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     LOCAL NEWS
Sep 17, 2021

Casino proposal may face long process

by Marc Albert
When the Koi Nation revealed plans for a 200-room casino resort between Santa Rosa and Windsor this week, tribal officials said the facility could be up and running, and providing eleven hundred permanent jobs, within four years. As a sovereign nation, the tribal government isn't required to abide by all county regulations. The proposal is raising concerns from some neighbors on social media, though according to Congressman Jared Huffman, it's far from a done deal. "A project in this location, if it were to clear all the other hurdles and the land would have to be taken into trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there would have to be a compact with the state of California to allow gaming there. But even after those hurdles are cleared, you'd have to have cooperative agreements with surrounding governments. You're never going to get the utilities that you need and the services that you need to make a project like this fly, so it's really not something you can drop right in the middle of the community." He says the project's timeline is optimistic. "Getting it into trust through the BIA process can take years, or even decades. I have tribes that have been waiting many, many years to hear back from BIA and some never do. So, the suggestion that this is going to happen in the next few years is I think not very realistic." Though promoted as modern, green and stylish, the facility would have plenty of competition. There are already three casinos in Sonoma County and five more…
Sep 17, 2021

Coast Guard works to contain Bodega Bay diesel spill

by Marc Albert
The Coast Guard continues monitoring conditions in Bodega Bay following a diesel fuel spill late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning at Spud Point Marina. As of Friday afternoon, officials said clean up efforts have concluded. No marine mammals are known to have been impacted. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Brian Rojas is stationed at Bodega Bay. He described the incident. "One of the fishing vessels, I believe they were loading fuel and one of the pipes ruptured, and it discharged about 200 gallons of diesel to the bay," Rojas told KRCB. Rojas said officials are advising those fishing to cast their lines into the ocean rather than the bay. He said the spill was the largest he's aware of in the four years he's been stationed there, and crews did what they are trained for. "They contained as much as they could, pretty much that's all that happened," Rojas said. "They boomed around [the source of the fule], the [Bodega Bay] fire department came over...and then also the [Sonoma County] sheriff went over and talked to the person in the boat. [Crews] cleaned whatever they could...not a lot of it didn't go out to the bay, but there was some." Local environmentalist Richard Charter, with the Ocean Foundation, said he feared the spill might be considerably larger. Charter shared photos taken by drone, showing an oily sheen on water in the wetlands on the south edge of the bay, a dead shorebird and crab. While acknowledging the spill was fairly minor, he said it…
Sep 17, 2021

While summer surge slows, health officials urge vigilance

by Tessa Paoli
Sonoma County's case rate has decreased by more than fifty percent from the peak of the delta surge in mid-August. And hospitalizations have also dropped to 51 patients from the peak of 84. While ICU numbers have also declined, there are still a significant number of patients needing intensive care after moving past the worst of the summer surge. "Right now capacity is not necessarily a concern, but hospitals have definitely been under strain with these dual demands and keeping up with staffing and handling the care of some pretty medically complex cases," said Sonoma County epidemiologist Kate Peck. Peck said, unlike last September, hospitals are juggling caring for COVID patients as well as people that have delayed care during the pandemic. And Peck said there have been increased hospitalizations among 50 to 64 year old and 18 to 49 year old patients. Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said this is due to the lower vaccination rate among younger people. "I'm cautiously optimistic to see the decline in case numbers, case rates and hospitalizations," Mase said. "However, I'm still really concerned that we have sicker, younger people being hospitalized and in the ICU and dying. And the key message is, if you're not vaccinated go and get vaccinated." Data shows since July 1st the median age of fatalities for unvaccinated residents is 60 years old as opposed to 77 years old for vaccinated people. Because of August's high hospitalization and fatality rates, Mase advises to sit…
Sep 17, 2021

Minimum wage to rise in Santa Rosa in January

by Marc Albert
Minimum wage workers in Santa Rosa will see a small bump in pay come January, as the second of several hikes takes affect. The slightly bigger paychecks are courtesy of Santa Rosa's city council which is raising the local minimum wage to $15.85 per hour. Steve Levy is director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto. "Do they make a difference? Probably $26 a week is not enough to help someone afford a house, but it is keeping pace with or more than keeping pace with inflation, and that was the idea of the minimum wage increases." After a third phased increase, the local minimum wage will be linked to the cost of living. Typically, minimum wage increases bring howls from business. Layoffs, automation and bankruptcy were claims heard by Kate Karniuochina, Dean of the Lorry I Lokey School of Business and Public Policy at Mills College, when she was hired to document impacts of a similar move six years ago in the Alameda County city of Emeryville. According to Karniuochina, low-margin businesses suffer. "The problem with the restaurants is that even though it looks like a pretty minor increase, but if you look at their cost structure, even minor increases at this point, I mean they're already losing money." She said chains and franchises tend to survive, while independent eateries struggle. But according to Levy, much has changed in the intervening years. "You have Target and Walmart, Amazon, all pushing wages up to $15 minimum or above for the…
Sep 16, 2021

Crews reduce wildfire risk while building better futures

by Mark Prell
Along the roads in and around Occidental, you'll hear the sound of chipper/shredders, chainsaws and weed trimmers. It's part of a state-funded project to create and maintain fire-safe pathways for residents who may need to evacuate from a wildfire. Sure, there's a lot of weed cutting, but it's also about clearing out the shrubs and smaller trees that make up the understory. Megan Meder is natural resources manager with Conservation Corps North Bay, or CCNB. She said a project like this takes careful planning "to thin the dense vegetation so fire cannot move easily from the ground up into the overhead canopy." Doing this hard work are teams of eight-to-ten young people who are CCNB members. They're usually easy to spot in their bright green helmets. Their work is part of a much larger program that provides services to the community and the chance to learn teamwork and outdoor trade skills, and accomplish other goals. Franky Gonzales has been a CCNB corps member for a couple of years and said he was grateful for a way forward. "We lost our house back in the crash so I dealt with homelessness two to three years," Gonzales said. "That's kinda why I also didn't finish my high schooling; this program was able to give me the opportunity to get my high school diploma." Not having it, he said, kept him from getting the kind of jobs he was interested in. "I realized how [many] places did not hire me because I had no high school diploma," Gonzales said. But it wasn't just jobs he was…
Sep 15, 2021

