Redwood Credit Union Opens 8.5-Acre Administrative Campus & Branch; Plans to Hire 600 Workers

Redwood Credit Union has opened an 8.5-acre administrative campus and branch in south Napa County, Calif., where it intends to hire nearly 600 employees.

When the hiring is complete, it will make the credit union one of the largest employers in the county, according to

The campus at 480 Devlin Road is near the Napa County Airport and will enable RCU to hire talent from Napa and Solano counties and beyond, while also providing additional convenience to members in those areas, Ron Felder, chief financial officer, told Patch.

The $7.6-billion RCU began moving team members into the new building in October 2022. Construction began in 2020 but because of the pandemic and supply chain issues, it took a little longer than anticipated to complete, Kimble told the publication.

New Branch Opens

Included in the new campus are a new branch and administrative building, which is adjacent to an existing building purchased with the property. That building was remodeled and will be used as additional office space, Patch reported.

The building is a sustainable, solar-supported facility with plentiful parking and electric vehicle chargers, the publication said. In addition, a community room with seating up to 500 people and a public café with fresh and affordable food will open later this year at the campus, Redwood Credit Union told

Additional Branch Hiring

Currently, said RCU employs about 150 team members in Napa County, between the Napa campus branch and administrative offices, its 1st Street branch, and its American Canyon branch. Of that total, 14 were hired this year, and 48 were hired last year.

The CU has plans to hire an additional 60+ employees among its three Napa branches this year, and more thereafter.

Caritas Village Receives $5 Million Thanks to Assemblymember Jim Wood’s Efforts

On May 19, 2023, Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) presented Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa with a check for $5 million from the state of California to help launch Caritas Center in its first year. Assemblymember Wood secured the funding for Catholic Charities as part of last year’s state budget.

In fall of 2022, Catholic Charities opened Caritas Center which features multiple wrap-around services that will help participants navigate their journey to permanent housing, while also preventing at-risk people from falling into homelessness. A 192-bed family shelter, childcare, healthcare clinic, drop-in center, and 38 recuperative beds are available in a facility built from the ground up with critical, life-changing services in mind. Next door, Caritas Homes includes 128 affordable homes built in partnership with experienced nonprofit developer Burbank Housing.

“Catholic Charities is well known to me and the entire community for its amazing efforts providing support services and moving people, including veterans, seniors, and families, into housing and out of poverty,” said Wood. “The Caritas Village partnership with Burbank Housing – leaders in building affordable housing – will bring their decades of experience and expertise to create a facility to meet the needs of our most vulnerable residents.”

The Santa Rosa City Council approved the project for construction in August 2020. Currently, Catholic Charities serves 2,000 people every year through its housing and shelter services, and this long-term solution is expected to place twice as many people into permanent housing.

“Caritas Center is the only facility of its kind to bring all these elements under one roof,” said Jennielynn Holmes, CEO of Catholic Charities. “By supporting this model, Assemblymember Wood has demonstrated his commitment to dramatically alleviate if not end homelessness in our region. Our communities want to bring an end to homelessness. We at Catholic Charities will continue to link arms with others who want to support this mission as we know the work is ongoing to make Caritas Center all our team endeavors it to be.”

“This funding will be instrumental in building the Caritas Village infrastructure but my hope is that it also sends a strong message that the state support of Caritas is strong and will spur others to support their critical fundraising effort for its ongoing operations,” said Wood.

To learn more about Caritas Village, you may contact: John Pavik, Catholic Charities Director of Communications at 707-284-3853 or

Sonoma State University Appoints Ming-Tung ‘Mike’ Lee as President

Meet the new Sonoma State University boss, same as the old boss.

Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee, who took over as the school’s interim president in August of 2022, has had the “interim” tag removed from his title.

Lee’s promotion to president was announced in a Wednesday memo from Jolene Koester, interim chancellor of the 23-school California State University system, headquartered in Long Beach.

It was Koester who talked Lee out of retirement in 2022 to replace former President Judy Sakaki, who resigned amid a sexual harassment and retaliation scandal linked to her and her then-husband Patrick McCallum. At the time, Lee was happily retired and four years removed from his Sacramento State University, where he’d spent 18 years in various high-level roles.

Speaking on the phone from Long Beach Wednesday, Lee said he was “not completely surprised” by the appointment.

He’d been hearing some positive feedback, he said, from both the Chancellor’s office and the Sonoma State “community,” about “the positive changes they have seen on campus.”

His promotion, said Lee, “is a confirmation of what I’ve been doing and what the university has been doing.

“I’m happy about that.”

Interconnected problems

Upon taking the job, Lee inherited a pair of interconnected crises. Enrollment at the Rohnert Park campus, depressed by wildfires, then the COVID-19 pandemic, had plunged 33% from 2016 to 2022, resulting in a $16 million deficit.

While the number of students on campus hasn’t appreciably increased during Lee’s tenure, Koester praised him in a statement for taking “bold, meaningful and collaborative steps to enhance Sonoma State’s enrollment management policies and practices and to strengthen vital pipelines with area high schools and community colleges.”

Lee and other SSU administrators have traveled to Southern California to meet with the presidents of the nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District, to promote Sonoma State.

The university is now signing agreements with North Bay school districts. If high school students meet certain academic requirements, they are guaranteed admission to the university. SSU has similar arrangements with “all community colleges in the area,” Lee told the Press Democrat in April.

Meanwhile, Lee and his team have been working to balance the university’s budget “with the least amount of disruption to our operation.”

In its search for savings, the Administration has worked hard, Lee said, “to be transparent about what we are doing.”

“Wild fall” coming

Disruption is coming, whether Lee and his team like it or not. In a May 17 memo to SSU employees, Provost Karen Moranski made foreboding mention of the $17 million deficit facing the university “for the next fiscal year.” That, and other projected fiscal hits would necessitate “strategic reorganizations at the departments and school levels,” she wrote.

As one professor put it, “It’s going to be a wild fall.”

The CSU Board of Trustees’ decision to make Lee’s title permanent is a clear sign that it has confidence in his approach to those problems.

“He has demonstrated himself to be a prudent steward of university resources, while maintaining the institution’s unwavering focus on academic excellence and student success,” said Koester.

Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, whose district includes SSU, expressed appreciation for “the steady hand and leadership that President Lee has provided at a critical juncture for the university.” Lee, he added, is “the right person to carry the university forward.”

Professor David McCuan, chair of the university’s political science department, called the CSU Board of Trustees’ decision to remove Lee’s interim tag as “an important development for SSU to turn the corner, and to start to live up to its potential.”

McCuan was a frequent critic of Sakaki, who presided over numerous upgrades to the quality of student life. Some faculty, however, questioned her commitment to Academic Affairs – their turf.

“A great fit”

Having no doubt heard those criticisms, Lee has worked tirelessly since his arrival to reach out to professors. He’s attended every faculty senate meeting, and joined them at a recent retreat.

During the fall semester Lee visited “every single unit and office of this university,” he said, to speak with professors and to “know more about what they do, what’s important to them, what projects they’re doing.”

McCuan didn’t much care for the process by which the CSU system selected Lee. That exercise, he said, could be “more transparent,” and should “involve the local campus community more broadly, and in a more substantial manner.

“Long Beach (where the CSU system is headquartered) needs to dictate less, and engage more.”

But he’s a fan of the end result.

“Mike is a great fit for us.”

“I am honored to continue leading Sonoma State and to help bring transformative, world-class educational opportunities to the students of the North Bay,” Lee said, in a statement from the chancellor’s office.

“As the first member of my family to earn a college degree, I understand the profound impact it can make on the life of a student and on their family.”

As Lee told the Press Democrat last year, his father fled mainland China to Taiwan in 1949, to escape Mao Zedong’s communist rule. His father had three years of schooling, total. His mother was illiterate. But young Ming-Tung loved books, so they sacrificed to buy them for him. Lee applied to Tunghai University, where the acceptance rate was 10%, he recalled.

