Top 7 Sonoma County Stories of 2019

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It’s been an eventful year across Sonoma County. 

From near record February flooding along the Russian River, to October’s historic Kincade Fire, from evacuations and PG&E power shutdowns, to struggles with managing homelessness, to pedestrian deaths along the SMART tracks, and the continuing recovery from the 2017 firestorm, the issues and events piled up.

Here are News of the North Bay’s top stories of 2019.

 

1) The Kincade Fire and Evacuations

Sonoma County and the North Bay are no stranger to fire.  But the Kincade Fire broke records as the largest in Sonoma County history, and set off mandatory evacuations the likes of which had never been seen in the state of California.  The blaze also happened during a tinder dry fall, as PG&E shut off power to millions of California residents in the largest power outages in state history. The eyes of the nation and the world were trained on Sonoma County.

In this live shot filed from Windsor we describe the fire’s approach, and report that despite high winds overnight and numerous rumors, it had not yet reached the city’s edge.

 

2) Evacuations of Windsor and Healdsburg

As the Kincade Fire tore south through Sonoma County, the county sheriff ordered unprecedended evacuations of the cities of Windsor and Healdsburg.  Eventually half the county would be evacuated. 

News of the North Bay reported from many locations, including along HWY 101 in Windsor.

 

3) Russian River Flooding

Incredibly, in the same year that saw the Kincade Fire, the Russian River rose to near record levels in Guerneville and other lower river towns, inundating thousands of homes and businesses, and causing millions of dollars in damage.  

We filed this story as the waters rose, and the lower river was being evacuated.

 

4) Russian River Rises at Healdsburg

We were among the thousands who turned out to see the Russian River reach the bottom of the bridge in Healdsburg, a spectacular sight not seen in decades.

 

5) Joe Rodota Trail Homeless Crisis

As the year progressed, a homeless encampment grew along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa.  Its visibility and size challenged the efforts of government and volunteers to provide services. 

But as winter set in, a small army of volunteers pitched in to help those on the trail live with greater dignity.

 

Joe Rodota Encampment Action

By the end of the year, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, pushed by the magnitude of the crisis and public opinion, set to work on solutions to the Joe Rodota Trail crisis.  They declared a County State of Emergency, which allowed funds to flow more freely, and open up options for moving forward.  This story was filed on December 23rd.

 

 

6) SMART Train Fatalities and the Push to Larkspur

The year was a challenging one for SMART, the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit system.  After several deaths along the rail line, including multiple people hit at the Golf Course Drive crossing in Rohnert Park, the rail service and its board installed Z barriers and searched for answers.

SMART Expands to Larkspur

Amid safety and ridership concerns, SMART forged ahead, finally delivering on its pledge to extend the line to Larkspur.  The end of the year celebration of the opening of the Larkspur station promised more trains, and better connections from the North Bay to San Francisco.

 

7) Fire Victims Voice Anger and Frustration

By the end of 2019, more than 90 percent of the homes lost to the Tubbs Fire in Coffey Park were either rebuilt, under construction , or in the pipeline.  Almost 2000 homes.  An incredible response to disaster by any measure. 

Still, in the midst of the rebuild, unscrupulous contractors like Chiaramonte Construction moved in to victimize some homeowners.

 

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