For this month’s column, I wanted to write about two different topics: Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) and two community meetings I hosted in the past few weeks: a bilingual community listening session in the Springs on the Sonoma Valley Regional Services Hub, and a Town Hall in Oakmont on the Los Guilicos Village transition.
What are Groundwater Sustainability Agencies?
Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, or GSAs, are among the programs and initiatives the county is involved in to protect and study the groundwater resources of our region. Sonoma County has three GSAs: the Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley GSAs, of which I am a Director, and the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, of which I am an Alternate. I serve as Chair of the Sonoma Valley GSA.
While we enjoyed a wet winter this past year, I am sure Sonoma County residents won’t soon forget the three years of extreme drought that preceded it. Drought brings many concerns, among them fears for the long-term sustainability of our groundwater resources. Among the activities of our GSAs is the development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans, and the Sonoma Valley GSA approved theirs in January of this year.
I am concerned, however, about the funding needs of these organizations to support the important work they do going forward. In my opinion, sooner rather than later, our GSAs will need to be supported by means other than county funds. We need to thank the California Department of Water Resources for funding the implementation plans for the GSAs. However, that funding cannot be used to pay for the administration costs of the GSAs.
We have spent several years reviewing those with wells drawing groundwater from the basins – Agriculture, Rural Residential and urban users – and estimating the rates for each class to pay for the administration of the agency. The rates in each of the basins are quite different; the SR Plain is much larger that the Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley; thus, the estimated rates are much lower than those for groundwater users in Petaluma and Sonoma Valleys.
For the last two years, the County of Sonoma subsidized the rates for agricultural and rural residential well users from our General Fund – the fund used to pay for repaving our roads and many of the services provided by the County to our residents. Next week, the Administrators of the GSAs will once again ask the Board of Supervisors to contribute $1.1m to the administration costs of the GSAs, plus additional options to pay for those growing food crops, equalize fees across the districts, perhaps disadvantaged residents who are now not subsidized and programs to incentivize water efficiency.
The Board of Supervisors needs to hear from you about your thoughts on these continuing subsidies. I know that water to my home is provided by the City of Santa Rosa, and I have paid for the administration costs of water and sewer through my rates. Should the County General Fund subsidize the rates of agriculture and rural residential users or should we ask the GSA’s to gradually transition the costs to those using groundwater.
Bilingual Community Listening Session on Sonoma Valley Regional Services Center
On September 28th, I hosted a bilingual community listening session in the Springs about the Sonoma County Regional Services Center opening this fall. The goal of the Center is to bring much-needed county services to residents of the Sonoma Valley, particularly those underserved residents of the Springs area for whom the trek to Santa Rosa, where most services are centered, is a huge barrier to access.
The purpose of the listening session was to hear from the community: what kinds of county services do you currently access? What services would you access if they were more readily accessible in your community, and what are the current barriers to access? What services are lacking in the Sonoma Valley? Department heads and staff from a broad range of county agencies, including Human Services, Permit Sonoma, Regional Parks, and many more, attended to receive feedback from the community and think about what kind of staff and resources they can dedicate to the Center.
I truly appreciate that they took the time out of their busy schedules to come down to the Valley and get a stronger sense of the needs in this often-overlooked corner of our county – it’s more isolated than many realize! Most importantly, I am extremely grateful to the community members who attended to share their thoughts and illustrate the complex, interwoven challenges our residents face: rising rents, economic insecurity, lack of mental health services, food scarcity, and many more.
By the end of the evening, an overarching theme emerged: that the Sonoma Valley Regional Services Center should operate from an “every door is the right door” approach, where residents can benefit from navigation services and case management to access the support they need to thrive.
I am hopeful that, upon opening, the Center will fill the gaps and better streamline the delivery of county services to residents of the Sonoma Valley. When the day comes that we are finally able to open the doors in next month or two, please keep an eye my newsletter for the announcement – we look forward to seeing you there!
Transition of Los Guilicos Village Homeless Center
On October 2nd, I hosted a Town Hall at Oakmont on the planned transition of the Los Guilicos Village. In January 2020, the Board of Supervisors voted to stand up sixty pallet shelter homes for unhoused residents on the Los Guilicos campus as part of the effort to address the homeless emergency occurring on the Joe Rodota Trail.
As you may recall at the time, I voted against the location of the site at Los Guilicos as it was located too far away from services, though I was outnumbered by my Board colleagues and the pallet shelters went up in a matter of weeks.
The site was planned to be temporary, an emergency measure that would be followed by more permanent solutions elsewhere in the county. In a matter of weeks after residents arrived, an emergency on a much larger scale emerged: the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus Los Guilicos Village, which required a significant county investment to get up and running in the first place, remained in operation and has continued to this day.
Another factor that has resulted in the continued operation of the LG Village is that it has been very successfully run by St. Vincent DePaul. I am very grateful for their hard work, especially for their collaboration with Oakmont residents, to provide great outcomes for both residents of LG Village and their neighbors on the other side of Highway 12 – myself among them.
In September of this year, the county’s Department of Health Services, which includes the county’s Homelessness Division, proposed that the Los Guilicos Village site be transformed to take advantage of two unused dormitories on the Los Guilicos campus as the future home of LG residents. Another adjacent dormitory was recently refurbished by CalFire which, in the past year or so, has staffed a resident camp on the site to great success.
After the rehabilitation of the two dormitories and once residents move in, the county will then take down the pallet shelters, which could be potentially reused elsewhere at a later date, and return the previous site’s use to a parking lot.
While I still maintain my concerns about the location of the Los Guilicos site, particularly for its distance from services and its vulnerability to fire, I am supportive of this transformation. I also want to acknowledge that in the years since LG Village was initially created, my board colleagues have all welcomed similar solutions for unhoused residents in each of their supervisorial districts.
The county now has a suite of solutions across our region, and I want to assure Oakmont residents that the impacts of homeless services in our county don’t fall on their shoulders alone.
The Department of Health Services is currently in the Request for Proposals (RFP) process to select an operator for the new site, and I expect the continued commitment to transparency with Oakmont and Sonoma Valley will be paramount as we move forward. I want to thank Oakmont for coming out to the Town Hall and engaging in what was, from my perspective, a very thoughtful and informative dialogue.
I thank representatives of Sonoma Overnight Support and Homeless Action Sonoma for attending and discussing the progress they have made in serving so many in Sonoma Valley who continue to need shelter and food.