Ravitch routs recall

by Marc Albert
About 60 local politicos and supporters of Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch gathered at Teamsters Hall in Santa Rosa Tuesday night. But any fears of a nail-biter among attendees were swept away with the first results. Within minutes of the polls closing, the crowd, already buoyant with excitement, erupted into cheers. With displays of campaign pins and union memorabilia festooning the walls, Ravitch worked the room, giving one hug after another. At moments, she was teary-eyed, despite a insurmountable lead turning the recall effort into a rout. "I want to thank all the voters in Sonoma County who saw through this absolute fraud. I mean, what was going on was just one man's tantrum. And I'm so glad that people saw the truth, and that they voted no on the recall, and I'm looking forward to continuing to serve for the balance of my term." With the recall effort entirely funded by developer Bill Gallaher, Ravitch's campaign sought to frame the election as a vendetta by a wealthy man held to account for misdeeds. The strategy appeared to work. Ravitch said she hopes Gallaher does some personal reflection. "I hope when he looks in the mirror he sees what I saw, which is somebody who should be ashamed of themselves. Hopefully, he'll get the message that this is not what Sonoma County believes is appropriate and maybe he'll take his tirades and go somewhere else."
Sep 14, 2021

Preliminary results point to landslide against DA recall

by Greta Mart
Preliminary election results have Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch with a big win so far. Over 100,000 local voters said 'no' to the effort to recall Ravitch. That campaign was funded by developer Bill Gallaher, and just under 25,000 people voted 'yes.' Those are just the results from mail-in ballots....the tally from election day polls will change those numbers. But with 80 percent of the vote so far, it looks like DA Ravitch will be staying in office for the reminder of her term. If the Ravitch landslide holds, the question of a replacement is moot, but official write-in candidate Omar Figueroa is far in the lead among the two men who pulled papers just in case. The race for Measure D in Rohnert Park is closer, so we won't know for sure if the city's fireworks ban will be overturned for a few days. So far, 58% of local voters say yes to prohibiting the sale of fireworks, 42% say firework sales should be allowed. But there are still many ballots to count.
Sep 14, 2021

Sonoma County considers adopting home commercial kitchen program

by Tessa Paoli
Today Sonoma County's board of supervisors looked at adopting a statewide program allowing aspiring chefs to cook and sell food from home. The Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations, or MEHKO for short, was signed into state law in 2018. It allows for legally operation of a home commercial kitchen. Riverside was the first county sign on in 2019 and since four additional counties and the city of Berkeley have opted into the program. Lake and San Mateo counties and opted in on a pilot basis. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins emphasized the good intention behind the law as a way to provide more entrepreneurial opportunities. "My understanding from the beginning was that this was really an effort to support women, immigrants, communities of color, low income communities," Hopkins said. "Providing the potential for an incubator business or to legalize, honestly, what was already happening in many communities." If Sonoma County opts into the program, permitted home chefs can sell up to 30 meals a day or 60 a week through dine in, pick up or delivery. The kitchen can make up to $50,000 a year with one employee, in addition to family and household members. Locals echoed support during public comment, like private chef Viviane who has dedicated the last three years to building a small farm, which a home kitchen could help support. "One way to make the farm profitable would be make prepared food with the fresh veggies I grow," Viviane said. "MEHKO would help me make the farm sustainable long…
Sep 10, 2021

Sonoma County DA write-in candidate Joe Castagnola

by Greta Mart
On the Sonoma County version of the Sept. 14 recall election ballot, voters are asked if they support the recall of District Attorney Jill Ravitch. If a voter opts for "yes," there are no names on the ballot of possible replacements. Instead there are two officially-registered candidates whose name voters must write-in in order for that vote to tally. The two write-in candidates are Omar Figueroa and Joe Castagnola—here is our interview with the latter.
Sep 10, 2021

Local doctors say hospital patients continue to be younger and unvaccinated

by Pixabay
Dr. Chad Krilich, chief medical officer for Providence, which operates three hospitals throughout the county, said they saw a slight uptick in ICU patients earlier this week, and about half of the hospitals' ICUs were filled with COVID patients. "We still are continuing to see a larger volume of COVID patients than we have seen previously, primarily those patients are younger and they are unvaccinated," Krilich said. Krilich said those patients are between the ages of 20 and 50 and 86 percent are unvaccinated. Dr. Gary Green of Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital has also witnessed this trend throughout the delta surge. And although hospital staff is highly prepared to treat COVID patients, he said this has been remarkable. "The delta surge has been much more manageable but it's also just been even more difficult because we're not used to seeing younger patients struggling to breath, it's a little counter intuitive," Green said. Green said he's not seeing pediatric cases at this time but urges continued vigilance around unvaccinated children. Green also said the delta surge has brought more pregnant, unvaccinated patients to the hospital. Even with the peak of delta possibly behind us and a 75 percent vaccination rate, Green said it's going to take more immunity to keep people out of the hospital. "When the delta strain became predominant, that upped the game," Green said. "Now when we are already at 70 percent in Sonoma County for immunity, now we have to get above 85, 90…
Sep 10, 2021

Windsor town manager resigns

by Marc Albert
With Windsor still reacting to the potential return of former mayor Dominic Foppoli, more turnover is coming to town hall. City Manager Ken MacNab has announced his resignation, effective the end of the year. MacNab, 55, declined to return an email or phone call requesting an interview. However, in an email sent to town employees, quoted by the Press Democrat, MacNab says work-life balance, family and health drove the decision. Mayor Sam Salmon said he had no forewarning and was taken by surprise. "Ken's resignation was about how he wants to proceed in his life with his family. He's obviously very dedicated to his family." Salmon noted the town went through a similar period of staff churn before MacNab was hired, and that any disruption will be minor. "We're not at the stage to start throwing 'hail Mary's,' in the football term. You understand what I'm saying? No. The manager is managing the department heads, and also, taking the policy decisions of the council and communicating those to the department heads. Ken will be here to do that, and if and when he leaves and we don't have a replacement, we'll find someone who's able to do that on an interim basis." MacNab had no deputy. As to whether a replacement would be chosen locally, or through a formal recruiting process, Salmon replied, "That will be up to the council to decide how they want to proceed. I've pretty much always have been desirous of a recruitment process" Salmon, who considers himself a consensus builder,…
Sep 09, 2021

Sonoma County 75% vaccinated and COVID rate begins to stabilize

by Tessa Paoli
This week the county announced that 75 percent of all residents over 12 years old are fully vaccinated. And although COVID transmission is still widespread and driven by the delta variant, Supervisor David Rabbitt says cases are on a downward trend. "The COVID case rate has continued to stabilize or decline after a surge this summer but as we move into fall and winter we need to stay vigilant, no one wants a repeat of what we went through last winter, the darkest days of the pandemic,"Rabbitt said. The current case among unvaccinated people remain five times higher than vaccinated residents. With schools starting there has been 235 confirmed COVID cases in students throughout the county, the majority in elementary schools. In an effort to slow the spread last month, the county has issued vaccine and/or testing mandates for employees including school staff, first responders, healthcare workers and most recently incarcerated people in detention centers. With the increased testing requirements, the county saw an 88 percent increase in demand across testing sites. Health analyst Leslie Kimura says the county has greatly expanded testing opportunities for all residents. "The demand for testing in our area is at levels that we haven't seen since last winter when our COVID cases were peaking," Kimura said. "The county has responded to this heightened demand by increasing testing capacity from 1,000 tests per week to 17,000 tests per week." Vaccine officer Dr. Urmila Shende urges…
Sep 09, 2021

