Redwood Credit Union Celebrates 70 Years of Service

Redwood Credit Union (RCU) is proud to announce its celebration of 70 years of service to members. Originally formed by seven County of Sonoma employees as an affordable means to make bridge loans to fellow employees between paychecks, the credit union has grown to offer full service personal and business banking, as well as financial services beyond banking such as financial planning, insurance, and even an auto sales center.

Founded in 1950 as Sonoma County Employees Credit Union, in 1982, that entity merged with Santa Rosa Public Employees Credit Union and was renamed Redwood Credit Union to reflect its growing presence in the Redwood Empire. In 1997, RCU expanded its field of membership to serve anyone living or working in the five North Bay counties of Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, Lake, and Napa. And in 2000, RCU received approval to serve residents and businesses in the three additional counties of San Francisco, Solano, and Contra Costa.

The credit union now has 19 locations throughout the North Bay and San Francisco, and is the 43rd largest credit union in the U.S. and 8th largest in California. RCU has been named one of the top five healthiest credit unions in the nation for six consecutive years by Glatt Consulting, an independent firm that measures credit union health against 17 metrics of strength and growth.

“Though we’ve grown and added many services and locations over the past 70 years, helping people has always been at the heart of what we do,” said Brett Martinez, RCU President & CEO. “We’re thankful for our 353,000 members, and through their loyalty and participation—as well as the dedication of our 700 employees—we have a solid foundation to continue providing affordable financial services and support to our communities for many more decades to come.”

About Redwood Credit Union
Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU’s services include checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, and more. Wealth management and investment services are available through CUSO Financial Services L.P., and insurance and auto-purchasing services are also available through RCU Services Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of RCU. RCU has over $4.9 billion in assets and serves more than 353,000 members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah, plus free ATM access nationwide. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit, or follow RCU on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for news and updates.

Star Staffing Hosts Talent Summit

A conference designed for HR and Talent Acquisition self-starters, forward-thinkers, and dreamers.

You’re only as great as the talent you hire. Getting the right talent with the right skills in the right positions requires strategy and innovation. Help your organization maintain a competitive advantage by gaining the tools and resources you need to enhance your talent and HR strategy.

2020 Speaker Lineup

Katrina Kibben, Three Ears Media – Personalization in the Age of Automation

We’re in the age of the machines. We are now using voice assistants, chatbots, recruiting machine learning technologies, and so much more in our daily lives. You’d think that all these things would make recruiting easier, right? Of course! However, out-of-the-box machine automation doesn’t make our lives easier. In fact, it speeds up a terrible experience that makes candidates feel ignored and unimportant. In this session, Katrina will teach you practical ways to make the most of simple automated interactions to create a candidate experience that is helpful, but most importantly, human.

You will learn:

  • How to utilize automation without losing the human touch
  • Strategies to stand out in the hiring process
  • How to create candidates who will become your best brand ambassadors
  • Tips to customize your message and reach the right audience

Alison Crawford, Uber – Diversity and Inclusion: Rethinking your Recruitment Strategy

Most HR Leaders know that a diverse team brings more creativity, innovation, and ultimately, more results. It makes sense that different perspectives and backgrounds on a team contribute to newer and more diverse ideas to solve challenges and propel innovation. But, the topic of diversity and inclusion goes beyond just business results and performance… and, it doesn’t happen on its own. It is important for companies to actively seek and recruit candidates from a variety of backgrounds to ensure they’re not inadvertently creating an identical workforce.

Alison will help you connect the dots to bridge the gap between a diverse workforce and one that is all-inclusive. You will gain strategies and insights needed to reduce bias, shift exclusive workplace habits, and transform workplace culture to create a better, more productive workplace environment.

You will learn:

  • Strategies to attract a diverse workforce
  • How to develop Employee Resource Groups that support the 4Cs of all types of organizations [culture, careers, commerce, and community]
  • Benefits of blind screenings and implementation of the Rooney Rule

Heather Bussing, Employment Lawyer & Analyst at HR Examiner – How to Effectively Use Your HR Data

The quality of your data matters more than ever…. so, make it count! The subject is inescapable and is changing the operations of almost every industry — from hospitality, to healthcare, and even to HR. Continuing advances in HR technology mean that HR data analytics are only going to get more useful, sophisticated, and universal.

