Tuesday, July 5th, 2022
Happy New Year! Fiscal New Year, that is. As of July 1, the County of Sonoma rolls into a new fiscal year, and will be implementing the NEW County budget approved by the Board of Supervisors in June.
What does this mean to you, in West County?
I’m proud to say that the Board of Supervisors made a number of new, critical investments in social and physical infrastructure this year. The projects supported by this funding will make us more resilient in the face of drought, floods, and wildfires— and will inch us towards becoming a more equitable, just, fair society.
These new investments include:
    $2M for community infrastructure projects in West County, to be developed and prioritized in conversation with the community.
    $1M for paid disaster leave for hourly wage workers, to be activated in case of a disaster.
    $2M to fund a multi-year flexible “community disaster immediate needs” program, which would provide support to residents in need (in partnership with local non-profits) in the case of a disaster.
    $5M Water Fund to address flooding, drought resilience, and possible wastewater solutions. This includes $75,000 to apply for state funds to support septic owners coming into compliance with the Russian River TMDL.
    $236,000 to avoid shutting down the Guerneville Vets building homeless shelter, which would otherwise have shuttered its doors at the end of June, kicking 25 unsheltered folks out onto the streets.
    $375,000 to help Sonoma County becomes a “pro-housing County,” a designation that would open up funding opportunities to build more affordable housing.
    $1.2M for a food needs assessment and food distribution.
    $1.5M to support groundwater sustainability planning efforts.
    $500,000 to keep our Visitor’s Centers open.
    $200,000 for the Secure Families Fund to support undocumented community members.
    $250,000 for Redwood Empire Food Bank.
This is on top of some exciting investments coming about through our American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Through an initial Fifth District transient occupancy tax grant, FREE downtown WiFi has already made it to Guerneville. Thanks to the addition of $390,000 of ARPA funds, we will be seeing free, disaster-resilient WiFi coming to downtown Forestville, Bodega, Bodega Bay, Rio Nido, Cazadero, and Jenner. And we won’t stop there! We are currently working with the amazing Bryan Hughes to support an application for CASF funding to expand free WiFi to additional communities.
In addition to free WiFi, ARPA funds will be reducing hunger in our communities while strengthening local food production. A dream team of Forestville’s own Food For Thought and Sebastopol-based Ceres Community Project received $2.25M to provide food for folks with critical medical conditions. This is in addition to $1.482M going to Farm to Pantry and FEED Sonoma that will buy farm-fresh produce from local farmers to support in-need families. Additionally, more than $3M will be going to provide Guaranteed Basic Income for pregnant moms and parenting families.
We believe that this money and investments into these programs, in partnership with our local non-profits, will make our community a more equitable, healthy, resilient place!
More on Free Rural WiFi
 We are excited to announce free public WiFi in Downtown Guerneville. To access, just select "Guerneville Public" in your WiFi settings and join the network. The splash page for the free WiFi also provides some great information including emergency services, an event calendar, rural living and history, along with some business information. 
Active as of June 30th, this project came about as a collaboration between the Russian River Alliance and a grant from District 5's Supervisor Hopkins. Once the project vision and funding were in place, Bryan Hughes of the Russian River Alliance researched and found a model for a similar project working well for the past 10 years in rural Vermont. Hughes and this technical team installed 10 access points throughout the downtown to create a mesh network. Five of the access points are gateways with Comcast backhauls and the other five are repeaters. The network extends from Fife Creek Commons, Timberline, West Sonoma Inn, and R3, down to the Bank of America Building and West County Health Centers, down Main Street to Coffee Bazaar and the Hernandez Realty and the Plaza, and across Johnson’s Beach. The free WiFi will provide equal access to workers, businesses, residents and visitors to downtown Guerneville. Businesses will be able to provide online information and services to downtown patrons now that there is public WiFi available.
This project is not only about equitable access, it is also about disaster preparedness. During the 2019 wildfires we had no power and our communities were evacuated. The cell towers and broadband were all down, leaving fire fighters and residents without information or communications access. With $390,000 of additional funding from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) for Stage Two of this project, the Alliance will be adding Starlink Satellite hook ups powered by solar and with battery backup which allow the network to operate when there is no power, no Comcast, and no cellular network.
"Never again will we be without any digital communications during disasters,” said Supervisor Hopkins. "It's wonderful to see our tax dollars providing equitable access, disaster preparedness, and support for downtown business and visitors."
"This additional round of ARPA funding means rolling out this project next to Cazadero, Jenner, Bodega Bay, Bodega, and Forestville. Every one of these communities will have this free service fully paid for 5 years!" Explained Bryan Hughes of the Russian River Alliance.
At $7 per resident a year, this project shows how well placed public investment paired with local expertise can make a big impact in rural communities.
Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins | County of Sonoma | 707-565-2241