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Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

EFREN CARRILLO: Hot, Cool and Green

APRIL 2009 ISSUE COLUMN - scroll down for previous columns...

On March 25th, The Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP) opened its storefront (Energy Store) inside the Water Agency headquarters with a large crowd in attendance. That day, our County became the first in California to launch an innovative and exciting way for homeowners and businesses to retrofit their properties for energy and water efficiency. According to the Climate Protection Campaign’s Action Plan, retrofitting 80% of Sonoma County properties by 2015 will be one of the steps needed to reach our carbon footprint goals.

Here are some of the highlights:
The big news is that financing for your improvements will be an assessment on your property, which can be paid off over a 5-20 year period. Using an assessment to finance means that the amount borrowed does not show as consumer debt or affect your credit rating. It shows on title searches to the property, and would remain with the property during changes in ownership.
Hopefully, this encourages people to seriously consider retrofitting, which should save money, energy, and water over the lifetime of the improvement.

Tax dollars are not being used to finance the program. Instead the investment by the County treasury in helping people retrofit will be revenue neutral, with interest paid (currently 7%) to cover program overhead and costs of future bond funds.

The minimum advance is $2500, with the maximum advance limited by property values.
Use of SCEIP funding is limited to energy or water efficiency improvements which are permanently affixed to the property. These include, but are not limited to:

• high efficiency windows
• solar or tankless water heaters
• solar panels
• upgrading wall and roof insulation (including cool roofs)
• duct sealing and high efficiency heating and cooling systems
• ‘smart’ irrigation systems (see next section!)

Other options can be proposed and approved if an efficiency value can be proven.
The Energy Store reports that there has been a great deal of interest in the program. They are already processing applications, and took in 5 the first day! That really says something about how excited people are to have this option, as there is some planning involved. You will need to have current property taxes, clear title to the property (mortgages are not a problem), and know the amount of funding needed, which means obtaining estimates and permits.

Go to to find out more about the program.

Water Tips:
During this dry year, we all need to be conscious of our water usage. Well users must strive to conserve the water table for their neighbors. Did you know that over 300 gallons of water can be used in an hour of inefficient watering? Here are a few simple steps to make your water usage more effective and spare:

• Install and use an automatic sprinkler system. Then, calibrate your system by measuring your sprinkler output. A simple method for this and many other useful tips can be found at
• Water only in the morning…this is the best time for both water consumption and your plants.
• Most importantly, be mindful when watering by hand or with sprinklers of what the needs are for the health of your landscape…don’t over water.

If you see your neighbors wasting water, be sure to provide information when asking them to change bad practices.

Update on COBRA insurance coverage for the unemployed
Thanks to Bill Hannant of Hannant Insurance Services for keeping our office updated on new information about the Federal Stimulus Funding for COBRA health insurance. Currently, emergency legislation (AB23) is in the works to extend the Federal assistance to laid-off/terminated workers to those who work for small employers covered under Cal COBRA. (2-20 employees) Legislation is expected to be passed by the time this paper is in print.

We also discovered that if you are eligible for insurance from any other source (spouse’s coverage for example) that will make you ineligible for assistance. You must have no other option available to you. A more detailed set of information may now be found at:

March 2009 Column - scroll down for previous column

AB885 Actions…

On February 24th, following public meetings held by the State Water Control Board to thousands of concerned local residents, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in opposition to the proposed AB885 septic tank regulations. While the County lauds the intent of this legislation to maintain groundwater quality, the proposed regulations place some unreasonable and costly requirements on septic system owners. Unfortunately, a one-size-fits-all approach to regulating systems is impractical with potential to be extremely burdensome to rural property owners and our local agencies that will be mandated to enforce the rules.

During the coming months, the State Board will be working on the proposed regulations, and has pledged to consider comments from the public during this process.

Forestville's Roundabout…

As mentioned in Vesta’s article, many of you turned out for a public meeting about the roundabout proposed for Highway 116 and Mirabel Road. It was my privilege to be part of the mostly positive commentary on the design presented. This is a work in process, but it does seem to be the most effective solution for both the community and the intersection. I look forward to working with Forestville on this roundabout on making this option a reality.

Here’s the 2-1-1…

On February 11th, Sonoma County partnered with the United Way, Community Foundation, and Volunteer Center to launch 2-1-1. This wonderful new, free, confidential, 24-hour information and referral service is available to anyone in Sonoma County. Calls are handled by trained specialists with resources for community services ranging from child and elder care, health and mental health services, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, food, shelter, counseling, and immigration assistance.

Calling 2-1-1 is the best way to connect with volunteer opportunities. Whether there is a natural disaster, such as a flood or earthquake, or your interest is finding the best way to use your skills to help your community as a volunteer, 2-1-1 can help you to make a difference.

Other helpful *-1-1 numbers: 4-1-1 directory assistance, 5-1-1 traffic and transit, 6-1-1 AT&T repair, 7-1-1 California relay for hearing impaired, 8-1-1 “call before you dig” (underground utility lines) and of course,
9-1-1 life-threatening emergencies…

Help for the unemployed…

How does the economic stimulus help you?

