City earmarks money for the community center, endorses the new vision for its renovation
The Sebastopol City Council’s Oct. 15 meeting was ostensibly about figuring out how to divide up the $1.5 million it received from the state for flood expenses incurred by the city of Sebastopol, but it was really about seeing how much money could be wrung from city coffers to pay for renovations to the community center, which was badly damaged in this winter’s flooding.
The city lost about $735,385 due to the flooding — much of that in property damage to several city properties along the laguna, including the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center building, the pumping station and Park Village, the city’s very low income housing community.
Some of the damage to these properties will be reimbursed through the $1.5 million, which the city already has in hand. But the city is also expecting money from insurance, as well as FEMA and California Office of Emergency Services, which the city will receive … no one knows when.
(One city employee noted that it had taken FEMA 30 years to pay the city of Northridge for damages from an earthquake that happened in 1994.)
Councilmember Una Glass gamely tried to explain that, as a result of this uncertainty, the city’s budget committee was proposing that the city put aside $550,118 of that $1.5 million in the Building, Infrastructure and Replacement Fund and then use $466,377 of the $1.5 million to reimburse the city’s general fund for flood-related expenses it had already paid.
The reason for reimbursing the general fund, Glass said, was that the flood money from the state (and ultimately from FEMA and CalOES) can only be used for certain types of flood damage, while money from the city’s general fund can be used for a broader range of repairs.
“The government gives you money in specific buckets and says, ‘This money may only be spent on this thing.’ What we’re doing here is trying to figure out how to expend the money on the things that are permissible. What we’re doing is we’re taking this $1.5 million that may only be spent on flood stuff and paying ourselves back for the money we have already spent on that ... Suddenly we have moved $466,000 back into our regular budget where we can spend it on things that may not be specifically flood-related— like a better commercial kitchen for the community center. It gives us more flexibility.”
Now that the city had moved roughly $466,000 back into the general fund, the budget committee suggested that the council earmark $483,504 from the general fund to cover things that the staff said should be done immediately to mitigate damage from future natural disasters.
These immediate precautionary expenses included the following:
• $80,000 to replace manhole frames and covers with new ones with locking seals to protect the city from the liability that comes with spilling polluted water into the laguna.
• $57,568 for a portable generator set to run the city’s wells and sewer system in case of blackouts.
• $23,000 for water reservoirs for Well 4.
• $23,000 for Sebastopol Center for the Arts (a county emergency shelter) to rewire the center to run off of the new generators.
• $80,000 for a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan.
• $200,000 for a flood mitigation system for the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center (possibly an Aquadam).
From this list, the most important, according to Glass, was the $80,000 to hire a consultant to write a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, meant to be submitted to FEMA. Without that, no money would be forthcoming from FEMA (or CalOES), nor could any building in the flood plain, namely the community center, undertake any kind of significant renovation — including, possibly, renovation to protect it from further damage should another flood occur.
Councilmember Sarah Glade Gurney asked Sebastopol building official Glenn Schainblatt how long it would take to submit the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan and get it approved by FEMA.
His answer: “Nine to 12 months.”
There was a collective gasp of disbelief from the audience — which matched the looks on the faces of the council.
It turned out that Sebastopol (and, according to Schainblatt, every other city in Sonoma County) had forgotten to renew their Local Hazard Mitigation Plans with FEMA, which forced them to reapply, costing more in both time and money.
At the beginning of public comment, Community Center director Cordelia Holst gave an enthusiastic presentation about the renovations she’d like to see for the community center.
“We’re feeling like this $1.5 million is a miracle,” she said. “I hope you’re feeling that way too.”
Holst was preceded by an entire children’s choir singing the praises (literally) of the community center. Her comments were followed by a parade of community center supporters, basically doing the same thing — sans music.
Then the council turned to the happy task of doling out the flood-relief money they had just moved to the general fund.
In the end, the council voted unanimously to fund all the emergency items on the list above, including a much-increased amount for the community center, which got $339,000: $44,000 to reimburse the center for flood-related expenses it has already paid; $45,000 in lost revenue caused by flood damage; and up to $250,000 for a flood mitigation system to protect the building from future flooding — if it turns out, FEMA will allow them to do that.
The council also gave their endorsement to the new renovation vision and plan that the community center's facilities committee developed. For more information on this plan, see our last article on this topic, "The Community Center's Main Chance."