By MATT BROWN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Natalie Manning packed up some paperwork from her office in downtown Santa Rosa and headed home Tuesday morning not sure when she would be able to work again or, more importantly, when her next paycheck would arrive.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program manager is one of hundreds of North Coast federal employees who stopped work Tuesday as a result of the government shutdown that furloughed some 800,000 federal workers nationwide.
As Washington lawmakers continued to bicker over a spending bill past the Tuesday deadline to avoid a shutdown, employees deemed non-essential were given until noon to clean up their offices and leave outgoing voice and email messages.
At the federal building in Santa Rosa, which houses about 150 government workers, employees in casual attire cleaned out refrigerators and packed potted plants to take home. About a third of those workers, who are with NOAA, one of the agencies designated to shut down, received emails Monday saying they are legally barred from working and will not get paid during the furlough.
The Santa Rosa office is a hub for NOAA’s fisheries restoration efforts, Endangered Species Act enforcement and oil spill clean-up programs.
“We committed our lives to service so that future generations can enjoy our fisheries and our resources,” Manning said. “It’s not like we have executive pay positions. We live paycheck to paycheck.”
Many of the North Coast’s 2,030 federal workers were ordered to stay home. The Social Security field office in Santa Rosa was open but with limited services.
IRS offices in Santa Rosa were locked and dark with a sign on the door that read: “In the event of a government shutdown, this office will be closed. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
U.S. Bankruptcy Court judges were scheduled to hear cases for the next two weeks before shuttering if Congress continues its stalemate over the budget bill. The U.S. Probation office in Santa Rosa was open.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which protects judges, and other public safety agencies like the FBI office in Santa Rosa and the Coast Guard station at Two Rock were open. Federal airport screeners and air traffic controllers kept flights moving through the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
The Point Reyes National Seashore closed on Tuesday and gave campers two days to leave the park.
The Veterans Affairs clinic in Santa Rosa was open, and the U.S. Postal Service continued to deliver the mail.
Flood control operations at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino will continue, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman J.D. Hardesty said Tuesday, but the campgrounds will be closing within the next week. The salmon fish hatchery at Lake Sonoma will remain open, he said, using money left over from the fiscal year that just expired.
“We are certainly not going to let a species die” because of the shutdown, he said.
North Coast winemakers and brewers were worried Tuesday after the Treasury Department said regulatory activities, such as reviewing alcohol licenses or proposed labels for new wine and beer products, would be suspended for the duration of the shutdown.
Collin McDonnell, founder of Petaluma’s HenHouse Brewing, said a delay of any length would further backlog the department’s review process and call into question his hope to expand production from 60 gallons per week to 1,200 by the end of the year.
“We need to be moving forward with this expansion and without federal approval we won’t be able to sell any of the beer we would be able to produce at this new location,” he said.
Erich Bradley, winemaker at Repris Wines near Sonoma, was relieved to hear the new Moon Mountain grape-growing region was approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the day before the government shutdown, but was concerned about other impacts of the shutdown.
“Our wineries are going to be affected in terms of being able to submit for all sorts of things,” he said. “If this thing goes on long enough, it’s going to interrupt business in a meaningful way. If we can’t bottle more wine and label it, it’s going to hamstring us. If it’s over in a few days we’ll be okay, but if it’s longer than that it would be a pain.”
The shutdown could put a cramp on the annual meeting of the Great Wine Capitals Network, set to meet in San Francisco and Napa in November, said Rex Stults, government relations director for the host Napa Valley Vintners. The event is to feature an extensive wine tasting on Nov. 4 and any of the featured wines that are not already imported into the United States require label-by-label approval from the Treasury Department.
“It is certainly an angle I did not anticipate when I got up this morning and saw that the government had shut down,” said Stults, who had been dealing with the issue all day Tuesday.
Patrick Rutten, a regional supervisor with NOAA in Santa Rosa, said the budget showdown in Washington has had wide-ranging effects on nearly every community outside the Capital Beltway.
“When I told people I wasn’t coming in to work today, they were surprised,” he said. “They think this is just a D.C. shutdown. Everyone in this office who would normally go downtown to eat lunch won’t be spending any money. It’s the secondary effects that people don’t see.”
Furloughed employees were given a letter asking creditors for leniency while their paychecks are in limbo, but many remained fearful of missing car and mortgage payments.
Joe Pecharich, a NOAA fisheries biologist, said there is no guarantee that employees will get back-pay when the budget crisis is over.
“Are we going to trust this polarized Congress to come back and pay us?” he said. “Their pay doesn’t stop. We’re the ones who are feeling the pain.”
NOAA office manager Natalie Badrei said there is no plan in place to call employees back to work after the shutdown.
“They told us to watch CNN,” she said. “It’s a mess. Everyone is nervous.”
Staff Writers Sean Scully and Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.