Tanker trucks begin water deliveries to Mendo coast as wells dry up

by Marc Albert
Emergency water supplies are flowing, or more accurately rolling, out to thirsty residents along the Mendocino Coast, after officials approved a stop-gap measure. The first trucks hauling an estimated 5 million gallons of water a month left Ukiah Wednesday, delivering drinking water to the Mendocino coast, the area hardest hit by the now two-year-old drought. Though the first shipment was groundwater, an exemption issued by state regulators, will enable Ukiah to pull water from the Russian River for supplies in the weeks and months ahead. The right to do that was suspended earlier as Lake Mendocino dwindled. Erik Ekdahl is with the division of water rights at the state water resources control board. He said the board's action, was urgent. "When you have multiple years of drought, like we've had, it puts a lot of pressure on some of these small water systems that may not have storage, they may not have multiple sources of water and are really kind of contingent on the one source of drinking water that they have." Ukiah itself has been delivering groundwater to residents due to the drought. The city also receives recycled water and in normal times, diverts from the Russian River. Now the river water will be going to Ft. Bragg, which is distributing it to other communities. Ekdahl said they'll receive just enough. "It's really enough to kind of supplement what supplies they are able to generate locally, and if does come to the point where they truly run out, they have a pathway…
Sep 08, 2021

Santa Rosa officials hope up-armored restroom will resist abuse, prove financially wise

by Marc Albert
There are no skylights, no heated seat or bidet. Nevertheless, Santa Rosa officials remain confident the city's new expensive public toilet will pay off. Plopped on Santa Rosa Avenue near the city's transit mall, the metal kiosk has some post-modern flair. Inside, it's pure utilitarian. Big enough to maneuver a wheelchair, with little else beyond a solitary, metal toilet. But, it has it's benefits according to Santa Rosa Assistant City Manager Jason Nutt. "It's quite a bit easier to clean with very few surfaces. They can be very easily wiped down by hand or with a power cleaner," he said. Behold, the Portland Loo, designed by the public works department of the Oregon city. It's supposed to be close to indestructible and resistant to vandalism. And features like louvered side panels limit privacy, aimed at discouraging drug use and prostitution. The toilet ended up costing a quarter million dollars--quite a bit over estimates, as officials added elements required under the city's building code. More than a week after opening, the jury is still out. Nutt said the city will be watching, and comparing costs against regular public restrooms. "It's really way too early to be able to crystal ball that type of issue. The facility itself with the stainless steel bowl, with the stainless steel sink, it's harder for vandalism to occur in that instance, so we feel fairly confident that they'll be able to last over the course of time." There was no line at the Loo on a recent Tuesday,…
Sep 07, 2021

Arson suspected in slew of north Sonoma County brush fires

by Marc Albert, Greta Mart and Tessa Paoli
Sonoma County police and fire investigators continue to work on finding a cause for a string of suspicious fires that started Monday night. Between 8 and 10 p.m.,15 spot fires started burning along roadsides in Healdsburg, Geyserville and one in Guerneville. The first fire was reported at about 8:10 p.m. Monday night on the eastern side of Healdsburg. For the next hour and twenty minutes, fourteen other fires were confirmed in the greater Healdsburg area, the largest growing to two acres. Cal Fire officials said all fires were contained by 10:30 p.m. before any structures were damaged. By midday Tuesday, there was still caution tape and firehose at the site of one of the fires just north of Healdsburg, but few other signs of the drama that played out Monday night. Officials with the Healdsburg Fire Department were still keeping an eye on the burn scar on Healdsburg Avenue. A half dozen live oaks, their leaves still green, punctuated the burnt grass along the road as it gently climbs to Alexander Valley Road. Shortly after 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, investigators with Cal Fire, including Battalion Chief J.T. Zulliger, arrived to start their inquiries. "We're still looking into it,” Zullinger told KRCB. “Everything is under investigation at this point and we'll be out here for the day." While officials declined to speculate on what ignited the blazes, a reporter overheard inspectors looking for signs of fireworks. On Tuesday afternoon Cal Fire Operations Chief Ben Nicholls said the…
Sep 07, 2021

New voices confirm low income housing fraud charges

by Chris Lee
Press Democrat reporter Andrew Graham discusses his and Evan Varian's latest investigation with KRCB's Chris Lee. It adds evidence to the claims that state and county officials may not have explored all the evidence in a housing fraud charge against developer Bill Gallaher's companies.
Sep 03, 2021

Filing hints at Northwest Pacific RR revival for coal trains

by Marc Albert
A filing with an obscure federal body suggests moves are underway to revive the old Northwestern Pacific Rail Road to deliver coal to conceptual port facilities in Arcata. Though few details have emerged, state Senator Mike McGuire is vowing to crush the proposal, whatever it takes. He said a little known entity has filed for permission to restore the railroad, including tracks through the Eel River Canyon abandoned after washouts in the 1997 floods. "We're literally dealing with an anonymous llc, out of Utah," he said. It's apparently the latest flashpoint as industry seeks a west coast terminal to ship coal to eager buyers in Asia. Proposals in Seattle, Portland, Oakland and elsewhere have run into stiff opposition. McGuire said, if approved, the operation could easily switch to shipping oil and that either would present an unacceptable risk to the Eel and Russian Rivers, and those dependent on them for drinking water. McGuire said representatives from the organization have been secretly lobbying officials and business leaders in Humboldt County, and that century-old federal laws give rail operators essentially a free hand. "Doesn't need to comply with California Environmental Quality act, they won't have to advance a NEPA study--which is the federal environmental review, they won't need to advance an Environmental Impact Report. There is very little that railroad companies have to comply with to be able to start building and then operate." McGuire said those behind the…
Sep 03, 2021

August had the highest COVID death rate since the winter surge

by Tessa Paoli
County officials reported nine additional deaths on Thursday, making August the deadliest month since last Winter's surge. There have been a total of 30 COVID-related deaths in August, just behind last February when 31 COVID deaths were reported. The peak of the surge was last January when 68 people died from COVID complications, according to county officials. Of the nine deaths reported this week, six were unvaccinated, according to county data. Officials reported that the three that were vaccinated had underlying health conditions and two were over 70 years old. Of the unvaccinated fatalities, two were unhoused and between the ages of 50 and 64. County epidemiologist Kate Peck says age is a theme among unvaccinated COVID hospitalizations and fatalities. “Those who are fully vaccinated and hospitalized tend to be older and/or have serious underlying conditions or are immunocompromised,” Peck said. “The unvaccinated deaths are trending younger than the fully vaccinated deaths.” Yesterday Sonoma County's Sheriff department reported Correctional Lieutenant Bobby Travelstead died from complications due to COVID. With these new deaths, the county's total death toll is 366. Officials say over 96 percent of these deaths have been among unvaccinated residents. Because of data lags, more deaths for August could be reported in upcoming days.
Sep 03, 2021

