Our lengthening public health crisis will not end until a vaccine is developed and made available to the masses and our pandemic-caused economic recession will not be curtailed without trillions of federal funding for state and local governments, unemployed workers and for small businesses. Everything else is up to us. We can do more than just watch the daily coronavirus test results or just move some restaurant tables onto the sidewalks or close a few streets. 

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

Our Sonoma County economy needs to be rebuilt. We don’t need to wait for a vaccine or federal assistance. We have a full agenda and we should create, assemble or elect the leadership that will build a future we already have imagined. This is the future that remains confined to paper studies, unlaunched strategic outlines, deferred plans and relegated to the proverbial bookshelf and backburner. It’s past time to “git ‘er done.”

Our Sonoma County economic development agenda should include building thousands of houses; renovating our public transportation, energy and communication infrastructure (WiFi for all); creating a supportive network for all of our arts, crafts, cultural and philanthropic individuals (artists) and organizations; committing to, and completing, universal pre-school and childcare services; create a food and farm network of production, marketing, delivery and technical assistance resources; establish a county-based financial consortium to support micro-loans, crowdfunding, rental assistance, business incubation, locally-owned e-commerce solutions and technical training; implement a public communications program including all local media outlets based on open access, transparency and independent oversight; and, publish a “living” multi-year strategic plan and scorecard document encapsulating all these initiatives and ongoing progress. This document should be the subject of a full public review process every 12 months.

None of the above would cost any money we don’t already have. The most critical missing ingredient is “political will.” The county’s current leadership has called for increased equity and diversity among our workforce and throughout all our communities. They have endorsed many sustainability efforts in renewable energy, agriculture and land practices and new technologies. There have been many pledges, speeches and half-assed launch efforts. 

After the recent wildfires and the current pandemic much unfinished work has been exposed. There are as many as 20,000 willing workers unemployed in the county right now. Why can’t we be building more houses, adding miles of communication cables and WiFi towers, licensing more childcare centers and staffing local e-commerce switchboards? 

We realize one of most complex challenges is how to configure our schools. At the same time, there are many other educational and training programs we could be opening instead. We have a wealth of expertise and intellect among our retired population. By volunteering or with stipends we could be staffing expanded technical career academies, creative arts and music programs, computer coding classes, childcare licensing programs, advanced renewable energy skills training and apprenticeships, building trades and coronavirus trace, tracking and testing skills and jobs.

We came through two highly collaborative rebuilding periods following the wildfires. We set high expectations on improving the resiliency of our economy and public infrastructure. But the COVID-19 pandemic and recent Black Lives Matter protests have added to our resiliency agenda. We now also need new leadership to take us to a more equitable future. We must open more opportunities to more people of all ages and color. We must eliminate the exposed economic and social barriers that have existed for a long time in Sonoma County. 

The best version of a “git ‘er done” new economy here would support local ownership of many diverse businesses and less reliance on non-local enterprises. To emerge from this COVID-19 pandemic all of us must devote our loyalty to supporting these local businesses with our shopping dollars. We must re-dedicate ourselves to contributing to local nonprofit and community groups and we must also invest in all the new initiatives, networks and public-private partnerships listed above. But, first, we need to find the leadership to call us together and give us the kick in the ass it appears we need.

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