Board Walk ~ Susan Gorin

Susan Gorin Susan Gorin represents the First District as a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, an area that includes the entire Sonoma Valley.


Unincorporated Sonoma County – What’s new?

Posted on February 14, 2024 by Susan Gorin

In the wake of our most recent round of storms, in which steady downpours and fierce winds resulted in flooded roads, swollen creeks and rivers, downed trees, and prolonged power outages, I have had Sonoma County’s unincorporated communities on my mind. 

Along with Supervisor Hopkins, I am a member of the Board of Supervisors’ Unincorporated Governance ad hoc committee and for much of the last year, we have met to discuss the unique challenges – severe weather response certainly among them – faced by the small towns, dense communities outside of city limits, and far-flung hamlets that exist across our county.

The ad hoc brought our recommendations to the Board of Supervisors meeting on February 6, during which we discussed a suite of proposed actions to increase the level of service for our unincorporated residents.

What is an unincorporated community in Sonoma County? These are communities that exist outside the boundaries of our nine incorporated cities, and thus lack the additional layer of city governance. In the First District, unincorporated communities include the Springs, Schellville, Temelec, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, parts of Bennett Valley, Lichau Road, Riebli Valley, upper Mark West, and communities in the Mayacamas Mountains.

As you may have read in my last column, one way unincorporated communities in the First District, as well as the Fourth and Fifth Districts, make their voices heard is through Municipal Advisory Councils, or MACs. In August of last year, Supervisor Hopkins and I held a listening session to learn from the community leaders who serve on our advisory councils about their communities’ biggest concerns.

We also made sure to include representatives from unincorporated communities that don’t have MACs, such as Penngrove, Moorland, and Graton. Perhaps surprisingly, given the geographic and demographic differences amongst the varying unincorporated areas within our county, many overarching themes arose: poor roads and infrastructure, insufficient parks and gathering space, inadequate internet connectivity, vulnerability to disasters like fires and floods, housing unaffordability, and impacts from vacation rentals, among other concerns. 

Last week, with their feedback, as well as additional information gathered across ad hoc meetings that included conversations with Sonoma County Regional Parks, Public Infrastructure, and the Ag + Open Space District, our Board discussed eight recommended work efforts from the ad hoc, which included: exploring options for potential Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFDs), exploring establishing a new county Service Area zone of benefit to finance parks and plazas, creating an inventory of current county safety net services, and continuing to assess options for a Navigator job classification that would assist individuals in accessing county services across departments.

The Navigator job classification is something of particular interest to me in recent months, from my observations with the opening of the East Sonoma County Services Center in the Sonoma Valley and the challenges residents face when trying to address what can be a complex set of needs. While the February 6th item was meant to provide an informational update to our fellow board members on the ad hoc recommendations, we received support from our board colleagues to bring the discussion back during Budget Workshops in April. For more information on the ad hoc recommendations, please visit the link below to review the board materials.

At this point, I believe we’ve taken a great first step to address the needs for unincorporated communities large and small. In identifying trends and strategies that are applicable countywide, rather than taking a piecemeal approach toward each individual community, I think we will be more effective in supporting our county’s unincorporated residents. I look forward to continuing the discussion with my board colleagues in April.

I will close on a related, but not directly connected, note: for the last several years, I have been exploring the “a” word, annexation, with the City of Sonoma and the unincorporated Springs area. Another approach could be a model for shared services, with the potential to lead to annexation, that would elevate the level of services that we are currently able to provide in the Springs. The City of Sonoma’s City Council put annexation on their list during their goal setting for 2024, unanimously agreeing it is worthy of community discussion. Just as with the unincorporated governance topic, I look forward to continuing conversation on this important issue. 

I have led discussions regarding the formation of an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD), which may include the City of Sonoma and much of the area including The Springs and Glen Ellen. This would keep local a portion of County property taxes for financing upgrades to infrastructure and services in the identified boundaries – supplementing funding for needed roads, bridges, parks and services, rather than supplanting any existing funding and required mitigations for developers on future development. I’ll write more about that possibility in the future.

I hope you have recovered from the storms and your power is now restored. I encourage you to consider the installation of solar panels and battery backups for resiliency to withstand future power outages. For more information, review this website.

Collage art by Mike Acker

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA