Development, drought, emergency preparedness, archives, and more
By Jay Gamel
It’s hard to pin a label on what the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council is all about, which is one reason for the recent name change to add “Sonoma” to the prior designation. The change makes where the group operates a little clearer, but doesn’t necessarily add clarity to what they are about. In fact, even the members aren’t all that clear on their brief.
One of the difficulties getting a handle on MACs is that they are typically used for a number of reasons, such as preparing an unincorporated area to become a city, as happened with the Windsor MAC many years ago. Other MACs may focus on specific community needs, or generalize, like North Sonoma Valley. They are mainly creatures of the county supervisors who create them, to serve their needs and purposes. NSVMAC was created to help Sonoma County First District Supervisor Susan Gorin get information to constituents in Glen Ellen and Kenwood, and to keep an ear on the concerns of voters living in these denser communities within unincorporated, rural Sonoma County.
At the April 21 virtual meeting of the NSVMAC, besides formalizing a name change in the bylaws (to be approved by the entire county Board of Supervisors later) and hearing a thorough report on preparing Glen Ellen and Kenwood for future emergencies from council member Mark Newhouser, several members expressed ongoing desires to include development issues in their purview. Gorin attends each NSVMAC meeting and keeps the members informed about county business likely to affect the region, as well as encourages them to become informed on county matters and to poll the community to learn about emerging and ongoing issues.
“Why is the MAC not allowed land use purview?” councilmember Matt Dickey asked. Dickey also serves on the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, a 19-member organization specifically tasked with reviewing new developments and passing on recommendations to the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for consideration.
Like the NSVMAC, the SVCAC has no formal authority to approve or reject the projects, but they solicit input, deliberate pros and cons, and their opinions are closely read by those who do make yes, no or maybe decisions on proposed projects.
“You, as a SVCAC commissioner, have the county authority to review land use (proposals),” Gorin replied. “MACs do not, but they can send comments to the citizens advisory commission about anything they review.” During public comment, meeting attendees expressed concerns about the impact of potential development on Glen Ellen, particularly the results of the county’s specific planning process for the extensive property of the adjacent Sonoma Developmental Center, now being considered for future affordable housing, commercial and other development. “There is a great level of anxiety in our town about the future,” Glen Ellen resident Alice Horowitz said. “We need to do something about that. I’m worried about the tenor of conversations that I have with people here.” “Based on the conversation that just happened over the past 44 minutes,” Tracy Salcedo observed, “It’s really important to recognize that discussion of development, and what that looks like, needs a venue. There’s no place for Glen Ellen to go put our name on a letter that carries more weight.”
“A lot of people share those concerns,” NSVMAC Chairman Arthur Dawson added.
Gorin suggested the group invite representatives from Permit Sonoma to speak about their procedures concerning public input on proposed development. “They have software to track what is happening. Get that information.” She said her staff can respond to NSVMAC member questions about development, as well.
Prepare for emergencies
After approving the name change and technical amendments to the bylaws, the council heard an in-depth report from Mark Newhouser on developing plans for local emergency response for Kenwood and Glen Ellen. Newhouser worked with Daymon Doss and Larry Davis to develop an overview of the problems and potential solutions to preparing for wildfires, earthquake, flood and emergencies in general.
“The hard part is ahead of us,” Newhouser cautioned after the presentation. “We have to work with the community and figure out how to get it going.”
Doss noted that a major part of any working plan involves a neighborhood approach, where residents get to know at least their immediate neighbors, to check on them in emergencies and see that everyone is accounted for and safe.
“This is a humbling process,” Newhouser said. “There are sociopsychological shifts in how people think,” referring to the considerable impacts the 2017 and 2020 wildfires have had on residents.
Having successful emergency planning is crucial to obtaining support and funding from regional, state, and federal sources, Supervisor Gorin noted.
Traffic and Safety Committee: Angela Nardo-Morgan reviewed community surveys concerned with traffic, speeding, bike paths, sidewalks, and lighting. Speed bumps turned out to be a nonstarter, with the fire department objecting to slowing down emergency response times. Further, the California Highway Patrol said LIDAR checks on traffic showed speeding was not an “overwhelming” problem. Speeding on Warm Springs Road was more about perception of speed, because the narrow road looks like a bottleneck.
Sonoma Developmental Center: Matthew Dickey said a recent meeting of the Planning Advisory Team on the specific planning process met on the SDC campus with Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma, and representatives from the California’s Department of General Services, which is handling the disposition of the SDC property. They looked at existing buildings that have potential for reuse. Future meetings of the NSVMAC will include discussions of residential parking permits, a planning process overview, and a look at the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District Hazard Mitigation Plan.