All technology solutions, even Artificial Intelligence (AI), are created by humans. Thus, AI has the potential to be influenced and impacted by human biases. Solutions designed to produce bias-free outcomes in HR processes like hiring or compensation need to continuously be evaluated to ensure that these outcomes are, in fact, being attained. Heather Bussing, Employment Attorney, works in the thick of risk management focusing on biases around the use of HR technology. She will explore the issues associated with technology and the way it can either perpetuate or help reduce bias.

You will learn:

  • What data to track and why
  • How to use data to improve engagement and retention
  • How data can uncover compliance issues such as bias and sexual harassment
  • How to talk with C-Suite about bias and technology
  • What to do when technology that is supposed to eliminate bias actually makes it worse


Margaret Graziano, KeenAlignment – Elevate the Effectiveness of Your HR Team

The 21st Century workforce presents a unique set of challenges to HR managers and leaders. You’re called upon to lead multiple generations of people with diverse backgrounds, values, work ethics, and perspectives when it comes to how they do their job. Statistically, over 70% of your workforce may be burned out, disengaged, and doubtful of their own ability to contribute in a way that matters.

As a leader in HR, you need to be able to address these challenges, remove obstacles, and initiate changes that improve the employee experience, increase engagement, and optimize your workforce. At the same time, you need to convince executives that your initiatives have the power to not only increase employee engagement but to increase customer satisfaction and net profits as well.

You will learn:

  • How to create a crystalized vision of an empowered career in strategic HR
  • Strategies: to identify and remove obstacles within your organization; and, to introduce initiatives that increase employee productivity and profit
  • How to develop communication skills that will gain buy-in, inspire people to take positive action, and make the Executives pay attention
  • Steps to determine which priorities will give you the greatest return on your investment of time and energy
  • The difference between culture and climate — and how each impacts the employee experience and your authority as a leader

Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College Joint Program Offer Wine Production Track and Bachelor’s Degree Transition Options for Their Students

The Wine Business Institute in the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University in partnership with Santa Rosa Junior College launched a new bachelor’s degree transition program to serve the community. The first of its kind in the region, the program combines well established strengths of two of the San Francisco North Bay’s leading institutions of higher education to provide state-of-the-art education for residents interested in careers in wine production and management. The new bachelor’s degree transition program will be available to SRJC and SSU students beginning fall semester 2020. More

information can be found at

The transition program serves the needs of both students and employers. It provides the educational roadmap and curriculum expansion students seek and produces graduates who possess comprehensive knowledge of both the business and production of wine,” said Dr. Kevin Sea, director of the Wine Studies program at SRJC.

The joint program will provide a four-year degree transition pathway for SRJC viticulture and enology students and expand SSU’s wine business program to include a wine production track. SRJC students can complete their general elective and wine production coursework at SRJC to earn their associate’s degree before transferring to SSU to complete their upper division business and wine business classes to earn their bachelor’s degree. Likewise, SSU students already pursuing a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in wine business strategies will be able to enroll in SRJC enology and viticulture courses to fulfill requirements for the new wine production track.

The new joint program between SRJC and SSU is the perfect foundation for students interested in the wine industry,” said Kim Stare Wallace, president of Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg, CA. “I look forward to having a whole new pool of qualified candidates for a wide variety of positions.

We received overwhelming wine community support for the development of this bachelor’s degree transition program,” said Dr. Liz Thach, MW, Distinguished Professor of Wine at SSU. “We have a number of students requesting more wine production-related coursework, and several of our wine business alumni have transitioned into winemaking or wine production roles.

“We’re thrilled to be expanding our undergraduate opportunities while strengthening our longstanding ties to the SRJC through this creative partnership,” said Sonoma State President Judy K. Sakaki. “It’s because of innovative programs like this that Sonoma State has the highest two-year transfer graduation rate among the 23 CSU campuses, and we are proud of that fact.

