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Sonoma County officials vow to combat inequities in well-being report

Sonoma County officials are vowing to combat the inequities that exist among local residents in the areas of education, wealth and health, conditions illustrated in a newly published report that gauges the region’s well-being.

Their commitment was emphasized Wednesday by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore, who spoke with The Press Democrat Editorial Board in a meeting also attended by high-level county staff.

“The more you dive into equity issues and start laying the foundation and start giving people a voice … don’t be surprised when they roar,” Gore said. “This report is the foundation that holds us accountable.”

Wednesday’s virtual gathering coincided with the release of the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, a 44-page report measuring the quality of life of Sonoma County residents in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and geography using health, education and income metrics.

Comparisons between those various groups were ranked by their scores on the American Human Development Index, which measures the well-being of specific communities via health, education and income stats on a scale of 0 to 10 — 10 being the highest and best score.

(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)
(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)

The report, the second of its kind in Sonoma County, found that while residents are earning more, living longer and attaining higher levels of education than in the previous decade, such progress has not been evenly distributed.

From rates of home ownership to school enrollment, Black, Latino and other minority community members fell behind their peers. Over the past decade, other issues, such as the rising costs of child care and preschool continue to add weight to the burdens being shouldered by low-income families.

To start to pick away at the disparities highlighted in the report, county officials are looking for the community’s help in creating an agenda for action that will guide local policy and investment decisions.

That input will be collected in various ways, including through partnerships with community leaders who know and are members of the groups most impacted by the disparities outlined in the report, Sonoma County Office of Equity Director Alegría De La Cruz said.

In order to obtain feedback and possible solutions from those who reside in the neighborhoods with the lowest well-being scores, officials will walk through the areas and talk with the residents, she said.

“In many ways, we are asking community members to help us do our jobs,” De La Cruz said.

De La Cruz was part of the team of county and community leaders who helped Measure of America, a social science research nonprofit, develop the Portrait of Sonoma County reports.

(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)
(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)

She added that she was interested in taking a deeper look at the Roseland Creek neighborhood, which scored at the bottom of the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma study.

Despite only small demographic change since then, the neighborhood managed to improve its Human Development Index score, increasing the well-being score to 4.37 in 2021, up from 2.79 in 2014.

The uptick was attributed to increases in residents’ median earnings, rates of school enrollment and the share of adults with a high school diploma, the report found.

“Did the immigration or nativity rates shift in huge ways?” De La Cruz said of the neighborhood. “What was happening inside schools?”

One of the first ways the report will help guide policymakers at the county level will come later this year.

In the coming months, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will need to decide how to invest roughly $35 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated for community investments, Sonoma County Department of Human Services Assistant Director Oscar Chavez said during Wednesday’s meeting.

A focus on data gathering from the outset of those investments to track where county funds are being allocated by neighborhood, as well as the quantifiable impacts they’re having on the community, will be a part of that process, he added.

That information will help answer some basic, but crucial, questions: “As a result of these investments, is anybody better off?” Chavez said.

Interest in the report, which was funded by a mix of private and public organizations, expands beyond the scope of county government.

Sonoma County Office of Education Deputy Superintendent Jennie Snyder said an excerpt in the report, which found that local young people considered suicide at higher rates if they had been significantly impacted by either recent fires or the pandemic, was of particular concern to her.

That type of information can help staff, such as the Sonoma County Office of Education’s behavioral health team, determine what kind of support is needed at the local school districts, Snyder added.

Snyder, who was a superintendent at the Piner-Olivet Union School District when the initial Portrait of Sonoma County was released in 2014, added that the neighborhood-specific data gave her a better understanding of the outside factors that may impact students in class.

“We found the data in the report really helpful in just getting a sense of our community,” she said.

The county’s Office of Education was one of the financial backers of the new report.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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