Dec 28, 2018
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County
I’m looking forward to the upcoming year. While I noted in last month’s column 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 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.
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 involves supporting the establishment of more community groups like COPE andCERT. (If you’d like to learn more about this, or volunteer to be a local CERT or COPE leader, please email Amie atamie.Windsor@sonoma-county.org.)
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.)
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