The history of Sonoma Valley is one of migration from Native Americans and immigration from Spanish, Mexican, European, and American settlers. It is easy to see why this land was highly valued: excellent farming conditions, robust wildlife, ideal weather conditions, amazing water resources with creeks and rivers running throughout to meet the bay, stunning vistas of verdant landscape, and a moon view so impressive, the other name for Sonoma is Valley of the Moon. The valley has survived challenges, both natural and manmade, and we have continued to attract new residents who wish to live, work, and thrive in this beautiful land.
My office has received many emails and calls requesting action on immigration from those who wish to see the county become a sanctuary county to those who agree with the current administration’s desire to show immigrants the door and a wall. In some ways, we are a house divided, but I also believe we are more united in our basic compassion. I recognize the pressures on our community with regard to housing, especially as we have a perfect storm of high rents, an extremely tight rental market, and a dearth of available parking. There are consequences to every action, both positive and negative, but throughout there must be compassion and common sense.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has begun discussions on Immigrant Services, including: the need for a community summit; ways to enhance the County and community’s capacity for immigrant legal defense; and the County’s current immigration-related activities and how to maintain the safety of immigrant communities.
Unless you are a Native American, we are all immigrants. Every one of us — or our ancestors — arrived in this place and made a decision to remain as a part of the community. We are fortunate to have a beautiful place to live and it is easy to forget the role of immigrants in making this possible. Love Vella Cheese? Be grateful for Gaetano (Tom) and Zolita Vella for their decision to emigrate here from Italy. Grateful for our vistas of undeveloped land around Sonoma? Thank the Montini family. Everywhere in the Valley there is evidence of the contributions and benefits we have gleaned from immigration, including our thriving industrial agricultural economy of today.
Our history with regard to immigration is deeply mixed, most notably with respect to Chinese immigrants drawn here during the California Gold Rush of 1849 to build railroads, provide agricultural labor, and more. In 1858, Hungarian immigrant Agoston Haraszthy founded the first winery in California, Buena Vista. Haraszathy depended heavily upon the labor of Chinese immigrants to clear the land, plant vines, and construct the beautiful winery nestled on the eastside. Chinese were a common sight in the Valley and across the nation.
By 1870, Chinese people comprised 25 percent of the labor force in California alone. The nation as a whole became increasingly intolerant and suspicious of the contributions of Chinese. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed and stayed in place until it was repealed in 1943. Chinese laborers were prohibited from entry and those who remained were required to register or face criminal deportation for decades. The result was our Chinese community, mostly laborers, diminished significantly. We can learn from this story.
Today, our economy is thriving based upon our ability to deliver services, produce products and operate businesses. In the Valley, we are heavily dependent upon our collective resources to maintain this economy; immigrants are a vital part of this equation. Immigrants are our grandparents, spouses, neighbors, business owners, and friends.
County response to major rainstorms
Where we once wished for rain, now we wish for moderation! January was a difficult month for many people, especially in West County. I want to extend my gratitude towards the hundreds of county employees who worked extremely long hours in difficult conditions during our recent round of storms, called “Double Crest Plus 2017.”
During this time, we had nearly four days of over flood stage. Our Emergency Operations Center did a tremendous job coordinating agencies to respond in real time and as a result, saved lives and property. Transportation and Public Works, Permit Sonoma (PRMD), Fire and Sheriffs Department (Public Safety), General Services, Animal Care & Control, and many other departments dedicated considerable resources to protecting and serving the county. I am also grateful to the state agencies, such as the CHP and National Guard for their services.
At one point, Roads Crews were working 20-hour shifts to repair over 100 roads, including 85 roads closures requiring the removal of 157 tons of debris. We ask for your patience at this time as TPW is working as quickly as possible to full the hundreds of potholes that opened as a result of the flooding in addition to addressing a myriad of other issues.
One highway closure caught the attention of Sonoma Valley, CalTrans and others: the nine-day closure of Highway 37, a critical linkage for the North Bay. Most don’t realize that there is a flooding/inundation issue, as well as a capacity issue on the highway. The heavy rainfall in January surprised many as the flooding closed Highway 37 near Novato. Bay level rise, combined with tidal action, threatens to inundate most of the highway over the next 50+ years.
I have been working with a four County policy committee on alternatives to the highway expansion and elevation, along with potential funding options. More information will be discussed in our community in the near future. But note that CalTRans is now actively reviewing short-term solutions to the flooding issues and longer-term elevation of that short stretch of the highway.
Even before the current rains, the County of Sonoma has incurred nearly $10 million in damages. In response, the Board of Supervisors has approved an extension of a formal state of emergency to enable us to collect federal funding. Stay tuned as we continue to navigate the rainy season.