and are expected to have a car and a mobile phone.
According to the 2018 point-in-time count, the county’s homeless population increased by 6 percent last year to a total of 2,996 people. This year’s count is taking place a month earlier than last year, on Jan. 25, from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Those interested in volunteering to help with the count can sign up at www.surveymonkey.com/r/
Volunteers are also being asked to attend a one-hour training session prior to Jan. 25, on either Jan. 16 or 17. Regional training information is available on the SurveyMonkey form.
The Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB) would like to help your business take advantage of important tax credits and hiring incentives. Since the inception of this program, we have assisted local businesses in obtaining $6.5 million in tax credits, exemptions, and training subsidies.
The California Competes Tax Credit is an income tax credit available to businesses who invest and create new jobs in California. The state will be accepting applications from Jan. 2 through Jan. 21, 2019 for $75 million in tax credits.
The application, and a helpful Tax Credit Application Guide can all be found online here.
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