It feels like just yesterday that the Board of Supervisors adopted the budget for the 2020/2021 Fiscal Year. Budget hearings were one of many things delayed last year amid the challenges and uncertainty as Sonoma County grappled with the impacts of COVID-19.
This year was a very different story, though no less unique. For the first time in recent memory, and perhaps my entire tenure as a public official, the Board had adequate funds to accomplish all of its goals for this year’s budget. We are certainly in a privileged situation, and if you had told me this time last year that this would be the case, I would not have believed you for a second. On Friday, June 18th, back on schedule and in record time, your Board of Supervisors approved a $2 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2021/2022.
We did not, thankfully, need to ask departments to make cuts and, in fact, were able to add-back to cuts made last year, as well as consider funding for new projects throughout the county – some long-gestating, others addressing emerging issues. As always in this process, I am grateful for community members who reached out to my office, who submitted public comment at the board meeting, or who beat their drum in any way they knew how to bring their community’s needs to the board’s attention this year. We heard you.
My priorities going into budget hearings, it will surprise no one to learn, were fire preparedness, prevention, response, and resiliency. With the drought and the nerve-wracking fire season ahead of us, I am grateful that the board is aligned in its goals to address the threat of wildfire, and I am excited for the short- and long-term projects to come. I would like to highlight a few investments in the First District specifically where we were able to find funding this year.
While I admire the beauty of eucalyptus trees, I am also well-aware that they are, unfortunately, very flammable. Of particular concern in my district are the eucalyptus trees along 8th Street East, adjacent to very populated areas in Sonoma. The board identified funding for two near-shovel ready hazardous tree removal projects for immediate allocation; among them 8th Street East, and also the Rural Cemetery in central Santa Rosa. In addition to this funding, the board intends for an ongoing program for the removal of hazardous eucalyptus trees that abut populated areas – I can think of several others stands throughout the county where this could be pursued in the future to help protect our communities from wildfire.
Another longstanding request of mine that I was thrilled to see funded was for LED safety signs to be placed at fire stations throughout the Sonoma Valley, some next year, and others the following years. With the many tourists that come to the Sonoma Valley, some driving through for a day of wine tasting, others staying for extended periods of time, I’ve long thought it would be important to have an additional emergency alert system in the form of highly visible signage. Thank you to retired fire professionals for working on this important project. Both Sonoma County residents and visitors alike will benefit from the LED safety signs, which can, on top of our existing alert and warning systems, warn of high fire danger, alert the community to an evacuation order, notify of a controlled burn, and so much more. We have learned over the years that redundancy of communications is key, and I look forward to these being installed.
Speaking of communications, a third item I was happy to see funded was the antenna lease for KSVY, the community radio station serving the Sonoma Valley. KSVY is part of our critical communications infrastructure in the event of disasters in the Sonoma Valley, as well as public information and entertainment in times without disaster. This funding will allow them to continue providing these crucial services to our community.
Lastly, the board allocated funds to moving the Sonoma County Archives away from the Los Guilicos campus. The current location poses a significant fire risk to the archives, which hold invaluable historical information about Sonoma County that would represent a devastating loss if consumed by fire. The archives already had a close call last year as the Glass Fire descended on the Los Guilicos campus. I have been working closely with Supervisor Chris Coursey, Katherine Rhinehart of the Historical Records Commission and Sonoma County Library Director Ann Hammond on this move, and I am relieved that this funding will allow us to find the archives a new home.
As one final note, I am thrilled to take on a lead role on two of the county’s five recently adopted Strategic Plan tiers: with Supervisor Chris Coursey, Healthy and Safe Communities, and with Board Chair Lynda Hopkins, Climate Action and Resiliency. Together, we will conduct community engagement, provide input on projects and priorities, and thus work to implement the county’s Strategic Plan.
While I will not take it for granted, I am very excited about the work to come over the next year and beyond as a result of this year’s budget hearings.
See the budget document: