Every year comes and goes, but also leaves behind important dates that get remembered, written in newspapers and history books, and are sometimes turned into annual commemorations. (Oct. 8 is such a date for Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park Tubbs Fire survivors.) As 2020 is now running out of dates and makes way for 2021, we can begin to chronicle which dates over the last 12 months we may remember over the years to come.
A quick survey might include Jan. 24, Feb. 29, March 1, March 3, March 18, March 20, May 21, Aug. 6, Aug. 17, Aug. 31, Sept. 27, Nov. 3 and Dec. 17. (Try a news quiz and match an event with a date listed above. For a hint, almost all of these dates are about the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, local elections and historic dates about local newspapers.)
The new year started with great promise and rising enthusiasm as the local and national economy remained strong and on a steady growth trajectory. Many Sonoma County businesses and community organizations had fashioned “2020 Vision Plans,” laying out expansion strategies and aspirational goals. Many of the plans used the word “pivot.” Little did we know how that word would change in its meaning, just 77 days into the new calendar.
On March 1, the United States suffered its first COVID-19 related death and Sonoma County’s first COVID-19 fatality happened on March 20. The date most local businesses — especially our restaurants — remember is March 18. This was the date the county’s public health officer, Dr. Sundari Mase, ordered a shelter-in-place public safety edict that eventually displaced 20,000 people from their jobs. We now know some of our local businesses who shuttered their doors to “crush the curve” are now closed forever, victims of the pandemic-caused ongoing economic recession.
On May 21, The Windsor Times, Cloverdale Reveille and Sonoma West Times & News suspended print versions of the local news and converted to delivering local news daily via their websites and daily digital newsletters. Another victim of the pandemic was Healdsburg’s Raven Film Center that closed its doors on Aug. 31 after operating since 1950. Here, at the end of the year, on Dec. 17, Healdsburg Printing Company printed its final run of local newspapers, part of a disheartening national trend for newspapers and their printers. Jan. 24, 2020 saw the incorporation of the Sonoma County Local News Initiative, a community nonprofit pledged to keep local news alive and essential.
The first of two elections was held on March 3, a very tame affair compared to the year’s second election on Nov. 3. Sonoma County voters on March 3 rejected Measure G, a proposed new sales tax to pay for increased fire protection services, consolidation of districts and more firefighting personnel. The voters also rejected Measure I, which would have extended for another 20 years, the quarter-cent sales tax that helps fund the SMART commuter train. Surprisingly, all 14 local special tax proposals on the Nov. 3 ballot were approved by the same voters. New faces and potential majorities were elected Nov. 3 to local city councils, school boards and special districts. A record number 272,242 registered voters participated in the socially-distanced held election.
Sonoma County’s late summer winegrape harvest started on Aug. 6, a bit earlier than most years. The promise of another great crop was dashed on Aug. 17 when dry lightning ignited a series of wildfires, disrupting travels, forcing mass evacuations and spreading devastating wildfire smoke over thousands of acres of unpicked grapes, too full of smoke taint to be sold. (As much as 30% of the crop went unpicked, but lots of the harvested fruit is now showing good flavors and finished wine potential.)
The Walbridge Fire erupted on Aug. 17 as part of the LNU Lightning Complex fires and burned 52,000 acres in west county and destroyed 560 structures. As the smoke was finally dwindling, the Glass Fire jumped over the Mayacamas range from Napa County into eastern Sonoma County on Sept. 27. Another 642 structures were destroyed and 67,484 wildland acres were scorched.
One date from the list above remains to be mentioned. That date is Feb. 29, 2020, marking a Leap Year. We ask, did we really need an extra day this year?