For more information on the new joint bachelor’s degree transition program, please contact Dr. Liz Thach, MW at SSU ( or Dr. Kevin Sea at SRJC (

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About the Wine Business Institute

The Wine Business Institute in the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University is the first in the United States to offer an undergraduate degree (since 1998), an MBA (since 2008), and an Executive MBA (since 2012) focused on the business of wine. Today, our degree and certificate programs serve the wine industry and those aspiring to be a part of it.

About Santa Rosa Junior College

SRJC was established in 1918 and has since provided quality education to more than one million students. SRJC is known for academic excellence, superb faculty and staff, comprehensive student services and beautiful facilities. This treasured community institution enrolls approximately 37,000 students annually. SRJC is dedicated to removing barriers to students’ success and making higher education accessible to all.

Sonoma Raceway Launches High-Performance Driving Center

Sonoma Raceway is launching a new experiential automotive program that will allow drivers of all skill levels to enjoy the high-speed thrills of the premier wine country motorsports venue.

The Sears Point Racing Experience will offer high-performance driving courses, racing programs, safe driver training, corporate outings, manufacturer showcases, go-karting and more.  Programs can utilize the raceway’s vehicle fleet or customers can test their own cars on the famed 2.52-mile road course.

The new venture, launched Jan. 1, builds upon instruction platforms and assets previously operated by the Simraceway Performance Driving Center.  New programs, schedules and options will be rolled out in the coming months.  All programs and gift cards previously purchased from Simraceway will be honored and executed by the Sears Point Racing Experience.

The new venture continues the facility’s 46-year history of hosting an on-site racing school. Since 1973, the raceway has been home to four different top-tier performance driving/racing schools beginning with the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving (1973-1990), Skip Barber Racing School (1990-1995), Jim Russell Racing Drivers School (1995-2006) and Simraceway Performance Driving Center (2006-2019).

“The hands-on automotive experience has always been the core of our day-to-day business and the demand for these activities has grown dramatically over the last decade,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager.  “We are very excited to launch this new venture and to further integrate these behind-the-wheel opportunities with our existing menu of customer experiences.”

The Racing Experience will operate from the existing 18,000-square foot facility adjacent to Turn 1 of the 12-turn road course; karting operations will also continue at the ¾-mile Sonoma Raceway Karting Center.

The raceway will host a formal grand-opening for the Sears Point Racing Experience at a later date. For more information on available programs and opportunities, visit or call 800-733-0345. The Sears Point Racing Experience is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @racesearspoint.

Becoming Independent’s Shred-a-thon

Becoming Independent invites the community to join us at our Secured Document Shredding Ribbon Cutting and Shred-A-Thon!
Ribbon Cutting – 10am  /  FREE! Shred-A-Thon – January 10th 10:30am to 1:00pm

Immediately following the Ribbon Cutting, Becoming Independent is proud to offer a free Secured Document Shredding Shred-A-Thon!

It’s a new year – and a perfect time to get rid of those old documents in your home or office and make room for the new! Becoming Independent will be offering free shredding for all. Stop by with you old documents and we’ll take care of the rest!

*Restrictions: We are committed to recycling 100% of your shredded documents. In order to do so, we must ensure that it is 100% paper. Please refrain from adding any plastics, metals or other waste to the document destruction bin. LIMIT: Up to 3 banker boxes per person.

Midstate Construction Completes Altura Apartments in Petaluma

Altura Apartments

General contractor Midstate Construction Corporation and developer The Reliant Group recently completed construction of Altura Apartments, a new 150 unit market-rate apartment facility in Petaluma, CA.

This project features ground up construction of 150 one and two bedroom luxury apartments. Units include quartz countertops, plank flooring, stainless steel appliances, private patios, and stackable washers & dryers. 23 units have been reserved for residents earning less than 60% of the area median income. Additionally, 9 of the 23 units are reserved for residents earning less than 50% of the area median income.

The 200,000 square foot site includes club house, fitness room, bocce ball court, 24-hour parcel lockers, spin room with Peloton bikes, outdoor firepit & gas BBQ grill, playground, community garden, heated saltwater pool, hot tub, dog park and electric car charging stations.

Chandi Hospitality Group’s Mountain Mike’s Pizza Reopens in Santa Rosa Restaurant Destroyed in 2017 Wildfire

Normalcy, it turns out, smells a lot like freshly baked pizza.

