The first Sonoma County Alliance general membership meeting of the new year is a time to reflect on SCA’s activities over the past 12 months, hear reports from committee chairs regarding what’s ahead in 2019, and make a formal transition to a new team of officers.

“My goal in 2018 was summed up in three words – Engage, Collaborate and Focus — in line with the SCA’s board agenda,” said outgoing president Kris Wilson. “The wildfires added another element to this list and gave us a seat at the table with groups addressing these emergencies, as well as other topics, such as the need to relieve the housing shortage and homelessness in the county. Taken together, these concerns are opportunities to demonstrate the realistic, flexible and patient approach shown by the SCA when making an impact and helping to find solutions. On a personal note, the support I received from members during this fast-paced, interesting period of my life meant the world to me.”

On January 9, Wilson welcomed Eric Goldschlag as the Alliance’s new president for 2019. “We have witnessed significant changes in our community over the past year increasing the need for greater advocacy efforts by our officers, board members and staff,” said Goldschlag.

“Brian Ling and Kris stepped up to participate at planning meetings, public forums, city council sessions and with the board of supervisors requiring more of their valuable time to stay informed, monitor ongoing activities and weigh in with a business prospective.”

He said, given the current array of issues, “We have a lot of work ahead. We also have 360 members, 220 of whom attend our monthly meetings regularly, who can connect with elected officials and those appointed to boards and commissions, work with local business leaders, boards of directors and others to make a difference.”

Goldschlag said the Alliance has a track record of “engaged performance” over its 44-year history as an organization addressing Sonoma County’s infrastructure, including transportation education, the environment, housing, public safety and other vital economic aspects of the county. 

“My goal is to increase the SCA’s visibility and to show the key role it plays in both the public and private sectors while letting everyone know who we are and what we stand for.  This involves expanding the Alliance’s presence through social media and increasing public access to our website.”

As the next general election comes closer, the SCA’s role will increase. Goldschlag’s wish is that Alliance members embrace a collective purpose centered on the organization’s top objectives for 2019.  He said there are a lot of leaders within the SCA that can have a positive impact to enhance our local economy, while also supporting efforts to build greater awareness of the Alliance.

“Take photos of people at your table and get conversations started about what the Alliance is doing. I also encourage you to join one of our standing committees or task forces.”

Goldschlag invited SCA committee chairs to come forward and provide an overview of their areas of responsibility.

Allison Spitzer, Chair of the Membership Committee, encouraged everyone to bring guests to monthly meetings. “Our role in to retain current members and to continually reach out to attract new members while keeping everyone engaged.” 

Erich Rauber, Chair of the Environmental Committee, said the SCA has been active in this arena since 1975 when it promoted the building of Warm Springs Dam and Lake Sonoma. “Our job is to identify environmental issues, assess potential impacts and pursue positive outcomes. We do this by utilizing the resources of the Alliance to achieve necessary and appropriate goals.”

He said some current issues this committee is pursing include the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP); forest conservation; the TMDL Russian River Action Plan, and cannabis cultivation concerns. 

For example, Rauber said, “We appreciate the efforts of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, such as the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, and its goal of developing a blueprint to ensure groundwater is available at least through 2042.  The formation of the GSP is the heart of the state’s Groundwater Management Act.  We especially wish to recognize the efforts of Joe Gaffney and Marlene Soiland in monitoring this process.”

Gaffney said a fee study has been underway for six months to find ways to finance staff and consultants involved in GSA planning and management. “It is not pretty. I represent the business community at these meetings. The next session is scheduled for January 30 at 6:00 p.m. at the Finley Center when results of the fee study will be revealed.” For additional information, go to www.sonomacountygroundwater.org. 

Rauber showed a chart with the GSP development timeline with milestones from 2018 until the plan’s implementation in 2024.

Dee Swanheyser is leading forest conservation efforts with the Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group and others to protect, sustain and increase the health of forests, woodlands and watersheds. 

“Michael Burns is tracking the Water Board’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) action plan that addresses the Russian River’s impaired watershed encompassing a 1,485-square mile area. This plan is part of the overall basin plan and is designed to impact septic system owners and prohibit the discharge of fecal waste. 

According to Rauber, cultivation practices have raised questions about the county’s cannabis ordinance.  “The irony is that while voter approval of Prop. 64 legalizing recreational marijuana use was among the lowest in Sonoma County (59%) compared to other Bay Area counties and San Francisco, the cultivation rules imposed by Sonoma County are among the most liberal.”  

Michael Menendez, Co-Chair (Craig Worthen) of the Education Committee, revealed that nearly $20,000 was distributed to several organizations in 2018, including the San Miguel Charter Elementary School, Teachers Wish List, Bookmobile of Sonoma County, the Hanna Boys Center (for its role in building mini-libraries placed outside the Community Health Center of Santa Rosa), and to the Burbank Center for the Arts for its Youth Mariachi Program.  

Menendez said this committee holds one fundraiser each year in the spring — Bocce for Books — held at the Taft Street Winery featuring fun team competitions, a barbecue and fine wines. He encouraged members to check off the $25 donation box when renewing their membership with every penny supporting education. 

Robin Stephani, Chair of the Housing Task Force, said the housing shortage is a “Huge elephant in the room we all are dealing with. If we address this issue correctly, it will build the core resiliency of our county. Our role is to bring best practices to the county and to be an advocate for housing while encouraging member participation in this process. Our next meeting is on January 15 at the Sonoma Academy High School.” 

