What a year it has been. Chairing the Board of Supervisors this year has been an honor, and an incredible challenge. For the past few months, I counted the days until the position of the Chair of the Board of Supervisors rotated to Vice Chair Lynda Hopkins – hoping that with new leadership our county’s health, happiness, and economic recovery was just around the corner. Well, the transition to a new incoming chair happened with wonderful thankyous, good wishes and a bold agenda articulated for a focus on climate change, equity, and widespread distribution of COVID vaccines.
Except for the welcome addition of the distribution of the COVID vaccines, the agenda was nearly identical to the goals of my year as chair, in addition to our focus on housing and homelessness – sadly, that agenda was placed on the back burner while the fight against the COVID pandemic moved front and center. And yet, we were still successful in approving financial support for rental assistance, food distribution, and small businesses. The voters approved the reauthorization of Measure M for transportation (Measure DD), Measure O Mental Health Revenue measure, and the Evelyn Cheatham Ordinance strengthening the work of IOLERO. And the Board of Supervisors took advantage of the Governor’s Project Roomkey and Homekey for housing and services for our homeless community members. A lot was accomplished last year, and we need to celebrate our successes and thank the voters for their support.
Throughout the year, I have written about my observations on the impacts of COVID on our lives – physically, emotionally, and economically – never imagining that we would still be reeling from those impacts at year’s end. Over 200 of our community members have died because of COVID, most of them are older, but not all. As I provide caretaking for my mother-in-law, I think about the sad possibility of losing her to COVID, and with her passing, my family will lose all of our shared memories, stories, history, and traditions as she is the last of our family’s elders. So I don’t blithely ignore the danger and threat of COVID to our elder community. And many of you have written about your concern for the health of your parents, partners, and family members.
The impacts of this pandemic move far beyond the physical well-being of our community. So many seniors, families and students are struggling with mental health challenges from shelter in place, isolation, and distance learning. The COVID warm line and suicide hotlines are phone numbers you can call to find help for all of us struggling through this.
The economic fallout from this pandemic surpassed all of our fears. Professor Robert Eyler predicted a 3-4 year recession; and I thought, “Oh surely not.” But every day I read about the increasing threat of evictions for those who can’t afford rent for their housing and businesses; I receive notices from businesses laying off more and more employees, especially as this surge continues unabated; and I see notices of closures for stores and restaurants. We are saddened by the news when we should be outraged that this is happening to our community. The Board is evaluating the fiscal relief packages considered and approved by the Federal and State governments and add more fiscal support at our meeting in January. And we will be no doubt extending our sick leave and eviction defense ordinances at that same meeting. Thank you to all of you who have written to the board advocating for the policy extensions.
Many of us found that virtual meetings are providing new and exciting opportunities of communicating – weekly zooms with SC Mayors and the City of Sonoma, Community Leaders Zooms each week, Conversations with Fire Survivors, Charla Communitarias, Facebook Live, Municipal Advisory Council meetings, Board of Supervisors meetings, regional meetings with SC Transportation Authority and Bay Conservation and Development Commission – all from the comfort of my home office – when technology allows it, of course.
And that is the downside – the virtual world exacerbates our inequality of affording and accessing broadband capacity – having to share broadband capacity with partners working from home and children distance learning (or trying to) is frustrating for all of us – “unmute, please”. And too many of us are working long hours, without stretch breaks and mentally trying to learn or stay engaged in this impersonal world when we desperately need human contact, interaction, hugs, and help from teachers and co-workers.
Yes, 2020 definitely was a year to pass over, even with some of the advantages of communicating effortlessly, most of the time. We will not gladly give up our technology as a way to connect – but we need to pace ourselves – integrate virtual communication with in-person meetings and schools – when it is safe to do so.
The bright light for 2021 is that the County will announce county-administered vaccine distribution this week. I will work with health services to add our senior communities and Sonoma Valley to those sites for vaccination distribution. We desperately want to break out of our shelters, dine in restaurants and not fear to go grocery shopping once again, but the logistics of vaccination distribution are maddeningly complex, and the supplies are limited. So, we must be patient for a while longer; patience is a virtue, as our grandmothers taught us. And it is our grandmothers that I think about daily.