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WatchSonoma Watch
Tribe behind Rohnert Park casino blasts county for ‘misleading’ information

Relations between Sonoma County officials and the Indian tribe that has started work on a 3,000-slot machine casino next to Rohnert Park appear to have soured as the two sides approach negotiations about how the tribe will alleviate the project’s impacts. The chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria on Wednesday said county supervisors are ‘putting out inaccurate and misleading information about our project.’

County turning to private sector to handle at-risk teen girls

Sonoma County is set to shift its residential probation program for teenage girls to a private operator under a proposal endorsed Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors. The cost-saving move would close Sierra Youth Center, the county probation camp that has served troubled girls since 1979 in a corner of the juvenile justice campus off Highway 12 in the Valley of the Moon.

Pushing pensions higher

Pensions for career Sonoma County government workers have more than doubled in the past decade, led by sheriff’s deputies and other public safety workers who by 2011 were retiring with an average of more than $94,000 a year. Employees outside the ranks of public safety who retired in 2011 with 20 or more years averaged nearly $68,000 — 107 percent more than what co-workers who retired in 2002 get on average, county retirement records show. The dramatic jump — four times greater than the rise in the cost of living — has affected at least 758 career employees who have retired under enhanced pension benefits approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2002 and rolled out for public safety workers in 2003. Higher benefits approved for other workers began in 2004.

Showdown between 6 candidates in 1st district supervisorial race

Valerie Brown’s pending retirement from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has led to the most sharply contested race for that seat in decades, and the outcome could alter the balance of political power in the county for years. Six candidates are vying for the 1st District post that has traditionally been thought of as the Sonoma Valley seat and has been won by a person who lives there. But redrawn political boundaries that include more of Santa Rosa and the resulting candidacies from John Sawyer and Susan Gorin — both Santa Rosa City Council members — could shift the district’s center of political power northwest.

Sonoma County rebuffs state’s redevelopment denial

An oversight board tasked with managing former redevelopment funds for Sonoma County government is standing by its two largest projects, rebuffing a state message last week that deemed the projects invalid for continued funding and work.

Sonoma County adopts hillside vineyard restrictions

New rules making it tougher to rip up forested hillsides to plant vineyards won qualified approval from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor Tuesday. The stronger erosion prevention measures were unanimously approved by the five supervisors, but most acknowledged that the process was viewed as frustrating and flawed by many involved.

SMART plans Sonoma County airport station

The Sonoma-Marin passenger rail agency is planning to build a future station at Airport Boulevard, where riders would be just a shuttle ride away from the Sonoma County airport. The station would become part of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District’s construction of an operations and maintenance facility on 6.6 acres that SMART is buying from the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Sonoma County supervisors compromise on street lighting plan

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday unanimously backed a proposal to consolidate 19 of 24 county lighting districts, but split over the key issue of what to do with their $5.6 million in accrued cash. Public works officials had proposed pooling those resources to help at least eight smaller, struggling districts avoid looming shortfalls and enable a $5 million network-wide upgrade to energy efficient LED lights.

SMART rail agency considers two-tier pension plan

The Sonoma-Marin commute rail agency, which expects to increase its workforce by five-fold within two years, is considering a pension plan for new employees that may be the stingiest among North Bay public agencies. The plan would raise the age for full pension eligibility, eliminate the bolstering of pensions with such things as specialty pay and spread the risk of cost increases to employees.

Open space rift

A number of ranchers and agricultural leaders are critical of the taxpayer-funded Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District’s direction, worried it is shifting taxpayer dollars away from farmland conservation and putting too much money into parks and public trails. Their concerns, which came to a head in a extraordinary split vote of the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, reflect a deepening divide over how the district carries out its mission in an era of diminished resources.

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