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New Sonoma County government office will focus on wildfire recovery, resiliency

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday created a new government office to help the region bounce back from this year’s devastating wildfires and assist with charting a formal vision for the long-term recovery of the local housing supply, the economy and other key areas.

The new Office of Recovery and Resiliency will have its own budget and seven staff members, three of whom will come from the ranks of current county employees. Housed within the County Administrator’s Office, the body will for at least the next five years support the production and implementation of a plan to guide the community’s recovery and improve its ability to withstand future disasters.

Staffing costs this fiscal year will total an estimated $400,000. While the county hopes to get federal reimbursement, local officials must find their own way to pay for it - at least for now - so the Board of Supervisors is expected to consider funding options early next month.

“We have to be bold,” said Supervisor James Gore of the recovery office. “I look forward to this being the start of a really kind of good, deep discussion as we go into next year.”

The plan will focus on five broad areas where the post-fire recovery will play out: the housing market, the economy, the environment, safety net services and local infrastructure. Similar collaborations among county departments have been in place since the fires’ immediate aftermath.

“In the wake of the disaster, our communities must have the right tools to make smart, fast and agile transitions so that we can emerge from this tragedy economically, environmentally and socially stronger than ever,” County Administrator Sheryl Bratton wrote in a document this month outlining her reasoning behind the recovery office proposal. “It can be done but doing it requires a shared vision for the building of a more resilient future - a return to the status quo is not sufficient.”

Staff in the new office will include a deputy county administrator, a principal administrative analyst and an administrative aide - all repurposed from among the current full-time employees already within Bratton’s office. Supervisors also agreed to staff three new part-time administrative analysts and a natural resources professional funded by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

Bratton said Tuesday it will likely take a few months to get all the staffing in place for the recovery office.

The board has voiced broad support for creating the new office, though Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the board chairwoman, has indicated some concern it could interfere with supervisors’ policy-setting authorities. Bratton has said it wouldn’t.

“The staff is there to implement the policy that we create as the elected leaders,” Zane said Tuesday.

Zane last week assigned supervisors to be involved with specific areas of the recovery work. She and Supervisor David Rabbitt will work on housing, and Zane will also join Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in the county’s discussions about safety net services. Rabbitt will also join Supervisor Susan Gorin to work on infrastructure, while Hopkins and Gore will examine natural resources and Gorin and Gore will work on the economic recovery.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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