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Sonoma County residents along Russian River could benefit from $1.5 million in new flood aid

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Russian River communities impacted by the 2019 flood may soon see some help, as a budget trailer bill signed last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom promises $1.5 million to the area that suffered 100 landslides and slipouts and faces at least $155 million in damage.

Although it represents just 1% of the total cost of damage, the allocation matches the largest pledge of state aid to date for affected residents. Federal officials decided this spring the disaster did not qualify for FEMA aid because the flooding didn’t impact enough homes.

County estimates showed that 151 homes suffered major damage in the February deluge, which inundated low-lying areas along the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sebastopol, including the Barlow business district, and swelled the lower Russian River to levels not seen in about a quarter century.

County officials still must formally request the money from the state and decide what to do with it.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents western Sonoma County and the lower Russian River, said the county can’t simply dole out grants to individual homeowners. But she said the money is intended to help residents.

“It’s great that the funds are intended to address the greatest need,” Hopkins said. “It’s important to have a transparent, community-driven process in terms of how those funds are expended.”

Hopkins said she sought the funding after learning that Sebastopol was awarded the same amount for flood recovery in the state’s budget, signed by Newsom in July. She said she was concerned about lower Russian River residents who bore the brunt of the flood’s impact.

Hopkins credited Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, and Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, for helping get the $1.5 million inserted into the follow-up budget bill, which contained allocations for a wide array of state programs.

Wood said in a phone interview Monday it took some perseverance to get the money for the historic February floods.

“If Sonoma County had not suffered enough from the wildfire disasters of the past several years, this disaster added insult to injury and I am grateful that we were able to secure these much needed funds,” Wood said in a news release.

Hopkins said she hopes the county will involve residents in deciding how to spend the money. She plans to reach out to the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council, with representatives from a number of unincorporated towns, including Guerneville, Forestville and Rio Nido.

It was a visit to Guerneville that prompted Wood’s quest to secure funding, the assemblyman said.

He said he would have loved to have gotten more money, but filling all of the $155 million hole caused by the flood would be “almost impossible.”

The relatively low number didn’t deter Hopkins, who said she was “dancing” after she heard the news of the funding.

“I was thrilled,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to provide for a community that’s still very much in need.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

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