A new city manager and two new City Council members face tough times ahead as 2020 draws to a close. The City of Sonoma, like the rest of the Valley, California and the nation as a whole, has been affected dramatically by the Covid-19 pandemic, and coming to grips with its effects will not be easy.
The announced resignation of Rachel Hundley means the council will have to decide how to fill her seat when she departs on January 31. There are two options available: (1) the four remaining members of the council can interview and select someone to fill the seat, or (2) the council can call for a special election. A special election (for the remaining two years of Hundley’s term) will cost the city about $30,000. A selection by the council costs nothing. Seems to us that with all the financial pressure on the city right now, the last thing it needs to do is spend money on a special election.
In Sonoma, under a new city manager, the very first order of business should be a detailed financial analysis; knowing what we’ve got, what needs to be spent, and how we will finance our deficits are critical to navigating our path going forward.
Our existing businesses — both in the city and in the Valley as a whole — are hanging on by a thread. Restaurants are once again surviving on take-out business, and retailers are hard-pressed to cover their expenses. Staff cuts by local businesses have been unavoidable, and these have created hardships for workers who need to pay rent and provide for their families.
The city has been creative and flexible about ways it can bend rules, like using sidewalks for outdoor dining, but we’re afraid that’s not enough. It may be necessary for the city to waive business license fees, but that will place more financial stress on the city’s budget. We hope a task-force will be formed to examine all the options that might be available to prevent the collapse of our local merchants and their labor force.
Local government will have to batten down the hatches even tighter than it has so far. Regrettably, staff cuts and furloughs might have to be implemented. At the same time, this pandemic has proven that when the customary ways of operating are not an option, alternative solutions can fill the bill, like Zoom. It’s unlikely we will go back entirely to the way we’ve done things in the past and learn from the hard lessons of this pandemic. And maybe, ultimately, that’s a good thing. We hope so.