KRCB Converse: Epidemiologist on summer surge and fall forecast

by Tessa Paoli
UC Berkeley infectious disease specialist Dr. John Swartzberg walks us through the summer surge driven by the highly transmissible delta variant. Swartzberg also gives insight to what fall and winter may look like through back to school and flu season and what we can do to protect ourselves. Listen to this two-part interview below: Part I: Part II:
Sep 03, 2021

Foppoli's quest baffling, stupefying Windsor

by Marc Albert
Resigned from office after alleged sex offenses, former Windsor mayor Dominic Foppoli filed initial papers for another run at the office, though there seems little enthusiasm among local residents. Despite the fact that none of the salacious allegations have been proven, it was hard to find positive words about the once, and possibly future, mayor among those gathering ahead of an afternoon town square concert. "I'm surprised he has the nerve to do it, it's a bold statement on his part considering all the bad publicity he's gotten both on his personal side and on the city of Windsor. Lot's of effort put into getting him out of office, so it seems inappropriate," said Windsor resident Jana Churich, who, like Foppoli, is involved in the wine business. Foppoli's silence--a call to him was not returned--has spawned speculation about his motivations. According to legal experts, candidates in California enjoy no special legal status, though it does convey access to voter information. But, it can help with cash-flow, according to Oakland-based attorney Stuart Flashman. "Once you file for candidacy you can set up an exploratory or an actual committee and raise funds, and you can also transfer funds, although I think we would have been able to transfer funds from his prior campaign, even without starting a new campaign." Flashman, who cautioned that he was speculating, said there could be other factors. "He may just feel that being a candidate and running a campaign may be the best…
Sep 02, 2021

Neighbors concerned as county again puts Chanate campus up for sale

by Marc Albert
A big chunk of Santa Rosa will be offered to the highest bidder Tuesday, as officials again try to off-load an abandoned 71-acre former hospital campus. Largely vacant since Sutter Health relocated seven years ago, the last sale attempt failed after neighbors prevented it being sold to developer Bill Gallaher over a lack of environmental studies and reports. South of Fountaingrove in rolling foothills east of 101, aside from a few county offices, there are few signs of activity on the wooded property, aside from the leavings of deer. For the most part, nearby neighbors reached by KRCB either support development or acknowledge that it should happen. Andrew Mikrikov, a registered nurse who has lived nearby for nearly a dozen years, is more optimistic this time around, though he's concerned about shoddy construction and the parcel becoming overcrowded. "Obviously, this is not the first time this is being put up for sale. It seems like it's being done with more transparency at this point, but we hope to see continued transparency. We want things to be fair." Density is also a concern of Ann Eckelhoff, a neighbor for 33 years, especially in an emergency. "I know we need more housing but putting 800 units like they were originally, I mean, that's just going to impact this area and it's a safety issue now with fires, even more so." Most neighbors mentioned shopping, affordable and senior housing along with open space, as elements they'd like to see. Alla Watson, also a registered…
Sep 01, 2021

Santa Rosa considers amending anti-harassment policy

by Marc Albert
Elected leaders in Santa Rosa met Tuesday to review the city's anti-harrassment policy, last updated five years ago. Officials say the current policy conforms with an updated state law, but Amy Reeve, director of human resources for the city, says Santa Rosa could go further. With an eye toward avoiding a tawdry scandal involving elected officials, Deputy City Attorney Jeff Burke reviewed the current process to sanction misbehavior. "The city could refer a matter to the Grand Jury, that will then make a determination about whether to refer the matter to the district attorney. And the test, that is set up in the government code is whether there is willful or corrupt misconduct in office, that's the language in the state law." What should be a minor housekeeping effort by local government has gained added attention in the wake of multiple salacious allegations leveled at former Windsor mayor Dominic Foppoli. Paul Anjeski, with the city's human resources department, praised the current training materials, which have been tailored to local need. "Our goal isn't just to get the information across and make sure people can state laws or state consequences, but actually practice using them, and it's a fairly interactive class." The council will consider future revisions at a later date.
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Sep 01, 2021

KRCB FireCast Resources

by Darren LaShelle
FireCast is a collection of the internet's best fire monitoring tools - all tuned for Sonoma County. The FireCast resource page is available on our website at krcb.org/firecast and on our free NorCal Public Media app. The app is available at in the iTunes App Store and via GooglePlay. Explore where all fires are burning in California, get evacuation information, and find out about smoke levels in your neighborhood. CLICK HERE FOR KRCB FIRECAST
Aug 31, 2021

New tech aiding Pacific coast fish census

by Marc Albert
Federal marine scientists are halfway through what they are calling their most ambitious and comprehensive fish census off the west coast. Conditions in the Pacific are looking pretty good. Since early June, the Reuben Lasker, a research ship operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been plying west coast waters. It's mission: detect and count the millions of small, schooling fish. Those species: sardines, anchovies, jack mackerel and pacific herring are in a sweet spot of the ocean's food web. They consume tiny krill, and in turn are eaten by bigger fish, and other predators. They're also harvested commercially. David Demer is senior scientist at the southwest fisheries science center. "From the standpoint of small pelagic fish, it appears as though a healthy eco-system, and I'm judging that statement primarily by the state of the anchovy population which is very large, over a million metric tons." Seven years ago, anchovies were rare, but Pacific sardines were abundant. In 2015 and 2016, when sardines vanished impacts rippled up the food chain "and that had observable effects on the higher level predators--seabirds and California Sea Lions and other animals." This year, six frequency echo sounder sonar is helping the ship hunt as a dolphin would. There's also A-I, "We augmented the survey effort with autonomous sailboats, they're called saildrones, and they're fitted with multi-frequency echo sounders, as well as instrumentation to sample the…
Aug 31, 2021

Calling for micro grids to ease pains of preemptive blackouts

by Greta Mart
Pacific Gas and Electric is installing dozens of weather stations across Sonoma County to get real-time, localized data to anticipate and respond to wildfires, as well as working towards breaking up its electric grid into smaller pieces called microgrids, a company spokesperson told KRCB Friday. Microgrids can lessen the widespread impacts of proactive power shutoffs, which have been used by California utilities since the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until two years ago, when PG&E shut off electricity—affecting more than two million customers for days—that the practice of proactively shutting off power to prevent wildfires came into the public glare. At the time, state regulators launched an investigation into PG&E’s handling of the October 2019 shut off. PG&E CEO Bill Johnson told the California Public Utilities Commission in an emergency hearing it will be about ten years before the utility can take its public safety power shutoff events off the table as a “solution of last resort.” For most, proactive power shut offs are inconvenient and disrupting. But for many others who depend on electricity for medical needs, it’s life threatening. Richard Staff is the executive director of the nonprofit Designing Accessible Communities and advocates for seniors and the disabled community. For him, electricity powers both his wheelchair and hospital bed, which he lowers to drop himself down into at night. “And then in the morning, when I want to get back in my wheelchair, so I don't…
Aug 27, 2021

Weather service predicting continuing drought, water agencies contemplating solutions

by Marc Albert
Long range weather forecasts don't see drought-busting storms on the horizon, and local water agencies are starting to brace for the worst. If you've been following the drought intensify for two years, the words of Brad Puig, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Service may haunt you. "Beyond the end of November, we're favoring below-normal precipitation for the southern two-thirds of California." That's due to a La-Nina pattern developing, signaling a weak rainy season ahead. That lack of storms has sent local water agencies into crisis mode. Marin officials, meeting Monday, are set to discuss again laying a pipeline across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. That would open an option to buy water from beyond the region, according to Emma Detwiler with Marin Water. This time around the pipe could be permanent. They'll also discuss the possibility and practicality of a temporary or permanent desalination plant. Here in Sonoma County, conservation remains the byword. Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management, said it's doubtful Sonoma would follow suit. "We haven't had discussions about partnering with them on a desalination plant." SonomaWater is taking other steps. Re-activating its three emergency groundwater wells, dug following the epic 1977 drought. "If all three of those wells are operational, they can provide about oh, five to seven percent of our total supply," Jasperse said. Normally, virtually all…
Aug 27, 2021

Weather stations helping PG&E forecast fire danger

by Marc Albert
Utility Pacific Gas & Electric says it has installed hundreds of weather stations, including dozens locally, to help anticipate fire danger and reduce preventative blackouts. Just off 101 at River Road, under a canopy of wires near hulking transformers, PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras pointed at a silver box about the size of a mini-fridge. It's attached to the bulky support for a hi-tension line, delivering power from the Geysers. "It measures wind speed, wind gusts, temperatures and humidity levels. The little fan-looking thing right there is an anemometer, which is a wind gauge, and then the other little device, that squiggly little device on the end measures humidity and temperatures." The little box is part of a strategy to anticipate fires and quicken responses; both for crews to cut power, and to help get firefighters in the field before a fire can blow up. "We have installed more than 1,200 of these weather stations, just since 2018. 73 of them are in Sonoma County, mostly located in high fire threat areas, the tier II and tier III high fire threat districts as outlined by the CPUC." Contreras said the devices provide real-time, hyper-local data, helping technicians determine when to de-energize lines, and when it may not be necessary. "The weather stations, all the devices we're putting on the lines, the sectionalizing devices that help break the grid up into smaller pieces, helps up more precisely pinpoint where we need to de-energize the lines as well as all the…
Aug 27, 2021

Fire prep, recovery program launched at SRJC

by Marc Albert
Instructors are hired and students enrolled as Santa Rosa Junior College launches a wildfire resiliency program. Launched with half a million dollars from the county's PG&E settlement, officials at SRJC say the program teaches strategies to prevent wildfire, limit destruction and how to restore both the built and natural environment following a conflagration. Benjamin Goldstein, dean of agriculture and natural resources at the college, said the courses are relevant to young people choosing a career and to established professionals looking for a new angle. Because the work in the field is both physical and hands on, there's a certain level of job security, Goldstein said. "Can't be automated, can't be outsourced." Certificates are earned via the program, teaching landscape and home design strategies to limit wildfire risk, animal husbandry practices for managing weed and brush eating goats and other grazers, along with forest thinning and restoration. Goldstein said the program is part of an emerging field. "We have just made a generational investment, both at the county level and statewide in wildfire resilience. We have ramped up funding in this space exponentially, so the workforce needs are also growing exponentially, and SRJC this is actually the first community college program of its type to launch in the state of California that is explicitly focused on wildfire resilience as an emerging area." The program aims to enroll 300 students annually. Funding from the PG&E…
Aug 26, 2021

Supes considering Styrofoam prohibition

by Marc Albert
Following a largely symbolic county supervisors vote Tuesday, an ordinance taking shape here in Sonoma County could ban Styrofoam. A vote could come as soon as next month to take affect January 1st. Promoted as environmentally friendly, the proposal also aims to reduce the amount of trash heading for the landfill. The vote Tuesday unanimously adopted the county's Zero Waste resolution, setting targets and goals. Now comes the hard part---creating rules that make those goals reality. The first of those, set for discussion mid-September, would make county-wide a ban on polystyrene or Styrofoam already in place in seven of the county's cities. Along with to-go containers, the ban would cover items such as packing peanuts and Styrofoam coolers. While change might cause disruption, it can be done. Anna Maria Gonzalez, office manager of Community Market, a natural food store in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, said the grocer and café has been using recyclable and compostable containers for years. She said products have improved. "We had some issues with some of the containers not sealing ideally, so we had to switch them out, but nowadays there's such a variety to choose from. Ten years ago it was difficult and expensive to get compostable containers and cutlery regularly, but right now there's such a demand for it that there's constantly new innovations." Once sold at a premium, she said pricing of compostable containers is now more comparable. But, they aren't entirely equal. "I'm…
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Aug 25, 2021

Housing fraud allegations raise questions

by Chris Lee
Local developer Bill Gallaher and his companies have been accused of housing fraud. That's one takeaway from a series of stories by Press Democrat reporters Ethan Varian and Andrew Graham. The charges stem from a wrongful termination suit that is being settled with a whistle-blower, former employee Mariah Clark, reportedly in exchange for 500-thousand dollars and her silence. KRCB's Chris Lee talked to journalist Andrew Graham.
Aug 25, 2021

Housing in high demand as county opens lottery for affordable units

by Marc Albert
The mailbags at Sonoma County's Housing Authority have been particularly full in recent days. Housing Director Martha Cheever said they've received more than 600 applications since opening a wait list for affordable three bedroom units last week. Those 603 applicants, received as of Tuesday, join another 131 families hoping for a shot at one of *43* available family-sized units. Amie Fishman, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, said that's hardly a surprise. "The need for affordable housing of all types is overwhelming." Sonoma County spokesperson Gilbert Martinez said each of the six properties with vacancies has it's own waiting list. He said waits shouldn't last longer than two years, but that's not always the case. "We can't give time frames as to how long someone will wait, because a unit only becomes available at term, when a person leaves, that's when it becomes available, so the wait list is largely dependent on that." As rare as affordable housing is in California, three bedroom units are especially hard to come by. Fishman says that even with incentives and grants, they often don't make it onto the blueprints of projects proposed by for-profit developers. "It is more expensive to do three bedroom homes. It's one rent for that large space, as opposed to having more, smaller units in the same space." There are also the peculiarities of California's property tax system. "Communities often see that when you have more kids,…
Aug 23, 2021

