Driving in the rain in West County can be an adventure at times. Passing fields that are now ponds, avoiding deep puddles on uneven roads, searching for downed trees, navigating dark roads lined with redwoods without street lights, all of these images show how different it is to live in a rural area.
From the redwoods to the coast, we live surrounded by incredible beauty. Our economy is that of local retail food producers. Although our roads can be difficult, we have escaped the traffic jams. Because we don’t live in cities with strong services, the community comes together to help each other more than anywhere I have lived before.
As one Timber Cove resident reported this week. “On the way back, the road was blocked by a felled tree. I knew it would take forever to back up and take the alternate route, and EMS is overloaded during storms and I would wait here for hours. So I called Eric and he came out with his chainsaw and cut this tree for me. This community action and commitment is what makes rural areas work. And what makes it special. If you are one of the many new rural residents coming from the Bay Area or elsewhere, we hope you will be a part of this tapestry of committed community members. Getting involved with local nonprofits, attending or listening to River or Coast Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) meetings, or even subscribing to the District 5 newsletter for local information is a good thing. starting point.
One of the challenges presented by the rapid increase in short-term vacation rentals is that some neighborhoods are losing that pool of engaged neighbors that make rural living viable. Instead, empty homes are punctuated with short-term visitors who don’t understand issues like making sure there is enough room on the road for fire vehicles and ambulance vehicles to pass. This is why I have advocated for a cap on new vacation rentals as county staff developed new guidelines to allow such rentals while protecting our rural neighborhoods. At the last River MAC meeting, Gary Helfrich of Permit Sonoma gave an excellent overview of how these new guidelines are taking shape.
The video of this meeting (https://youtu.be/Rgv2xRftC4k) is available on the Sonoma County 5th District YouTube channel.
One of the things I love about our cities is that shopping locally doesn’t mean fighting traffic to get to big box stores or malls for the last mass produced item. Our food comes from farms and animals that you pass along on your daily travels. While such purchases cannot compete with the cost and convenience of Amazon, every penny spent on unique, locally made items helps support our small businesses who are your neighbors and friends.
Another challenge of rural life is the lack of access to essential services. This month, I had the pleasure of visiting the new West County Health Center in downtown Guerneville. This listed hospital building will not only provide the full range of medical, dental, ophthalmic and health services for the region, but it will also have a community center focused on community well-being. It is exciting to announce that WCHC may be able to open this new state-of-the-art facility as early as March of this year. The health team and I have discussed how we could also increase access between West County towns to this center and we will be working on those ideas in the coming months. In other news on small town services, in December, the supervisory board approved my funding request for a Russian River strategic plan that will help us analyze service resources of all kinds against regional needs in order to identify gaps and possible solutions. As the community outreach parties take place in the summer of 2022, please allow time to participate as such opportunities arise. Every voice is important in this process. It is by engaging and working with local communities that we can strengthen our rural communities.
As a member of the Sonoma County Emergency Services ad hoc committee, we have worked hard to find funding and organizational changes such as consolidation to strengthen our fire and emergency services. We have funded staffing efforts, improved services, and are close to signing long-term funding contracts with local fire departments to support consolidation efforts later this month. The results of this effort were felt in the past fire season, when we saw swift and comprehensive responses to put out a record number of small fires in record time. We look forward to finalizing funding contracts to strengthen and consolidate firefighters in Bodega Bay and other districts.
While the county redistribution process was at times controversial, the 5th District ultimately retained its rural nature, split from Moorland and Roseland, and welcomed new neighborhoods in northwest Santa Rosa. Our new surveillance constituencies, based on the map voted on December 14, have already entered into force. We have spent a lot of time working side by side with our communities of Roseland and Moorland and they will be missed. We are also celebrating with them as they will be part of a stronger voting bloc for Latinx and BIPOC voices in the 3rd arrondissement. Our entire District 5 team looks forward to meeting our new constituents who have been added to our district during this process. The county will send map information to notify county residents of the changes.
We live in West County because we love being so close to nature. And we see the impacts of climate change in drought, flooding and changes in our watersheds, our coastlines, our forests. District Director Leo Chyi and I returned from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow full of ideas and determination to adopt policies that will protect and preserve our natural environment and the systems on which our way of life depends. We are working with Supervisors Rodoni in Marin and Williams in Mendocino to create a tri-county coastal protection initiative. The Russian River Revitalization Program runs through spring 2022 and focuses on returning the watershed to its full health and vitality. The raindrops that nourish our gardens and fill our reservoirs also create problems with skidding roads and falling trees. Yes, rural life has its unique share of joys and challenges. And I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins represents the fifth geographically large and economically diverse district of Sonoma County. Its region includes the rugged and beautiful coastline of Sonoma County, the redwoods of the lower Russian River, numerous unincorporated rural villages, the town of Sebastopol, and the southwestern part of the town of Santa Rosa. Lynda’s education focused on land use and public policy, and her professional life included stints in community journalism and organic farming before taking office. Along with her husband Emmett, Lynda is raising two daughters who are the fourth generation to pick apples from their Gravenstein apple trees on the property that is now Foggy River Farm.