Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) will celebrate its first year in existence next Thursday, Feb. 20, when the MAC meets in the El Molino High School library starting at 5:30 p.m.
“We’re going to talk about progress,” said Elise VanDyne, field representative for Sonoma County’s Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.
MAC’s nine elected members will get an annual report on their inaugural year’s activities and look at how the MAC wants to proceed in its role as the advisory body for Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, said VanDyne.
Discussions of local flood recovery resources, tourism impact fund expenditures and how issues are supposed to get on the MAC’s agendas will be on the table next week. Plus, the council will also elect its first chair and vice chair,
“It’s an interesting agenda. We have a lot to get done,” said VanDyne, who last July took over the field rep job that includes facilitating the river MAC’s six annual meetings.
Lower River MAC challenges last year included February’s flood disaster, several staff turnovers in Hopkins’ Fifth District office and the MAC’s inexperience.
Thus far, “Guidance has not been consistent and strong,” VanDyne said, “but there are a lot of good things happening.”
The MAC spent much of 2019 reacting to the February Russian River flood, the worst Russian River flood disaster in more than two decades. MAC members now hope to move forward, making recommendations on new projects such as appropriate local uses for Sonoma County Tourism Impact Mitigation Funds (TIF).
MAC also needs clarity on when and how county use permit applications, such as a controversial housing development proposed on River Road along the Rio Nido strip, will get reviewed by the MAC.
So far “We haven’t set any guidelines” for putting local use permit applications on MAC’s agenda, said VanDyne.
She said that what MAC should or should not be reviewing is still being worked out. For instance a proposal for the river MAC to form an ad hoc oversight committee to review non-profit social service spending on Guerneville homelessness failed to gain support at the MAC’s last meeting in December.
Guerneville resident and MAC member Jeniffer Wertz has proposed the homelessness review as a way to address issues with programs such as the West County Community Services winter shelter that brings people in for nightly food and shelter in the Guerneville Vets Hall, but then scatters the homeless out on the street every morning to congregate downtown.
“I wanted to get a group of local citizens looking at statistics and dollar amounts” for local homelessness services to see if they are working or not, said Wertz,
“Right now they are not collecting that data,” said Wertz. “How many people are coming here from out of town? How many law enforcement calls” are related to homelessness?
For downtown merchants, “There’s no nuisance resolution process,” said Wertz.
But VanDyne said that MAC “is not an oversight council” for private non-profit endeavors such as the winter shelter.
Lynda Hopkins made the formation of a Lower Russian River MAC for citizen participation a key component of her 2016 campaign for county supervisor. The MAC’s elected members represent seven lower river districts: Forestville, Hacienda, Pocket Canyon, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio and Cazadero.
After a year on the job, “We really don’t know each other,” said one MAC member who wasn’t speaking for attribution. “We’re still trying to get everyone on the same tack.”
Recent meetings have felt “directionless,” said a MAC observer. A long all-day December retreat, which included members from the separate Sonoma Coast MAC, began with everyone doing yoga exercises.
That’s when “I knew the day was going to be a disaster,” said a MAC attendee. “It was a lot of psycho babble and game playing.”