Hope and concerns at Russian River advisory council meeting – Sonoma West

More than 60 people filled the Guerneville School community room last Saturday for a preliminary look at district boundaries proposed for the new Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council (MAC).

“What we’re really here for today is to listen to you and get your feedback,” said 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins who’s shooting to have the river MAC up and running early next year.

Last month Hopkins unveiled six districts that loosely delineate Forestville, Hacienda, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio and Cazadero. The districts as a whole will represent the lower river, with each district having one or more elected representatives. As now proposed, nine representatives may be elected, possibly two or three from the more populated districts of Forestville, Guerneville and Rio Nido and one each from Hacienda, Monte Rio and Cazadero.

The proposed district boundaries were a prominent concern last week with residents questioning how the boundaries were drawn and whether they accurately reflect residents’ common political interests.

The proposed Guerneville district lines drew flack because the eastern boundary split the town in two, putting Guerneville residents east of Armstrong Woods Road in the neighboring Rio Nido district.

“What was the thinking in dividing Guerneville up?” said Guerneville resident Marcy Cooper.

The maps represent a “first stab” at possible boundaries and are based on census tracts, said Hopkins’ Field Representative Amie Windsor.

“Dividing the population was not our intent,” said Windsor. Working with Permit Sonoma, the county Permit and Resource Management Department, the tentative first-draft boundaries were intended to reflect “natural communities,” based on the area’s populations and geography. The suggested boundary adjustments would be taken into consideration before anything is final, said Windsor.

Some lower river residents were left out of all six districts, an oversight that will be corrected, said Windsor.

Also to be determined are how district representatives will be elected and what voter qualifications may include.

“We’re working that out,” said Windsor.

Hopkins hopes to have a completed lower river MAC proposal on the Board of Supervisors Sept. 11 agenda for approval, said Windsor. Then a recruitment process will begin inviting candidates to represent the districts, followed by an election.

When it’s official the lower river MAC will represent roughly 13,000 people in an approximately 50-square-mile area from Forestville to Cazadero.

Whatever its final configuration, the MAC “will essentially empower the community to have a much stronger voice” when negotiating with county government, said Lynda Hopkins, who hosted Saturday’s meeting.

The MAC will convene monthly public meetings rotating throughout the districts and advise the Board of Supervisors on lower river political issues and priorities.

MACs elsewhere in Sonoma County and Mendocino County provide political clout to areas that may otherwise lack a political presence in matters before their county Board of Supervisors.

From a Board of Supervisors’ perspective, a MAC “is advisory, but it’s a loud megaphone,” said Hopkins. Having a formal citizens advisory group advising the board brings “a tremendous amount of political and moral authority.”

Hopkins is also advocating a Sonoma Coast MAC involving residents from Valley Ford to The Sea Ranch.