Santa Rosa ped overpass clears hurdle, would pair with proposed SMART crossing

by Marc Albert
With a bit more than half the money assembled for a highway crossing talked about for two decades, Santa Rosa officials are confident they'll quickly find the rest. If built, cyclists and those on foot wouldn't feel like they're playing chicken with drivers racing towards freeway on-ramps. Instead of dodging cars, those going from Santa Rosa Junior College to---for example---Coddingtown Shopping Center could dodge Guerneville Road entirely when crossing highway 101. They'd do that on a new, $21 million bridge for non-motorized travel, connecting Elliot Avenue and Edwards Avenue. Assistant City Manager Jason Nutt said construction would start next year or in 2023. He believes officials will cobble together the rest of money through federal and state transportation grants. The bridge would rise close to Jennings Avenue, a planned bike route chopped in two a few blocks to the west by fences around SMART rail's tracks. The city and rail operator are battling over that fencing. Nutt said Santa Rosa still hopes to restore a level crossing there, but even if SMART prevails legally, the bridge would be no white elephant. "I don't expect that the access across the Jennings Avenue track is a critical component of the bridge over 101. We have a significant regional shopping center with affordable housing on the west side. We have substantial educational facilities on the east side. Regardless of whether that one particular access point is opened or closed, we expect that the bridge is…
Aug 23, 2021

Concerns raised as Sonoma County considers 'micro-restaurants'

by Marc Albert
With a statewide law letting people sell certain homemade foods considered a success, there's a push to allow budding home chefs to open their homes to diners. Already in place in a handful of California counties, some on a trial basis, the rules essentially allow micro-restaurants or supper clubs to operate out of people's homes. Supporters say fears that bustling nightspots will disrupt residential neighborhoods are mostly unfounded. Peter Ruddock, policy director of The Cook Alliance, a promoter of the law, said the law caps the number of meals that may be served. "Thirty per day or sixty per week. You could do 30 meals two days a week and I do know a cook who sets up a barbecue restaurant in his backyard on weekends, he doesn't always get 30, but he could. Others, they don't even try to hit the 60, they get eight to 10 people, four days a week." Operators also can't exceed $50,000 in gross revenue, can't hire more than one non-family employee, and music and signs are strictly regulated. Ruddock estimated about 100,000 people across the state are making and selling food without permits. He said the initiative is a way to legalize such operations, and add some supervision over hygiene. But launching the program locally requires the county board of supervisors to opt in. Christine Sosko, with Sonoma County environmental health and safety told a less-than-enthusiastic city council in Sonoma last week that their counterparts in Windsor, Cotati, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol…
Aug 20, 2021

Young Sonoma County 'promotores' help their communities through emergencies

by Tessa Paoli
“Having the youth at the center of this work is really key,” said Latino Service Provider’s director of programs Stephanie Manieri. “To make sure that our community feels that the information that is being presented is coming from trusted people and not from a system that might be wanting to harm them, which is what a lot of folks feel about our healthcare system.” Latino Service Providers is a Santa-Rosa based organization that’s been around since the late 80’s with a mission to serve Latinx communities throughout the county. And it runs the only training program for young community health workers, or youth promotores in Spanish, to destigmatize mental health and fill essential gaps in healthcare. “We bring our youth to almost everything that we do,” Manieri said. “Whenever there’s a crisis that arises or wherever there’s something drastic that happens in Sonoma County, we shift gears to respond to that.” And the pandemic was no different. The group of just under 50 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 stepped up during their year-long internship, first by offering remote case management to community members who needed financial support. And in January, Manieri said her team advocated for the young community health workers to get vaccinated in the first tier, along with other medical workers. “That allowed us to go back into the community and participate in popup vaccine clinics, to participate in drive through distribution of essential items like diapers and food,”…
Aug 20, 2021

This Santa Rosa Teacher centers social justice in her classroom

by Tessa Paoli
Samantha Kim teaches sixth grade at Santa Rosa's Steele Lane Elementary School. On the first day of school, Kim assigned self-portraits. “As I was watching the kids color I was like, oh my gosh some of these kids are only using orange, yellow or brown,” Kim said. “And one of the kids was like, ‘I don't know what color to use for my skin.” Within days Kim was raising money for markers, colored pencils and construction paper in dozens of colors. Four days later $230 appeared in her account with the nonprofit Donors Choose. She's used the group in the past to buy books and digital alarm clocks during the pandemic, helping students join zoom meetings on time. And it's more than the supplies, Kim has started the school year supplementing the curriculum with social justice issues. Before diving into ancient civilizations, she's teaching about race and cultural differences. And Kim also shares her own lived-experience with her 26 students, who she says all come from different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. “We talked about where our ancestors came from,” Kim said. “I talked about my background as a Korean American and also an Asian American and how there was a lot of stress and fear, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, different acts of violence against Asian Americans.” And she hopes having representative art supplies will open up more conversations like this in her classroom. “I definitely challenge them to think about different racial groups with an open mind…
Aug 19, 2021

Sonoma County increases COVID-19 testing as cases remain high

by Tessa Paoli
The demand for testing in Sonoma County has increased 60 percent in the past month as cases of the highly transmissible delta variant soar. And local physicians like Dr. Jenny Fish have witnessed how hard it's been for patients to get tests promptly during this summer surge. "I've had patients go to five test sights because they are so over capacity and the burden for how many people need tests and they are waiting three hours at a time," Fish said. "And just because the burden is so high they are turning people away." Many of the patients she treats at a Santa Rosa community health center have lower socio-economic resources and less flexible working hours. "The ability to get fast and accurate testing is essential to reducing disparities in COVID and reducing community spread," Fish said. Because of this heightened demand, the County increased testing capacity 14-fold, to 14,000 a week, partnering with private companies for additional testing clinics. The partnered clinics will primarily provide PCR tests rather than rapid tests, because they are the most accurate for a-symptomatic people and those not receiving regular tests. Vaccine Chief Dr. Urmila Shede said the demand for testing has also increased as employers institute vaccine and testing mandates. Shende said the State's testing taskforce offers additional assistance for employers. "We will continue to pivot as we always do," Shende said. "We realize that the demands are really high out there and we are doing our…
Aug 18, 2021

What's new with the delta variant? One expert explains

by Tessa Paoli
KRCB's Tessa Paoli talks with UC Berkeley infectious disease and vaccine expert Dr. John Swartzberg to understand where we stand with the highly transmissible delta variant and how we can protect ourselves. Part I: Part II:
Aug 17, 2021

Why Offshore Winds in August Raise Alarms

by Chris Lee
National Weather Service Meteorologist Brian Garcia talks with KRCB's Chris Lee about the dangerous weeks between seasonal offshore winds (that are coming sooner) and the season's first rains (which are coming later). Fires, he says, are essentially a certainty.
Aug 17, 2021