Mountain Mike’s Pizza, one of nearly a dozen Santa Rosa restaurants that were destroyed in the 2017 wildfires, reopened its doors Friday, the latest milestone in the city’s long and difficult recovery.

The new 4,400-square-foot restaurant on Cleveland Avenue is more than a pizzeria — it’s a place for the local community to gather, said Jeff Okrepkie, founder of Coffey Strong, a group of Coffey Park residents that banded together to help neighbors connect and rebuild. For residents of fire-ravaged Coffey Park, the restaurant’s opening is a hopeful sign that businesses are returning to support them, he said.

“This is the first business we lost that’s come back,” said Okrepkie, who stopped by the pizzeria Friday.

Located a little over a half-mile south of its original location, the new Mountain Mike’s is the third restaurant to reopen after being destroyed. Sweet T’s and Willi’s Wine Bar have both recently reopened at new locations in Windsor and in Santa Rosa’s Town and Country shopping center.

A fourth, Cricklewood, has not announced plans to reopen.

“It’s a piece of the neighborhood and community that’s coming back,” said Okrepkie. “This is just one of those last pieces.”

Sonu Chandi, president and CEO of Chandi Hospitality Group, which operates the restaurant, said rebuilding was never a question.

“We have faced many challenges after the fires that ravaged our area, and there have been many obstacles during this rebuilding process. There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into making this rebuild a reality,” said Chandi, whose family owns five Mountain Mike’s restaurants in Sonoma County as well as downtown eateries Bollywood, Mercato, Stout Brothers and Beer Baron.

The expanded pizzeria has a full bar, seating for 160, patio, a game room, 20 beer taps and its own brewery. It was designed to be more of a hangout than a take-out pizzeria, costing the business more $1 million to rehab and more than a year to complete.

Rather than rebuilding on their old lot, which still stands vacant, the family took over the lease from a long-empty restaurant and nightclub at the intersection of Cleveland and Russell Avenue to speed the process of reopening.

“It was basically just four walls,” said Joti Chandi, who led the Mountain Mike’s reopening.

In total, the loss of the restaurant cost the company upwards of $750,000, along with a number of staff who moved away from the county due to the cost and availability of housing after the fires, according to Sonu Chandi. They have retained seven of the 16 original Cleveland Avenue staff members, including general manager Katie Chapman, many of whom worked at other Mountain Mike’s locations while the space was renovated.

“I put a lot of work into that store,” said Chapman, who had been promoted to management before the Tubbs fire destroyed the former location. “I lived down the street, and I remember waking up and smelling the smoke. I called Manu (Chandi) and she said we lost everything. I just started crying. It was my second home.”

The first night of the fires was also harrowing for Joti Chandi, the company’s chief operating officer. After receiving an alarm call he went to the store with hopes of saving it. He quickly realized fire had already taken hold.

“I thought I could put out the fire. It was heartbreaking to see our building, but there was smoke everywhere,” he said.

Following the fires, the family started delivering pizza to shelters and raised more than $50,000 for fire victims. “We couldn’t really do anything, so we just started delivering pizza,” said Joti Chandi.

Throughout Friday’s lunch rush, patrons stopped in for pizza and salad, checking out the new space.

Contractor Chris Grabill, who stopped in for lunch said he appreciated the Chandi group rebuilding in the neighborhood rather than leaving.

“It’s both rare and a testament to our community that people that lost everything understand the responsibility of rebuilding in the community. “It’s not the easiest road to take, but it shows a sense of responsibility,” he said.

“The only way you’re going to have community again is to have a place for families to gather again. It’s important to have a place to enjoy each others company,” Grabill said.

Hugging old friends and welcoming new patrons, on Friday, the Chandi family said they were proud to be able to bring the restaurant back.

“This new location will show the Coffey Park community that when we all work together, we can build better and stronger. We know many friends and patrons who lived in that community so it’s very personal for us, and our new location will start new fresh memories for many families,” Sonu Chandi said.

Chandi Hospitality and Other Resilient Sonoma County Restaurateurs Stake Future on New Sites

At the original Willi’s Wine Bar on Santa Rosa’s northern outskirts, the lights in the dining room flickered and dimmed when employees turned on the dishwasher in the kitchen.