This is a frequent question, often asked with a certain amount of despair. Many of us in Sonoma County have been personally affected by the recent economic travails…from record home value decline, to business closures or reductions in force brought about by the recession. Unemployment numbers are increasing locally, and if you are one of those affected, there is help for you in the new stimulus bill.

If you are eligible for COBRA continuation of your health insurance, but think that you can’t afford to keep your health insurance…reconsider. One direct result of the stimulus bill is that the Federal government will pay 65% of your COBRA health insurance premiums for 9 months beginning February 17, 2009.

Sound too good to be true? That’s why it is so important to spread the word about this. Employers are still finding out the details, so information may not get to all of those who are eligible for this help. If you or someone you know was laid off after September 1, 2008 (Yes! Eligibility goes backwards! But only if your employer has a group of 20 or more) you can elect to enroll in your Cobra health insurance and pay 35% of the premium.

Here are some FAQ’s…

1. Who is eligible?
Anyone who was involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009.

2. How does the premium payment work?
Employers can contact the IRS at Premiums are taken as a credit against federal payroll taxes on the quarterly report 941, which has been revised. The 35% premium co-pay is paid to the employer.

Another helpful link:

3. What about the premiums that I paid before February 17th?
Unfortunately, there is no “look back” or payment for insurance prior to February 17, 2009.

Additional assistance for those seeking work or improving their job skills can be found at Sonoma County Job Link's web site. ( This site is a full service link to job search assistance, business services, training & labor market information. The free services available to job seekers and the services for employers are described at this website. Job Link's <>Job Seeker Center is located at 2245 Challenger Way in Santa Rosa, and the <>
Employer Resource Center is located at 606 Healdsburg Avenue in Santa Rosa.

Febraury 2009 Column:

Budget, Water, and Health Care: Facing a Drought!

My first month has been a whirlwind. Even before taking office, I attended briefings on our County’s dire budget position. Our General Fund deficit is projected at over $22 million in the coming year. Administrators began the process of analyzing our position and planning action earlier this year than ever before. As a result we’ve already begun the difficult budget process, balancing our dwindling resources with our ongoing commitment to vital public services.

While Sonoma County finds itself in better financial shape than many other County governments in California, we still face difficult decisions. Working with community members, we will ensure that we emerge from this process preserving needed services and with an honest budget that reflects our citizen’s priorities.

One bright light at this difficult time is Sonoma County’s ongoing leadership in advancing climate protection efforts. The Board has begun its process for launching the Sonoma County Energy Independence Project. Under legislation that passed last year (AB811), Sonoma County is poised to be first in California to establish an innovative and wide spread renewable energy generation and water and energy conservation program for residential and commercial buildings.

This effort, which will not cost tax payers one dime, will allow home and business owners new access to green technology that save energy, water, and generates green house gas free energy. This program will also provide green jobs employing our residents. I’ve just returned from meeting with Obama Transition Team members in Washington, DC about securing funds for this innovative program.

Sonoma County has a broader climate protection agenda which includes reducing green house gas levels by 25% of 1990 levels by 2015.

Without a torrential downpour in the next month, we are heading into what has been dubbed the most severe drought in California history. A February 2nd news conference held by the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) raised the red flag that reservoir storage levels in Lakes Sonoma and Mendocino are at or near historic lows.

Also announced was the lowering of Russian River water releases to Federally mandated minimum flows in order to protect Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, which are listed on the endangered species list. Agriculture, recreation, and tourism also depend on water releases and will be affected by drought conditions.

Preparing for worse case scenarios, SCWA will call for a minimum 30% rationing order by early March.

This drought will affect us all. If we do not heed a call for reducing water usage, Lake Mendocino levels are projected to reach a level so low that portions of the Russian River may run dry! Urban water users consume about half of the water taken from the Russian River, while agriculture consumes the rest…and in the West County, many of us depend on private wells for our water.

SCWA is working with grape growers in the Russian River watershed to develop irrigation best management practices which will help reduce water use, and is working to implement a volunteer monitoring program of water levels throughout the Sonoma Valley basin to evaluate how the drought is affecting groundwater.

Reduce the amount of water you use starting right now!

Health Care:
Health programs have been targeted for reductions due to the State of California’s projected $41.6 billion deficit this fiscal year. The Governor proposes many actions including eliminating the California Children and Families Commission and eliminating 50% of local funds paid to support children’s programs.

The Sonoma Children and Families Commission (Sonoma First 5), is a valuable and effective resource which has expanded local enrollment in quality early childhood education programs, increased children’s access to health insurance and pediatric dental care, and provided parent education and support.

Fortunately, President Obama signed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization which will expand health coverage to approximately 12,000 children in Sonoma County. Making sure that every child in Sonoma County has access to affordable health care is critical to children, their families, and our community. For more information about the Healthy Families program, contact: Access to Health Care at 565-4471 or (Spanish speakers) 565-4476

I am truly enjoying my work for the Fifth District. If you have any concerns or questions, you’re welcome to contact my office at 565-2241-kindly, Efren

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