Sonoma County requires county employees to get vaccinated or tested

by Tessa Paoli
Today’s decision adds more than 4,000 county workers to the list of public facing employees that must either show proof of vaccination or get tested weekly. Police, firefighters and school staff were already required. Today's move by the board of supervisors, adds every other county employee. Dozens of residents, however, showed up in person to the board of supervisors meeting protesting the new policy. “You're going to make it mandatory, I think that's wrong everyone should be like we are today, wear a mask, social distance and I think that's enough,” said former county employee Stanley Edward Laughlin. "The direction our county is heading is out of control discrimination, especially to lots of people of color who are not getting the vaccine,” said a local healthcare worker who remained anonymous. “It's tyrannical.” “What happened to my body my choice,” said resident Terri Moon. Many residents voiced mistrust in the vaccine and testing and said the policy was an infringement of their rights. After hours of opposition from residents, the board of supervisors voted 4-0 in support of the policy, with Supervisor David Rabbitt absent. Chair Lynda Hopkins responded to the residents' concerns by emphasizing the choice to either get vaccinated or tested. “This is not actually a vaccine mandate,” Hopkins said. “We are offering folks an alternative and a choice.” Supervisor Chris Coursey explained why this policy is important at this stage of the pandemic. “We are in a surge right…
Aug 16, 2021

Medical Experts optimistic right precautions can protect local kids

by Tessa Paoli
Safety in the classroom has been a big topic this summer as schools across the county return to full-time, in person instruction. UC Berkeley Infectious disease specialist Dr. John Swartzberg said, with the highly transmissible delta variant, more people in general are getting infected, including the young. “We are seeing a lot more children get infected,” Swartzberg said. “But what we don't know is whether that's out of proportion with the number of people getting infected today, because delta is doing a much better job of infecting everybody who is immune to it.” Swartzberg says there isn't data showing that delta causes more severe cases in children. And here in Sonoma County, while kids between the ages of five and 17 currently make up 14 percent of cases. local data shows that children have the lowest hospitalization rates. No resident under age twenty-four has died from the virus. But concern for those that can't be vaccinated, those under 12, remain high. “Unvaccinated kids, it makes parents extremely nervous,” said Dr. Brian Prystowsky, a Santa Rosa pediatrician. “And I'm one of those parents with kids seven and four years old. But the data shows that most kids do fine when they are exposed to coronavirus and have mild to no symptoms.” Prystowsky said local enthusiasm for the vaccine is helping. 80 percent of those 12 and up have a least one vaccine shot. “Because we are, as a community, really pushing hard to get all the people over 12 years old vaccinated, the…
Aug 13, 2021

Sonoma County covid cases continue rising, impacting local hospitals

by Tessa Paoli
COVID cases and hospitalization rates remain high in Sonoma County due to the emergence of the highly transmissible delta variant. And the surge is impacting local hospitals. Dr. Chad Krilich, the chief medical officer for Providence St. Joseph Health, has personally witnessed the uptick. “We're seeing an increased number of patients that are testing positive, we're seeing an increased number of hospitalizations, we're seeing an increased number of inpatient mortalities,” Krilich said. Krilich said Providence's three Sonoma County hospitals are treating about 40 COVID positive patients with 10 in intensive care, mirroring figures from last November, before vaccines became available. But the hospitalization rate is not as high as the last winter's surge, when Krilich said his hospitals had to open additional COVID units. The uptick is county-wide. A total of 71 COVID patients are currently hospitalized and 17 are in ICUs, more than four times the patient load local hospitals faced last May. And Krilich says this uptick in COVID patients impacts Providence hospitals' abilities to care for other patients. “We're talking about patients who may need to see a specialist,” Krilich said. “A heart doctor or gastroenterologist or a surgeon, and those patients are waiting in emergency rooms, in outlying areas because we do not have the capability with which to bring them in by the virtue of the fact that we have patients we are caring for that have COVID.” Krilich said his colleagues…
Aug 12, 2021

Following state mandate, Sonoma County's school staff will need to show proof of vaccination or weekly testing

by Tessa Paoli
For many school districts throughout the county, today is the first day of full-time, in-person instruction since March 2020. And before Governor Gavin Newsom's announcement this week about the vaccine requirement and weekly testing for those not vaccinated, each of the 40 districts throughout the county was responsible for making those decisions. "With this mandate, it really simplifies the process of adding in another layer of protection for our students and staff," said Jamie Hansen, Director of Communications for Sonoma County Office of Education. Kathryn Howell is the President of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, one of the largest in Northern California with over 800 members. Howell says this mandate is generally a relief for local school administrations. "The burden of making these choices and decisions at the district level is really overwhelming to administration and to teacher unions and everybody involved and so to get this policy from the state level is really very much a relief," Howell said. Howell estimates that 90 percent of the association's members are vaccinated. "Those that have chosen not to be vaccinated are prepared for the testing, I don't think it's going to force anyone out of their jobs," Howell said. And now the school year beings with some of the same protocols from last year like masking and hand sanitizing but without the social distancing, teachers are back in the classroom full time. "Making sure all those layers of safety are in place…
Aug 11, 2021

Despite curtailment order, water still vanishing

by Marc Albert
Despite a week-old curtailment order, water levels in the upper Russian River remain stubbornly low. KRCB's Marc Albert reports. Since the end of July, operators of the Coyote Valley Dam at Lake Mendocino have sent 115 cubic feet per second down the Russian River. By the time the river reaches Healdsburg, barely 20 percent of the water remains. Asked about the data, Robert Cervantes, who's responsible for water rights enforcement for the state water board, said, "Those measurements are interesting to hear and it is something we will likely look into in the near future." According to SonomaWater officials, it takes six days for water released from the dam to reach the measuring point. Cervantes said parched soil may be contributing. "It's not uncommon to have system losses. It is a long ways from Lake Mendocino to Healdsburg, to that gauge, but those losses do seem, I don't know, perhaps uncharacteristic." Stream flows at Healdsburg have risen from 26 to 32 cubic feet per second since diversions were curtailed. Officials are scheduling inspections, and hope compliance with the curtailment order will allow them to keep more water in Lake Mendocino, but there are limits, "We have, right now, about 25 staff for the entire state. We are on-boarding an additional 10 or so, they have not yet started." The agency, which investigates mainly on the basis of complaints from the public, can take anywhere from days or months to process a potential violation. Water rights program manager…
Aug 10, 2021

