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Sonoma County

2 years later: COVID’s impact on California North Coast economy

in Covid
In this photo taken Thursday, March 19, 2020, a temporarily closed sign is posted outside the entrance to the Georges De Latour Reserve Tasting Room at the Beaulieu Vineyard winery in Rutherford, Calif. Wineries in the Napa Valley are closed due to coronavirus restrictions expect for production, but some allow customers to pick up shipments of wine and for direct purchases. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

As the coronavirus pandemic entered its third year, some metrics for the health of the North Bay economy such as overall employment are nearly back to where they were before mid-March 2020.

So the Business Journal compared local counties with similar populations but different public health responses and outcomes. And we checked in with key figures in local industry to see how their businesses have endured the unprecedented threats to life and livelihood.

Sonoma and Solano counties: Different COVID approaches but similar outcomes

Sonoma has been among the California counties with the most proactive public health measures in the past two years, while Solano County has resisted measures.

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2 California counties tackle coronavirus differently but have similar outcomes

in Covid
Iconic landmarks in Sonoma and Solano counties are the Empire Building, left, in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square and the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat; Portecuaphoto / Shutterstock)

Sonoma and Solano, the North Bay’s two largest counties, are comparable in population.

But they have taken notably different paths toward dealing with the now 2-year-old coronavirus pandemic.

Sonoma has more residents than Solano — 494,000 to 440,000, respectively — but Solano is denser than Sonoma — 503 people per square mile in Solano, compared with 307 per square mile in Sonoma, according to California and U.S. Census Bureau data.

In trying to slow the virus behind COVID-19’s ailments, Sonoma has been among the California counties with the most proactive public health measures since March 2020. At times, the county even went beyond similarly acting counties and cities at times.

“If at times Sonoma County had more restrictive health orders, it was warranted because of conditions in Sonoma County, including case rate, death rate, hospitalizations, etc.,” county spokesperson Matt Brown wrote in an email.

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Burlington plans to open Santa Rosa discount clothing store this spring

in Business
Burlington Stores discount clothing store is set to fill the shuttered Office Depot location in Santa Rosa Marketplace, seen here before it closed a few years ago, in spring 2022. The Santa Rosa store will be one of the new smaller-format locations the New Jersey company plans to focus growth on for “higher sales productivity” in coming years. (Keegan & Coppin Co. Inc. photo)

Burlington Stores (NYSE: BURL) plans to open a 31,000-square-foot Santa Rosa store this spring, part of a nationwide expansion of smaller locations.

The New Jersey-based discount clothing retailer sees this as supportable especially because of inflationary pressure on household budgets. Burlington focuses on in-season, fashion-focused merchandise, intended to be significantly below other retailers’ prices. Products include women’s ready-to-wear apparel, menswear, youth apparel, baby, beauty, footwear, accessories, home, toys, gifts and coats.

The coming Santa Rosa location will be in a shuttered Office Depot site at 1960 Santa Rosa Ave. in the Santa Rosa Marketplace power center. It would be Burlington’s third in the North Bay and 94th in California, a company spokesperson confirmed. Burlington also has stores in Rohnert Park and Vacaville.

CEO Michael O’Sullivan said on a March 3 financial-results conference call that the higher-inflation environment could be a risk to the company as lower-income consumers are stressed to pay for more-expensive food, gas and other essentials. But it also could be a “big opportunity” for Burlington, as off-price retail historically has done well in such an economic environment as consumers trade down.

“Usually in times of economic stress when consumers are under pressure, their natural and rational reaction is to focus even more heavily on finding great value,” O’Sullivan said, according to a transcript by Seeking Alpha.

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Affordable housing projects in Santa Rosa, Windsor awarded $24 million in state loans

in Housing
This rendering shows a planned 54-unit housing development for Kashia tribal members at 10221 Old Redwood Highway.

Two large housing developments in Santa Rosa and Windsor will together receive $24 million in low-interest loans from the state to create over 100 affordable units, the California Department of Housing and Community Development announced this week.

More than $8.5 million will go to the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria to help finance a 54-unit complex for low-income tribal members in Windsor. The site at 10221 Old Redwood Highway will also serve as the tribe’s headquarters.

In October, Burbank Housing, the local affordable developer in charge of the project, said it expected financing to take about a year and construction another 18 months. The total cost was unclear since the project was early in development.

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NOAA: California drought continues for 3rd year as ‘driest on record’

in Weather

It’s official. California faces a “prolonged, persistent drought” that will “elevate the risk of wildfire across the West,” the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday in its spring outlook that runs through June.

