Marin County District One Supervisor Damon Connolly Q and A on 2021 Goals and Priorities starting with question on COVID. Vaccine. Economic Recovery
Thank you Zennie for having me on the show. We are living through a historic moment, the decisions we make today on how we address COVID, equity, and our economy will have lasting impacts. And at the county level we are at the center of all those issues, working for our constituents. The vaccine is now at the top of the list as we navigate supply and distribution issues. As we forge ahead with vaccine distribution it’s critical that we communicate effectively and implement policies that are equitable and fast in getting shots into people’s arms!
We recognize the toll this pandemic has had on people and families. In 2020, we came together and built new and powerful partnerships. Government, community-based organizations, health care providers, civic and business leaders recognized that a crisis of this magnitude requires a coordinated effort with leaders of every background working at every level. The work is far from done, but working together means we will go further, faster.
Q: Marin was an early leader in the Shelter in Place, correct?
Yes, back in March of 2020, Marin County joined with 5 other jurisdictions in the San Francisco Bay Area as the first in the nation to issue a public health order to shelter in place. Currently, Marin has the third lowest daily case rate among smaller counties in the entire state.
Early on, public health and community partners addressed a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ramped up testing. Marin quickly ramped up testing from about 100 tests per day in March to well over 2,000 tests per day in December and became one of the counties with the highest testing rates. Public Health has engaged with the community at many levels. Efforts include business reopening guidelines, sending strike teams to address hot spots in residential care facilities, hiring and deploying contact tracers, assisting the Department of Corrections in responding to the San Quentin outbreak, creating opportunities to quarantine and isolate with financial and food resources, supporting safe school operations, and developing a strategic response to address impacts on specific underserved communities.
This summer, we saw that the virus was having a disparate impact on our residents in the Canal area of San Rafael, which has a predominantly Latino population. This is an area known for housing overcrowding, and where many of our essential service workers live. Case rates spiked. We quickly recognized that we had to work with community based organizations with established trust in the community to create culturally relevant messages, to provide testing in the neighborhood, and to provide money so that people who were positive could afford to stay home from work. We also provided hotel rooms for people to isolate and quarantine.
I greatly appreciate the heroic efforts of our essential workers, health care workers, community partners, and County staff.
Q: Is Marin’s economy suffering?
The pandemic has had a damaging effect here locally as it has throughout our state and nation.
Early in the pandemic response, my colleague Supervisor Judy Arnold and I created the Marin Economic Recovery Task Force serving to exchange information, advocate on the State and Federal level, support local efforts, and develop a long-term economic vitality strategy.
Together with private and civic leaders, we created a small business relief grant helping businesses as they waited for federal dollars. We eased parking to facilitate curbside pick-up. We developed a shop-local campaign, improved access to capital, sought grant funding for strategic planning, and continue to help local businesses adapt.
We recently established a $900,000 small business relief program for businesses with low-income owners and/or businesses with 50% or more of employees being low-income. We are working on getting those dollars out to the community. And that word, ‘Community’ has been central to our response.
Our economy is undergoing a transformation. To better position the county for the long term, we have applied for federal grant to support an economic vitality strategic plan. The plan will help set a course for a vibrant, diverse, and resilient Marin economy.
Wherever you live, it is incumbent upon each of us to shop local when possible. It could mean the difference of survival for our small businesses. Local dollars spent are dollars that stay in our community longer and support jobs, fund school programs, infrastructure spending, and community programs.
It will be interesting to see where we emerge. We’ll continue to bring a strong focus to equity and work to ensure access and opportunity for all towards health, education, meaningful employment, efficient and effective transportation, and a resilient community.
Q: Let’s talk about January 20th
What an exciting week. I am overjoyed to see our country move towards unity with the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris. I look forward to the significant impact on daily lives.
We are seeing a lot of firsts. The first African American, multiracial female Vice President, Kamala Harris. The first Latino Senator in California, Alex Padilla. In Georgia, we welcomed a Jewish and African American Senator, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. These are significant changes that spread hope for Americans of all backgrounds to strive for equity, justice, and democracy.
Q: We saw an unprecedented outpouring of a desire for change this summer, in particular by our Youth. How has that impacted Marin?
During the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the Summer I marched with protestors down Fourth Street in San Rafael. Throughout our county we saw an awakening take hold. I am proud of our community, and in particular our youth who stood up, spoke up, and organized a peaceful protest. Marin’s voice is clear: we support communities of color and we demand justice. As we do the work, we need to acknowledge that policies and practices may change, but they must be accompanied by the promotion of people of color throughout government, law enforcement, and society, in leadership, with political and economic power. Representation matters.
In Marin, we hired an Equity Officer. The board set aside $2.7 million toward equity initiatives. We took a deep dive with our community members into revising and establishing law enforcement policies like Use of Force and Duty to Intervene. The County has proactively started reporting on police profiling as required by AB 953 and called for by California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory (RIPA) Board. There is a lot of work ahead as we focus to address systemic racism and focus on equity.
Q: Homelessness is a big issue in the Bay Area, what is Marin doing?
Our goal is to treat everyone with dignity and respect, taking a Housing First model that allows people to address employment, physical health, substance use and other factors that contribute to homelessness.
Since implementing Coordinated Entry and the Housing First approach in Marin, we have housed over 300 homeless individuals, and the overwhelming majority remain in stable housing.
In November, the County purchased two hotels, America’s Best Value Inn in Corte Madera, and an office building in San Rafael as part of the State’s Project Homekey program. In total, there are 62 new apartment units for the homeless. Like other communities, we are addressing an increase in homelessness and encampments brought on by the pandemic.
