We are trying to breathe deeply as we move through our seventh week of sheltering in place, now wearing colorful facial masks. Thank you to our community for supporting the orders issued by Governor Newsom and Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase; because of this, we have “flattened the curve.” We have protected our health care workers in our hospitals and clinics and our friends and neighbors.
These seven weeks have felt like seven months. We are all struggling, but some are in a greater crisis than others.
Not only are all of us struggling as individuals, but our cities are also struggling in projecting the impact of business shutdowns on budgets – cities like Sonoma are particularly hard hit as a significant amount of the budget comes through tourism in the form of Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) and sales taxes. Most of our property owners have paid their taxes on time so the County, cities, schools and special districts continue to have some revenue to function. However, the County, like the City of Sonoma, is expecting a large decline in TOT and sales taxes, and we have all spent significant funds on the COVID response.
Our local nonprofits who help the most vulnerable. Fundraisers have been canceled and donors are stretched thin. I wish I could print money and hand it out to our struggling community members and the great organizations in the Sonoma Valley and the County that do so much. Unfortunately, that is not in my power. Nevertheless, I am doing what I can with the funds I have available through TOT (Transient Occupancy Taxes).
On April 28, I awarded $60,000 to Sonoma Overnight Support to help fund their extended Winter Shelter, as well as the meals they have been providing during the Shelter in Place.
On May 12, I will be investing in other essential local organizations, Food for Thought, in support of meal delivery to the critically ill and HIV+ Sonoma Valley residents they serve; KSVY, in support of coronavirus media; and Vintage House, in support of meal programs for our seniors.
I am also donating funds to FISH, La Luz Center, Community Action Partnership, Burbank Housing, and Midpen Housing for desperately-needed rental assistance for their residents. And I am supporting Undocufund, which supports our undocumented community members countywide.
There are two sources of TOT funds available to each supervisor for investment in services and programs for the community. Community Investment Funds – in normal years $100,000 has been allocated to each supervisor equally to support district priorities; we have supported organizations throughout the year with these funds, and all of our funds in this category have been allocated this year with the grants mentioned above.
The second source of TOT funds are Tourism Impact Funds, which come through Measure L, passed by the voters in 2016. The bulk of the Measure L funds go to fire services, road repair and affordable housing; but 10% is granted to Supervisorial Districts proportionate to the amount that came through that district. These funds can be distributed to organizations for unique and urgent needs in unincorporated areas, with an eye towards mitigating the negative impacts of tourism.
We use these funds to support our Municipal Advisory Councils, parking enforcement in the Springs, and a few other projects such as vegetation management grants to Fire Safe Councils and this year to the SV Boys and Girls Club to support teen programs in collaboration with other community organizations. However, in the time of COVID and the immense needs in our districts, Supervisors are granting these funds to organizations that are providing direct support to the community. Much of the support outlined above for rental and meal assistance pretty much depletes this funding from this year and the previous years.
I am holding a bit of my Tourism Impact Funds for the future – I know the needs will not stop when this Fiscal Year ends on June 30, and want to make sure I keep a little bit for continuing and emerging causes. Plus, things like parking enforcement and the MACs will need to be paid for next fiscal year too. This is especially important since I expect the revenue available through Measure L will decrease significantly, between the Kincade fire in Fall 2019, power shutdown events and the COVID crisis in Spring of 2020.
If I could provide rental assistance to every renter struggling right now, or feed every hungry family, I would. I know none of these grants will be enough to solve the persistent inequities and needs that all of these organizations strive to address. But I am stepping up and doing what I can from the small sources of funding available to supervisors, and I hope that you will join me in supporting our incredible community organizations providing services to our residents in need.
If you are fortunate enough to be working and have some money to spare, or are wondering what to spend your stimulus check on, I challenge you to step up. Please consider donating to any of the organizations I’ve mentioned here, or the Redwood Empire Food Bank or Community Foundation Sonoma County (which supports our community nonprofits). If you cannot donate financially, consider participating in one of the Drive Through Food Drives.
There is no getting around it; we are all in this storm together. So let’s all give what we can, whether that is a financial donation, food to the food bank, or a kind word or a random act of kindness for those in need. We have come together as a community during our fires, and we can do it again when so many are struggling. #Stay Sonoma Strong.