Plumbing and electrical problems were among the challenges of operating a business in a 133-year-old building. So, too, was a lack of parking space, forcing patrons to navigate to the popular establishment on foot along Old Redwood Highway, often in darkness.

For owners Mark and Terri Stark, one major upside of losing Willi’s in the 2017 Tubbs fire was being able to upgrade and expand in their new location in the Town & Country Shopping Center in east Santa Rosa. At a renovation cost of just under $2  million, the new Willi’s is a 3,300-square-foot testament to modern trends in cooking, including kitchen appliances that actually work as intended.

Still, while business at the new site is gangbusters, the Starks and many of their longtime patrons profess nostalgia for the old Willi’s.

“The old location was just a funky roadhouse. We loved it for that reason,” Terri Stark said. “We can’t bring back an 1886 building. I miss that, and I miss that that was our first one (restaurant). There’s certain things you can’t replicate.”

For owners of several popular restaurants that burned in the 2017 blazes, a main challenge has been retaining the flavor of the original while capitalizing on the new and fresh.

With insurance money, these owners have been able to rebuild and, in many cases, upgrade, including expanded dining areas, new outdoor patios and more parking spaces for customers.

The new 4,400-square-foot Mountain Mike’s Pizza on Cleveland Avenue is a prime example. It opened a little more than a half-mile south of the original location, with upgrades that include a full bar, seating for 160, patio, a game room, 20 beer taps and its own small brewery.

“We definitely changed, and I think we changed for the better,” said Sonu Chandi, president and CEO of Chandi Hospitality Group, which operates the restaurant.

The company spent more than $1 million to rehab the site for the new pizzeria at the intersection of Cleveland and Russell Avenue. The space had been vacant for a decade, according to Chandi.

He said about half of the staff returned to work at the new location.

About 70% of the staff at the original Willi’s are now employed at the new location, according to Terri Stark. Nearly all found temporary employment at one of the five other restaurants the Starks own and operate in Sonoma County.

The only item the Starks managed to salvage from the 2017 blaze at Willi’s was a horseshoe, which now hangs behind the bar at the new location. Otherwise, only memories remain.

For some customers, the experience will never be the same. Ann Tussey, co-owner of Sweet T’s with her husband, Dennis, said “it really hurt my feelings” when some customers told her the new Windsor restaurant does not compare with the original site in Fountaingrove.

“The fact is, it’s never going to be the same,” Ann Tussey said. “In Fountaingrove, people would walk there (to the restaurant) from down the street. Sometimes they’d see each other more at Sweet T’s than anywhere else.”

The new 3,700-square-foot restaurant, in a former Denny’s off Brooks Road South in Windsor, is within walking distance of several hotels, which draws a different clientele. Business is going well, and the Tusseys have expanded the number of employees to 100, up from 70 at the former location.

The restaurant still offers up its Southern comfort food specialties, including smoked and barbecued meats, creamy mac and cheese, shrimp with grits, fried chicken and key lime pie.

The patio was partially constructed with salvaged wood from the original Sweet T’s. Two citrus plants that survived the blaze were hauled to the new location and now grace the entryway — symbols of survival and growth.

Restaurant owners cite similar challenges to their future. They include difficulty finding and retaining staff amid a period of record low unemployment and increased costs for food and services.

Another major hurdle are power outages in Sonoma County tied to reducing fire threat. Willi’s, Sweet T’s and the Cleveland Avenue Mountain Mike’s were shut down for days in October for lack of power.

Chandi called the power shut-offs a “nightmare” for the restaurant community, saying they result in lost business and food having to be thrown away.

The hospitality group decided not to reopen another of its restaurants, downtown Santa Rosa’s Stout Brothers, after the power was turned back on.

“We have to focus on the things that are doing really well,” Chandi said.

But as the busy holiday season approaches, the overriding sentiment among restaurant owners is one of relief and gratitude.

“We thought the worst of it was over in 2017,” Chandi said, “and it keeps coming back. It’s making us more resilient. I’m grateful for what we have and we continue to move forward.”