Sonoma County schools are back to a sense of normalcy this fall

by Tessa Paoli
This year's back-to-school throughout the county resembles a more normal year, with full-time, in-person instruction and full class sizes. “With the elimination of social distancing, we no longer have to have smaller classes,” said Sonoma County superintendent Steve Herrington. “So we can have full class sizes as well, as long as we follow the universal masking requirement.” Herrington said all students, teachers and staff will continue to wear masks indoors to mitigate transmission. And that policies will shift with changes in the virus and state guidance. But as of now, social distance will not be enforced in classrooms and the days of distance and hybrid learning are also over. Parents who would like to keep their child at home can opt for independent study, if the school or a nearby district offers it. In a Tuesday afternoon county briefing, vaccine officer Urmila Shende said although children can get the highly transmissible delta variant, the response is different than in adults. “In general children with COVID, they do fine,” Shende said. “We are seeing a little more fever in cases that have the delta variants, but for the most part they do quite well. At this point in Sonoma County, we haven't had any children who have had severe complications from COVID.” Shende said in addition to masks, high vaccination rates in the household is key. “Children, for the most part, do not contract the infection at school, they contract it at home and from large and small…
Aug 10, 2021

Wastewater conundrum sparking west county controversy

by Marc Albert
Neighbors are suing to block a sewage transfer station north of Sebastopol, arguing Sonoma Water and other agencies swept environmental concerns under the rug. Currently, sewage from the small west county town of Occidental is trucked 18 miles to a treatment plant near Santa Rosa Airport. That's since the state water regulators in 1997 gave Occidental's sanitary district 20 years to stop dumping treated waste into Dutch Bill Creek. Lacking funds to upgrade for proper treatment, sewage began being transported to the airport three years ago. A plan in the works would cut the trucking distance by more than half. "The transfer station is proposed as a short term solution," said Barry Dugan with SonomaWater. Instead, Wastewater would be pumped into a sewer line at highway 116 and Green Valley Road. Environmental reports have been completed, and according to Jose Ortiz, general manager of the Graton Community Services District, his organization and Occidental counterparts are negotiating with Sonoma Water over finances. Ortiz says the project has been discussed for a quarter century. Neighbors, however oppose the concept, predicting disturbing noises and odors. According to Ortiz, the tiny Occidental district, which already charges the highest rates in the county, can't raise the funds needed to add tertiary treatment. That's the standard for releasing treated water into a stream, river or creek. Without an acceptable plant, Occidental has few options. As a legal battle looms,…
Aug 06, 2021

Much local progress on carbon emissions, more left to do

by Marc Albert
While the nation and world bickers about climate change, Sonoma County at least has been making headway. Statistically, the gains are fairly impressive. We're a bit late, but Sonoma County is meeting targets established by the 1997 Kyoto Protocols--reducing emissions five percent below 1990 levels. According to county data, collectively, county residents are emitting 13 percent less. That's doubly impressive as Sonoma County's population has grown by more than a quarter over the intervening period. Global carbon emissions jumped 41 percent over the same period, according to the national weather service. "We have made significant progress since 1990 and we still have quite a ways to go to achieve the 2030 target that our board recently adopted, which is to be carbon neutral by 2030," said Tanya Nareth, with the regional climate protection authority, who discussed the progress made at a meeting Monday in Healdsburg. Many of the gains, Nareth said, come when residents switch to sourcing energy from greener sources through Sonoma Clean Power, rather than directly from PG&E. The proliferation of hybrid and electric cars helped, along with incremental emissions improvements in ordinary vehicles. The presentation was just one of many Nareth's agency is making to local city councils, pitching code modifications for new construction and initiatives to promote composting and recycling for waste diversion. The agency is also promoting farming practices that sequester carbon.…
Aug 06, 2021

More COVID recovery aid available for small businesses; nonprofits

by Marc Albert
Another round of emergency funding will start becoming available to small businesses next month after California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate announced additional funds became available. Non profits, cultural institutions, and sole proprietorships also qualify. Businesses can apply for between $5,000 and $25,000 in relief. Though Sonoma County officials announced new funds are available, the application period is still a month away. New applications will be accepted starting September 9th. Tara Lynn Gray with the California Small Business Advocate, says those who've already applied, should be patient. "The eligible applicants for that closed round are only those who are wait-listed in certain previous rounds, so folks who were wait-listed do not need to reapply." In an upcoming round for nonprofit cultural institutions, applicants are being prioritized based on how much money they lost last year compared to 2019. The program is meant to help businesses and nonprofits remain afloat. Of course, applying is not necessarily straightforward. The agency published guides to help applicants navigate the process, ranging from 71 pages to 97 pages. Gray encourages hopefuls to get help. "Small businesses that want to apply for the program, want to make sure their application is done correctly the first time, really ought to consult one of our technical assistance partners that are listed there on the website." Help is available in a variety of languages on the website, which…
Aug 05, 2021

Sonoma County tells emergency personnel get vaccinated or tested weekly

by Tessa Paoli
Sonoma County is now requiring vaccine proof or weekly tests for its four thousand firefighters, law enforcement, emergency medical service workers and disaster shelter staff, starting September first. This health order expands on last week's announcement from that state that requires healthcare and state workers get vaccinated or undergo regular testing. County supervisor Chris Coursey says this is to boost vaccination and mitigate the high, community transmission with the emergence of delta variant, which now accounts for ninety-three percent of the county's cases. "This isn't the same opponent that we were fighting in 2020," Coursey said. "The delta variant is highly contagious and we are still in the middle of this pandemic, largely due to the unvaccinated, those who are eligible but still are hesitant about getting the shot. COVID numbers are currently at the highest levels since January, case rates for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents have gone up, but rates among people who haven't gotten the shot are four times higher. The new order has support from the county's fire chief as well as Petaluma Police Chief Ken Savano. "Few have as much public interaction as those in law enforcement and we see the importance of encouraging vaccination and or regular testing as important tools for keeping our workforce and our communities healthy and protected," Savano said. On August 17th the Board of Supervisors will discuss expanding the vaccine requirement to all county…
Aug 05, 2021

Railroad crossing impasse may be heading for resolution

by Marc Albert
According to some neighbors, the train that was supposed to weave the north bay together has instead chopped a community in two. Instead of a quick jaunt across the tracks, those on foot must walk nearly a mile via Guerneville Road to cross. As a few locals doggedly push the issue with regulators, light may be forming at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Santa Rosa's public works director Jason Nutt said the city is ready to move ahead. "Based on the design work we've done to date, and the concurrence from the Public Utilities Commission and their safety enforcement division that the design we've presented and proposed is safe. We believe that it meets all of the state and federal requirements for a safe crossing." But, Nutt says, the city needs approval from SMART. "They don't believe a safe at-grade crossing can be constructed, even though the Public Utilities Commission, the full commission, the administrative law judge, and the safety enforcement division have all indicated that the city has presented and prepared a fully compliant and excessively compliant safe crossing design." Santa Rosa's design includes extra fencing to prevent people from going around or under crossing arms. Sidewalks would also aligned like the letter zee, meaning any approaching rail car would be in a pedestrian's immediate field of vision. A SMART attorney said Monday she was not up to speed on the issue, then failed to return follow up calls. Right now, the plan is stalled. "At this point in…
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