Feb 21, 2020
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County
In the past year we’ve dealt with emergencies caused by floods, by homelessness, and by fire. We’ve found with each of these that the complex conditions behind these disasters do not have easy answers. Yet innovative thinking, collaboration, and hard work has helped us make progress.
At this time last year we were just starting the recovery process from February rains and the concurrent flood. It’s almost hard to imagine it, as this February has been one of the driest on record.
While many business along the lower Russian River and Sebastopol have cleaned out, remodeled, and re-opened, many are still struggling to recover. Garnering input from residents, emergency services, and businesses, the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council and our staff has gathered a community wish list of priorities for projects supporting economic, emergency, and community resilience. With funds from the Flood Mitigation state funding allocation, our District’s portion of the Tourism Impact Fund, and grant funding, our team will be helping these projects take shape over the next few months to help the Lower River thrive.
A summer-long anniversary celebration will be a grand opportunity to highlight and support the recovery of the River communities. July 28, 2020 marks the sesquicentennial (150 years) of Guerneville. Washington Bagley petitioned the Postmaster General in Washington D.C. for the establishment of a post office at Stumptown and was appointed the first Postmaster of “Guerneville” on July 28, 1870. Celebrations from the Russian River Historical Society include sesquicentennial banners, an historical exhibit at the Guerneville Bank Club, an opening celebration event, expanded Stumptown Daze Parade with the 150th theme, grand costume ball, ice cream social, history tour of Guerneville, commemorative stamp from the United States Post Office, and much more.
On the east side of our District, we continue to take steps forward in the homeless crisis. The homeless encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail has been dismantled and the trail is expected to be reopened in early March.
During the encampment, from the period of December 2019 through January 2020, staff assessed the needs of 258 trail occupants. Of those, the team was able to place 104 trail occupants into shelter – emergency housing, Los Guilicos Village, medical and residential treatment centers. We are continuing to develop additional options including:
• The County of Sonoma is receiving 10 trailers from the State of California, each able to house 6-10 people.
• In March the Board of Supervisors will be voting on location options for indoor-outdoor shelters. This will be a medium to long-term indoor/outdoor shelter and navigation center and may include a combination of on-site structures, RV hook-ups, and safe parking.
• An important piece of the continuum of care is the option of shared homes. The goal of participation for those ready is to increase living skills to improve housing retention, identify and reduce barriers to housing, and increase income from benefits and/or employment.
While it is easy to get discouraged by the many still unhoused in Sonoma County, each step forward is changing lives for those who are getting assistance while providing for the safety and enjoyment of our public spaces for all residents. We have already seen the lives of many of the former Joe Rodota Trail residents change dramatically now that they are housed at Los Guilicos Village, with many residents voluntarily going through detox and entering rehab programs. I am also working on developing a homeless-to-work pilot program, and while the program doesn’t even exist yet, it is already garnering interest from employers and potential employees alike.
Sadly, another quieter crisis is taking place among our residents as the federal government has been taking action against immigrants in our county.
We are a community that is 27% Latinx. We are a community that includes Dreamers and undocumented residents and families of mixed immigration status. This means in many cases we have children in Sonoma County schools who may be citizens, with parents, aunts and uncles who may be legal residents, on visas, or yes, undocumented.
Over the past week we have seen ICE arrests inside our courthouse in violation of state law. This not only targets our immigration population, it also undermines the effectiveness of our justice system. If Latinx witnesses, victims, and accused are unwilling to appear at the courthouse, cases will not be resolved. For this reason, the State of California passed a state law requiring a judicial warrant to make immigration arrests inside such facilities — a law that was willfully ignored by ICE agents.
Last week the Supreme Court confirmed the President’s contested “public charge” rule which makes it harder for any immigrants “likely at any time to become a public charge” to obtain green cards. The policy discourages legal immigrants who are in the process of obtaining permanent legal status to from using public assistance, including Medicaid, housing vouchers and food stamps. This policy is destined to create more homeless, and may work against us in the face of the coronavirus threat. If undocumented residents are fearful of seeking medical attention, they will be more at risk for complications of the disease.
Tragically, many school kids in Sonoma County are going to school worrying whether their parents will be there when they get home. And other school kids are afraid that they themselves will be deported. Some of our residents are afraid to attend public meetings for fear of an ICE raid. This is the current reality far too many Sonoma County community members are facing right
I hope we can all remember that we share in common humanity, and being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime. (To be lawyerly about it, it’s a civil offense.) What’s really criminal is terrorizing our community and striking fear into the hearts of families throughout Sonoma County. What’s really criminal is labeling refugees and immigrants who haven’t committed a crime “criminals.” (That’s dehumanization; that’s othering; that’s a dangerous, slippery slope.)
I hope you’ll join me in standing up for our community, and against targeted bullying from the federal government. There is no question that our immigration system is broken — and terrorizing families ISN’T the way to fix it. There are things you can do to support our undocumented neighbors. Consider supporting the North Bay Rapid Response Network. (And vote for people at all levels of government who will represent not just you and your interests, but will fight for ALL of our beautiful, diverse community!)
Finally, to end on a positive note: the Board of Supervisors is focusing on Five Strategic Pillars in the County of Sonoma Strategic Plan to help us address these challenges. As this draft is fleshed out over the next few months, we are working to address underlying causes of the challenges that we face and to lay the foundation for solutions that will create resilient, thriving communities throughout the
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