Following three-year precipitation levels that were the “driest on record” for Central California since measurements started in 1922, the “low snowpack going into the dry time of year in May and June” isn’t helping, as NOAA’s meteorologist Brad Pugh pointed out on a virtual press conference call. “This sets the stage for wildfire activity.”

Pugh singled out the Bay Area as an area where “the concern is quite high as we go into spring and early summer” in respect to wildfire danger and water resources drying up.

“We’re running out of time to make up for any precipitation deficit,” he said.

Despite atmospheric river downpours in October and December, January and February were well below normal in producing any type of ground drenching.

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Sonoma County court interpreters join regional walkout for better pay, conditions

in News
Sonoma and Napa county courthouse employees (from left) Maria Galvez, Monica Aparicio, Elva Murillo-Nunez, and Christina Guerrero Harmon pose in front of the Sonoma County Civil and Family Law Courthouse on March 11, 2022.

Spanish language interpreters at the Sonoma County courthouse joined a regionwide walkout Friday over wages and working conditions, leaving courtrooms without trained professionals to translate for defendants, victims and witnesses who do not speak English.

While the local steward for the California Federation of Interpreters told The Press Democrat that the action was “not a full strike,” she did not share when interpreters would return to the courthouse to provide their services.

“Basically, we’re just really unhappy that the courts are unwilling to sit down and present a meaningful counteroffer” to the union’s contract proposals, steward Christina Guerrero Harmon said.

Interpreters are asking, she said, for wages that reflect “the cost of living, inflation rates and, also, all the work we did during the pandemic as front-line workers.“

In an email, a spokesman for the state court system’s Bay Area division said a meeting was set for next Wednesday after the union requested to return to the bargaining table.

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Hundreds of teachers to strike in Sonoma County school district

in Education/Schools

ROHNERT PARK, Calif. (KRON) – More than 300 educators in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District will strike on Thursday.

This comes following months of negotiations with the school district and board to invest in the student and teachers.

According to the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association, teachers, nurses, and other school employees will participate in the strike to help retain the best teachers in the district and provide a better liveable wage for employees to live in the county.

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Sonoma County’s Mercy Wellness free medical cannabis program a team effort with Mendocino County grower, Oakland distributor

in News

Mercy Wellness is teaming up with an East Bay cannabis producer and Mendocino County grower in doling out free medicinal marijuana.

Under the “Compassion Donation” program, the dispensary company started giving away free cannabis last June at its Cotati location and three months later at its Santa Rosa retail outlet, which opened last May. Since mid-2021, the dispensary has donated about $50,000 worth of cannabis product.

The concept behind the compassion program came about from California Senate Bill 34, named the Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act. It allows licensed retailers to provide free cannabis to medicinal patients or their primary caregivers, upon meeting specified requirements.

The bill authorizes those licensees to contract with a sanctioned “individual or organization to coordinate the provision of free medicinal cannabis and medicinal cannabis products on the retailer’s premises,” the bill’s language reads. The bill, signed into law in October 2019, expires in five years.

“The whole effort was centered on compassion,” Mercy Wellness Director of Procurement Joe Sullivan told the Business Journal. “And the compassion program is a way to give back.”

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Sonoma County homelessness agency reshuffles leadership amid surge in spending on crisis

in Community/News
Volunteer Sherrie Vaughn helps a homeless person wake up with a drink of water in the Park & Ride homeless tent encampment near Roberts Lake in northern Rohnert Park on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Sonoma County’s joint homelessness agency — in charge of millions of dollars in public funding and key policy decisions — has for the fourth time in nearly as many years reshuffled its leadership board to better tackle the local crisis as unprecedented sums of state and federal money are now pouring into the region.

The entity, known as the Sonoma County Continuum of Care, has since its inception just over a decade ago been hampered by bureaucracy, mismanagement and poor communication, according to critics and a scathing 2020 civil grand jury report.

In hopes of building a more unified response to homelessness, the Continuum of Care, which includes county and city representatives, last week finalized the latest iteration of its now 17-member decision-making board. One of the main goals was to add members from smaller cities, giving them a stake in policy and spending decisions as California and the federal government are offering much more money — including $12 billion from the state — to launch and expand programs for the unhoused.

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Sonoma County now offers 911 texting in addition to calls in most areas

in News

Most Sonoma County residents now have the option to text 911 in an emergency, as part of a new service intended to help people with certain disabilities or anyone who might not be able to safely call for help.

Police departments in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Healdsburg launched the service Tuesday to comply early with a state law requiring every public safety answering point to have a text option by Jan. 1, 2021.

Anyone who opts to text emergency dispatchers just has to enter “911“ as the recipient for their message. Police advised the first message should include the location of the emergency and the type of help needed such as police, fire or medical.

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