A new coalition of activists and nonprofits is calling on Sonoma County lawmakers to pass policies intended to shield some of the county’s most vulnerable residents from the economic and health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sonoma County United In Crisis, an alliance of 11 groups, released a list of 13 policy proposals on Tuesday morning.
“The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been. We may be in this pandemic for months,” said Mara Ventura, a founding member of the group and executive director of North Bay Jobs With Justice. “We call on our local governments to step up to their responsibilities of caring for the whole community and prioritize these policies.”
Among the policies the group is calling for are: funds to support undocumented workers whose work was impacted by the virus; worker protections that ensure layoffs are a last resort; allowing laid off workers to keep their healthcare; mandatory paid sick leave; a moratorium on all evictions, rent increases and foreclosures; and demands for safety protection for frontline essential and healthcare workers.
The Bohemian talked with Ventura about local governments’ response to the coronavirus so far and how the impacts of the virus differ from the impacts of recent wildfires. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A full list of Sonoma County United In Crisis’s policy proposals is available at www.SoCoUnitedinCrisis.org
Will Carruthers: How did Sonoma County United In Crisis come together?
Mara Ventura: It really started organically when organizations like ours who already lead on some of these issues were coordinating in the first week of the shelter in place order.
We were hearing from Homeless Action that we need sanitation stations. And, as Jobs With Justice was setting up meetings with local elected officials to discuss paid sick leave, we were bringing in the Sonoma County Tenants Union and the North Bay Organizing Project to talk about their requests for additional tenants rights and the anti-eviction ordinance during the coronavirus crisis.
The silver lining of the fires is that they have prepared community organizations to work together to address issues of how a crisis impacts our community in a really holistic way.
WC: How does the impact of the coronavirus on Sonoma County compare to the impact of recent wildfires?
MV: There has definitely been a huge improvement on behalf of the County in terms of alert information. It is great that at all of their press conferences, they are offering Spanish and American Sign Language translation. They are also moving a lot faster in terms of compiling resources.
So, we’re seeing some great improvements, but this is a little different from the fires because the impacts are more widespread. The amount of workers that are being laid off or are not able to be at work, for instance, is much larger than it was during either fire.
So the impact from coronavirus is deeper and more widespread. And that calls on our elected officials to make faster and bolder actions that we don’t feel are being taken yet.
Sonoma County’s COVID-19 Eviction Defence Ordinance is a great example. I mean, the Board of Supervisors did a great thing by taking that forward. But there’s very-little-to-nothing in there that actually protects renters from still owing their landlords after the pandemic. So that anti-eviction ordinance sets up low-wage workers—who may not have worked for months—to be evicted after the pandemic. It also doesn’t do anything on rent increases.
WC: One of your requests is for local governments to “Secure and allocate relief funding and rental and mortgage assistance for all who will be impacted economically by this virus.” Has any city in Sonoma County offered that yet?
MV: Not yet. And that’s not just for tenants. I mean, although we’re working directly with a tenants union, and that’s who we have most in mind, we know that small businesses are also paying rent. So it was important to us that our language did not just call for support for tenants, but also for rental/mortgage assistance for everyone, including small business owners.
WC: There has been a lot of talk, especially at the federal level, about the different interests at play here. For instance, should the government give aid payments to individuals directly or should it be sent to businesses. What are your thoughts on that dynamic?
MV: There are definitely two economic values butting heads here. There is the save-all-corporations-at-any-cost-because-that’s-how-our-economy-survives model. And there are others who are calling on the government to prioritize communities and public health and the people that make our economy run, because that is how we are going to come out of this successfully.
Our platform is definitely in contrast to what we know corporate interests are lobbying for at the federal and the state level.
WC: To clarify, these are requests for local officials, not state and federal lawmakers, correct?
MV: Yes. We think in general that our local, elected officials have a lot more ability and power to pass the strongest policies that we need.
We are not under any illusion that we should be waiting for Gov. Gavin Newsom or the Trump Administration to pass the protections that we really need here in Sonoma County.