This year we plan to ensure safe and successful operations of our HomeKey facilities, bolster coordinated entry and rapid rehousing, and enhance our focus on homeless families. We are continuing other efforts like:
Expansion of the Mill Street Center is underway and will provide a new shelter and supportive housing.
Breaking ground to build permanent supportive housing units in Hamilton. The units will further our goal of ending chronic veteran homelessness in Marin.
Continuing our successful strategy for retaining and recruiting landlords to accept Section 8 Housing vouchers through the Landlord Partnership program.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have increased the rate at which we’re housing people by 46%.
We know that many on our streets are in mental crisis. Our Mobile Crisis teams provide a Health and Human Services response to community members experiencing a mental health crisis and offer crisis intervention, stabilization and linkage to appropriate community-based services. We have expanded the Mobile Crisis team hours through June 2021, and I’m exploring the possibility of a permanent expansion.
Q: How is Marin handling the need for housing in the Bay Area?
COVID has further highlighted the importance of housing and the precarious housing conditions many families are facing.
As we pursue local strategies, we need to remain actively engaged as legislation and mandates emerge from Sacramento. This will center on working with localities to take proactive steps for solutions that make sense for residents.
In Marin, our goal is to make meaningful progress on providing a range of housing opportunities for at different income levels.
We continue to look for opportunities to acquire and secure existing affordable housing and enforce tenant protections.
We will seek to prevent the displacement of renters and ensure small landlords can continue to operate and promote dialogue to help understand and resolve rent issues.
Golden Gate Village remains a countywide priority. Creating pathways to ownership and meaningful opportunities to address historic inequities are critical for revitalization efforts.
Q: I know that you are on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. What are you focused on?
The coronavirus has disrupted transportation patterns. Our transit agencies have been hit hard. This is an area where we can and need to come back stronger, with a more seamless and coordinated transit system. It’s going to require partnership at the federal, state and regional levels along with our local communities. We must keep our eye on creating opportunities to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road. In the last six months, we have seen significant progress in closing gaps in our bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and we must continue as more people are biking.
Q: What do you drive?
When I drive, I drive an electric Nissan Leaf. I love my electric car, it is easy to charge, and requires no maintenance.
I also spend a lot of time on my bike. I started #RideWithDamon six years ago, taking two months a year car-free to put our transit systems and bike infrastructure to the test. Now, it’s a beloved annual tradition. I have biked thousands of miles crossing city and county lines, going to all types of meetings and enjoying the natural beauty of Marin. A bike on the road means fewer greenhouse gases, less traffic, and healthier communities.
I invite you, and the folks listening in to get on a bike and join me for a ride, share a photo and post it on social media with #RidewithDamon. This will be my seventh year. It provides me with a great deal of information about what is and is not working in our public transit, and where the gaps in our bicycle and pedestrian paths are.
Q: Do you have any predictions for where people will be working when pandemic restrictions are lifted?
As a Commissioner on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, we are looking at these issues closely. We don’t know how commute patterns will look when we emerge from the pandemic. Will we have city centered employment, or will people continue to work from home? What are the long-term impacts on Bay Area housing? We will continue to analyze the situation and see where the trends develop and have the conversation about what comes next.
Q: We are seeing the Biden administration quickly pivot back to an emphasis on climate. I know that Marin has been an environmental leader, can you tell us what you are doing?
Yes, I believe Marin justifiably can be proud of its environmental ethos, and those efforts are moving forward full steam including from a perspective of environmental justice and impacts on our most disadvantaged communities.
We now have two approved plans, Drawdown:Marin’s Strategic Plan and an updated Climate Action Plan. We have set an ambitious goal of reducing emissions to 60% below 2005 levels by 2030 and set a target of net-zero emissions by 2045. We have endorsed and are supporting seven Drawdown:Marin solutions, including really innovative ideas like the Marin Carbon Project, Drive Clean Bay Area, and Resilient Neighborhoods.
Q: What is Marin doing to address the continued threat of wildfires?
As a result of climate change, we cannot take our eyes off the threat of wildfires. Marin voters stepped up by forming and funding the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority. We’re focused on planning and action around creating defensible space around people’s homes, home hardening and vegetation management in open spaces. I toured the fire devastation in Sonoma and Napa counties late last year and saw the difference that home hardening and other techniques can make in saving homes. We’re also continuing to push our local utilities to upgrade our power and telecommunications services toward greater resiliency.
Q: In County government, are you starting to talk about the potential of sea level rise?
Yes, Marin is unique in that it’s surrounded on 3 sides by water, both the Bay and Pacific Ocean. We have a program called BayWAVE dedicated to assessing vulnerability and then devising strategies to adapt. Working with our local Congressman, we successfully advocated for federal policy to consider sea-level rise in project evaluation. We have a number of nature-based solutions underway including marsh restoration projects throughout the County. I am hopeful that traction can be gained with our new federal administration that is pragmatic and prioritizing climate and adaptation.
We are living history through COVID, racial justice and fighting to sustain our democracy. In 2020, our representative system of government was tested, and democracy prevailed with President Biden and Vice President Harris’s election. I am optimistic that these federal changes, along with county level action, provide us the opportunity to have a significant impact on daily lives. I look forward to all of us working at every level of government, starting with President Biden and Vice President Harris, to bring unity, decency, justice and a reverence for democracy back to the center of our nation.
I plan to continue to work with and for our community in the coming year and beyond. My door is always open if folks would like to get in touch. Thank you.
Thanks to Marin County, California, Supervisor Damon Connolly
I thank my long-time friend Marin County District One Supervisor Damon Connolly for his time.
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