This committee includes SCA members along with representatives with NORBAR and the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce. 

Dennis Harter, Chair of the Transportation Committee, said the SCA’s involvement goes back more than 35 years when it comes to efforts to implement a multi-modal transportation plan for the county – and that it took 23 years to realize a successful measure to help finance such a plan.

“We’ve been working to upgrade and widen Highway 101 and to bring SMART passenger rail service to the North Bay.  Over the years five ballot measures were proposed but only two passed. Sonoma County has to be a self-help entity raising local funds that can be used to leverage state and federal financing spearheaded by Suzanne Smith at the Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) enabling seven dollars to be obtained for every dollar raised within the county. In recent times, we’ve seen SB-1 and regional Measure 3 funds help pay for highway projects.”

Harter said this committee’s mission is to look for funding source opportunities and to support the reauthorization of Measure M – which is 40% funded – to help pay for local streets and road repairs.  

He said the learning curve required to understand transportation issues is steep. “I sit on a Citizens Oversight Committee that gave me two pages of acronyms for terms used during transportation discussions so I could get up to speed. This group does not have a set monthly meeting schedule. 

Ross Liscum, Chair of the Take Back Our Community Task Force, described TBOC as a way to offer cash rewards to those who provide tips on the whereabouts of wanted perpetrators that lead to their apprehension. He said this program dates back to 2005 as a tool to assist local law enforcement personnel in obtaining leads by encouraging witnesses to come forward.  The TBOC program is a cooperative effort with the Santa Rosa Police Department (led by Gang Task Force leader Sergeant Tommy Isachsen) that offers cash rewards up to $2,500. 

TBOC also supports and circulates its 15 Most Wanted List of felons to inform the public to be on the lookout for these individuals without attempting to contact, apprehend or detain them — since they may be armed and dangerous. The best course of action is to call the Most Wanted Tip Line (707)-543-4170 when reporting the location of an offender. The list of crimes committed includes gang related shootings, murder, stabbings, cases involving drugs and guns as well as various outstanding felony warrants. 

The TBOC program is supported through $25 (or higher) donations made when members check this box when renewing SCA memberships. Liscum said, “if everyone does a little, no one needs to do a lot.”

Steven Knudsen, Chair of the Communications Committee, reported that the goal of this group is to use social media to spread awareness of the Alliance by publishing speaker notes and meeting summaries, the monthly President’s Message, the Executive Directors Message and timely news about upcoming events.

He said this involves updating and maintaining the SCA website so it can convey the Alliance’s views and positions on various issues, and so that members and the general public can make informed decisions. 

“Two short, impactful 30-minute workshops are planned, conducted by Kerry Rego Consulting focusing on tips designed to ensure personal safety and as how to take an organization to the next level online using effective social media techniques. These sessions will be held on February 6, and March 6, after the general membership meetings at the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club. 

Brian Ling, Alliance Executive Director, reported on  the Sonoma County Alliance Political Action Committee (SCAPAC), said that although 2019 is not an election year, there are only 14 months until the March 3, 2020 Primary Election. For Sonoma County, three Board of Supervisor seats will appear on the ballot for the 1st, 3rd and 5th Districts with Supervisors Susan Gorin, Shirlee Zane and Lynda Hopkins the current incumbents. “SCAPAC has a solid record for picking winners. Seven of the nine Sonoma County City Mayors for 2019 in the recent election were endorsed by SCAPAC.”

SCAPAC interviews candidates for county elective positions before each election to determine whether the SCA will endorse them and provide a campaign contribution. Meanwhile, Ling regularly attends up to 35 meetings per month held within the nine Sonoma County cities convened by city councils, majors, commissions and the board of supervisors. 

“These meetings are not quiet events where the unexpected should always be expected,” Ling added.

He said the annual SCAPAC fundraising Golf Tournament is scheduled for May 2 (the first Thursday in May) at the Windsor Golf Club. Kris Wilson is heading the committee organizing this event.

“When looking for a way to say thank you to Kris for her year as Alliance President, we approached the Vintner’s Inn that ‘Celebrates Everything’ to see if they would offer a complimentary spa package at their new Vi La Vita Spa.  We want to thank them for providing a gift card in appreciation for her leadership throughout 2018,” Ling added.

In closing, he recognized the role of the United Way, Hanna Boys Center and the CTE Foundation in providing funding and building support for creation of the mini-libraries.  CTE worked with nine schools to provide youth that helped build these small houses filled with books and mounted on pedestals near communities with low literacy rates.

He provided members with a preview of coming meeting topics and speakers.  With the primary issues of the day centering on housing and homelessness, Ling said the February 6 meeting will feature a talk by retired Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm, Mayor of Santa Rosa, focused on the homeless situation, grants, and solution efforts.  On March 6, Rick Tigner, CEO of Jackson Family Wines, will address sustainability, workforce housing and other issues that the company invests in.

Ling said in recent years the Alliance closely followed water and transportation issues, but in the last two years emphasis has centered on housing.

“The community is unanimous when it comes to determining what the issues are today. The problem is, no one agrees on the solution, or solutions. Most solutions are not liked by everyone. But we have to keep our hands on all of these proposed remedies while also seeking comment from various public and private sector interest groups to see which recommendations are viable.”