Year in Review: Events

Compiled by Camille Escovedo, with reporting by Camille Escovedo, Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine and Jan Todd, SoCoNews, December 29, 2021

parade

Photo Jan Todd

The calendar wasn’t exactly bursting with big events and gatherings in 2021, but west county managed more than a few special occasions and bad breaks alike during the second year of the pandemic.

Something big that didn’t happen was Sonoma County’s annual Point-In-Time Count of homeless individuals in January. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) granted the county a waiver due to COVID-19 and safety concerns.

In early March, voters of the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) and the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District (BBFPD) cast their ballots in a special election and sank Measure B, a proposed 4% jump in lodging tax.

WSCUHSD and BBFPD were both in financial straits depending on the tax’s projected revenue to sustain west county school facilities and programs and coastal emergency services, SoCoNews reported. Leaders of the west county hospitality industry opposed the measure in defense of their own economic recovery in the pandemic.

The school district urgently sought the passage of Measure B and an annual parcel tax through Measure A for bridge-funding that could stave off a decision to consolidate its schools, SoCoNews covered in March. When it became clear Measure A was falling short of public approval, then-board president Kellie Noe accepted the evident loss of both.

Consequently, BBFPD found itself on the brink of layoffs without identified funding to consolidate with the Sonoma County Fire District (SCFD). The fire district has struggled to support a region far greater than its tax district, and in late March, BBFPD’s general counsel presented options for charging or curtailing services for the district to consider.

Assistant Fire Chief Steve Herzberg stated BBFPD’s understaffing was so serious it wasn’t safe for Bodega Bay residents, visitors or firefighter-paramedics. The loss of Measure B meant the district couldn’t afford to hire staff to replace two paramedics who left since its defeat, nor pay the legally required overtime for the staff left.

That March, the WSCUHSD school board voted 3-2 to approve a plan to consolidate El Molino High School and Analy High School onto the Sebastopol campus and send Laguna High School students to the Forestville campus.

School communities swelled in uproar over the decision that sought to address a roughly $2 million deficit predicted in the 2022-23 school year, amid declining enrollment. On March 16, the trustees voted to rebrand the high schools to create a sense of unity.

The West County community took national issues into their own hands, on signs and through megaphones in 2021, as well.

At the end of March, a small demonstration took place in downtown Sebastopol to honor survivors and lives lost to anti-Asian violence throughout time and during the pandemic. Adrian Chang of Occidental organized the event and an altar for Qing Ming, a holiday in reverence of one’s ancestors that usually occurs 15 days after the spring equinox, he said.

The altar was especially dedicated to those killed in the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings and Vicha Ratanapakdee, an elderly Thai American man who died of his injuries after being shoved to the ground in San Francisco.

In April, the Black Lives Matter Visibility Team organized a youth protest in downtown Sebastopol against the killing of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and against police violence targeting Black people overall.

Locals found reasons to celebrate over a year of bleak streaks, however. Townspeople threw together an unofficial Apple Blossom Parade of cars on April 17. The official, in-person event had been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

On May 12, service organizations and nonprofits came together for a Community Needs Summit, hosted by CoMission, Sebastopol’s economic vitality consultant. There were panel discussions on food and housing, mental health and schools, the environment and last, community enrichment during the event to increase engagement with these issues, SoCoNews reported.

May 25 marked a year since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The Black Lives Visibility Team and high school activists organized a candlelight vigil in his memory at the Sebastopol Plaza with an open-mic, flowers and veladoras for an altar and more to reflect.

Gov. Gavin Newsom came to Sebastopol on July 19 to sign a $12 billion trailer bill addressing homelessness, as part of his California Comeback Plan. Mayor Una Glass stood behind him as he signed the bill in front of Elderberry Commons, the former Sebastopol Inn that the county converted into housing for COVID-19 vulnerable homeless people with Project Homekey funds. Residents moved in at the end of 2020.

For the first time since 2019, schools greeted students in-person in August for the start of a new school year. Though many schools had already welcomed students back during the spring semester earlier in 2021, it was an especially big day for children just beginning their education in kindergarten.

Construction at Guerneville River Park began in August for the town’s first public boat launch area for non-motorized vessels. The facilities may be open to the public by spring 2022, the Sonoma County Regional Parks announced in September, with plans for additional paths, trails, picnic sites, a ramp to launch boats by hand and more.

September saw the return of the Apple Blossom Parade with its floats, nonprofits and classic cars and, now, COVID-19 guidelines. Instead of a live post-parade festival, the public had access to a 40-minute documentary with footage of past parades and reflections of four prominent local figures on the event’s history.

For the most part, holidays swept the calendar for the rest of the year in terms of events. Young families went trick-or-treating downtown in Occidental after a costume contest hosted by the Occidental Center for the Arts in October.

Monte Rio celebrated Día de los Muertos for the third year in a row, right before the start of November. SoCoNews reported that the Monte Rio Community Center offered food, arts and crafts, live music by Cumbia del Norte and a community altar to honor one’s late loved ones out front.

In December, a flurry of winter holiday celebrations took place throughout west county, including Christmas tree lightings in Occidental, Forestville, Guerneville and Sebastopol. Santa Claus was all over the place. Sebastopol’s holiday bash included lighting a menorah for the fifth night of Hanukkah, and in Occidental was its annual Holiday Crafts Faire and a raffle doubling as a fundraiser for various town needs.

Some Analy alumni got extra cheer out of the WSCUHSD board’s decision to reinstate Analy High School as the name of the district’s consolidated high school that had been referred to as West County High School as a bridge name until alternative names to both could be explored. The vote included rescinding the March 16 decision to rebrand the school. The uneven vote came after months of intense debate over rebranding, and students walked out in opposition to the board’s decision the very next morning.

As the year came to a close, towns throughout west county held events to celebrate the holidays — tree lightings, Santa-greetings and weekend specials meant to highlight downtown merchants.

tree lightingThe annual Christmas tree lighting, presented by the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce, was open to the public again for the first year since the pandemic. (Photo Laura Hagar Rush)

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