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New name and search for community

New name and search for community

New council seeks to connect with citizens, SDC observations

By Jay Gamel

Since its inception in a fire-ravaged First Supervisorial District three years ago, the North Valley Municipal Advisory Council (NVMAC) has had setbacks, including an extended period to find council members, and a slow process to get them confirmed and ready to meet, due to wildfire recovery and COVID-19 pandemic demands that stretched county resources thin.

The council’s main purpose is to keep citizens aware of county policies and programs, and to solicit ideas and information from the people who live in Glen Ellen, Kenwood, and some surrounding areas.

The council has met five times since first meeting on Sep. 16, 2020, all meetings are virtual of the pandemic. None have been attended by more than three members of the public.

The Kenwood Press reaches almost everyone living in the NVMAC’s jurisdiction. Meetings scheduled for the second Wednesday of the month proved difficult to meet the paper’s publication deadlines. The date was changed to the third Wednesday of each month at the Feb. 10 meeting. The change will take effect with the meeting on Wed. April 21.

The council also cleared up reported confusion over their name: people living outside the area, and many who live inside, were confused by the “North Valley” designation.

“Reaching out to other organizations in the county on emergency preparation, I always have to explain what ‘North Valley’ means,” Councilmember Mark Newhouser said. “We need to be more accurate, specific.” Council Vice Chair Daymon Doss echoed that sentiment.

“Every single conversation, I have to explain, even to people who live in the [area],” Doss said.

The name change won’t become official until approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors in a few months. All council members agreed to the schedule and name changes.

Improving public participation and outreach is the biggest task ahead, given the geographical and social distancing inherent in the communities of Kenwood and Glen Ellen. Both evolved from small, unincorporated clusters of farmers, grape growers, and quarry workers, along with a large contingent of second homes and vacation homes for people from San Francisco and the East Bay, especially after regular and reliable rail transit arrived in the 1920s.

While both communities developed social groups, including grange halls, churches, community centers, commerce, and the like, they have had few common issues to draw them into a larger conversation with the county, at least until the explosive growth of the population, along with the wine and tourism industries since 1970, and rising pressure on housing stocks from skyrocketing real estate costs.

Government regulations greatly expanded in the late 1960s and 1970s, with the addition of a county general plan and development of multiple zoning codes and building regulations brought about by the influx of thousands of new full-time residents into the county.

The outreach plan approved last December calls for strengthening ties between Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities, developing partnerships with businesses, non-profits, and youth to learn about and address unmet needs, and informing the council members and the community in general about available county services. It will be a large task in an area that is widely distributed and where residents are not circulating freely because of pandemic rules.

Suggested outreach strategies to explore include newspaper articles, surveys, setting up a Facebook page and other social media profiles, and coordinating with other MAC groups facing similar problems, along with developing accurate ways to measure the effectiveness of these approaches.

Surveys, however, may prove to be too expensive to effectively pursue, according to Supervisor Susan Gorin.

“The Springs [MAC] wanted a survey to be sent to each household with a return stamp on it. The estimate was $50,000.” She suggested an online survey app or social media as a reasonable method to survey public opinion.

Meanwhile, talking points have been developed for council members to use when speaking with the public, and a list of local organizations is being developed along with plans to reach out to them.

Supervisor Gorin attends all MAC meetings, even two-and-a-halfhour- long meetings like this one. She listens and responds to the wideranging topics raised and had a lot to say about many things.

Climate change will be an element of all future county polices (where applicable), Gorin said. It is not only a state requirement, but something she has been working with at the county and regional level for years.

“It means coordinating the county with non-profits and the government sector, to work with President Biden and the state to move forward aggressively,” with carbon sequestration, water supplies, water sheds, and landscape vulnerability.

She suggested the NVMAC can play a role in seeing that plans for the future development of the Sonoma Developmental Center property are appropriate.

“The state has already spent … millions in campus upgrades, funding planning, security, and invisible services,” Gorin said. “They want to recoup their investment and consider it an investment in the community.

“The people planning the SDC’s future are meeting monthly and seeking ideas of what to do about the campus,” Gorin said. She emphasized that it will be many, many years before any development happens at the SDC site, and that the state may be “aggressive” in recouping its expenses.

“We’re going to have to get real,” Gorin said. “No one can afford to rehabilitate all the buildings … We will need a very sharp pencil to work out payment for the land. The cost of development will be enormous.”

Gorin suggested the NVMAC could inject a wider range of development ideas than are currently visible.

“I haven’t been impressed by land use planning looking at agrotourism, resorts and the like,” she said. “We need to speak up loudly about diversifying the economy. We are vulnerable to disruptions in that economy. What else should be here? There may be opportunities not researched by the land use planning team.”

As for the state directive to develop much-needed housing, Gorin said, “Housing doesn’t pay the bill. Think about revenue capacity as you go along.”