He got in, and visited the library on his first day as a collegian.

“To this day, as I sit here talking to you,” he said, “I still remember the smell of all those books. Never in my life had I seen so many books in one place, that I could touch, and pull off the shelf. It was a wonderful feeling.”

Press Democrat Named Best Newspaper of its Size in California Journalism Contest

The Press Democrat was named the best newspaper of its size in California, earning the top award for general excellence this month in the state’s largest journalism contest.

In addition, The Press Democrat won 15 other top honors for investigative and breaking-news reporting, coverage of local government, the environment, agriculture and youth and education.

“The class of California daily journalism,” read the judge’s citation for general excellence, which grades newspapers not only on their journalistic content, but also on their overall design, presentation and advertising excellence.

The Press Democrat was recognized as best in class among papers with 15,000 to 50,000 print subscribers — a category that includes all but a handful of the largest metro papers and the state’s smaller dailies.

Overall, the newspaper and its website,, won 41 awards for print and digital journalism in the annual contest, which is organized by the California News Publishers Association, the state’s largest media trade group.

Among those honors, the newspaper received the top two of the three awards given for investigative reporting in its circulation division.

Reporter Andrew Graham and watchdog columnist Marisa Endicott won for their 11-part series on the flawed Fire Victim Trust set up by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to compensate survivors of the 2017 North Bay firestorm and other wildfires tied to the utility.

Reporter Alana Minkler and photographer Beth Schlanker won top awards for their enterprise series on the Yuki tribe of Northern California’s long fight for recognition and justice, culminating with the name change last year of the University of California’s San Francisco-based law school.

The Press Democrat’s monthlong, special coverage of the 5-year anniversary of the 2017 North Bay firestorm won the top honor for in-depth reporting among papers of its size.

“The scope and sweep of this reporting, and the stories it reveals, is apt and fitting for a newsroom that won a Pulitzer for coverage of the original event five years before,” judges wrote. “Just as the community it covers rebuilt, The Press Democrat has not gone anywhere and indeed is setting the bar for excellence in community journalism for California.”

Four of the 16 first place awards, for breaking news reporting, coverage of local government, news and feature photo, were for digital journalism judged against work by the largest news organizations in the state.

In that same field, the newspaper’s coverage of the sexual harassment and retaliation scandal at Sonoma State University and resignation of campus president Judy Sakaki earned the second place award for public service journalism, one of the most prestigious honors.

“Excellent example of dogged reporting that combines material from public records requests, interviews, public statements and other information sources,” read the judge’s citation. “The hits just kept coming from The Press Democrat staff.”

Richard A. Green, executive editor of The Press Democrat and chief content officer for its parent company, Sonoma Media Investments, said the recognition reflects the entire staff’s dedication to serving the community.

“I’ve always said we don’t do this for the awards, but it’s always nice when hard work of our staff is recognized by our peers in the industry,” Green said. “Our goal is first and foremost to serve our readers with quality, high-impact journalism, and to have that journalism honored as the best in our class in all of California is truly special. ”

Overall, Sonoma Media Investment publications won 77 awards in the contest.

The honors, announced over two weeks this month, recognized journalism published in 2022.

In most categories, entries were judged against work produced by daily newspapers in California with 15,000 to 50,000 subscribers. In others, including digital and open entries, the work was judged against the largest media outlets in the state.

Senior reporter Mary Callahan won the top award for environmental reporting by circulation division — and two of the three awards in that category — for stories on the rising menace of megafloods in the new climate era and the protracted struggle over logging of century-old redwoods on state land in Mendocino County.

Senior photojournalist Kent Porter took home the top two awards for news and sports feature photos by circulation division, as well as the top two news and feature photo awards in the digital division.

The Press Democrat’s features team also swept all three awards in its circulation division for inside page design and layout.

The 16 first-place awards include:

General excellence, for two consecutive issues of The Press Democrat (Sept. 3-4) that showcased incisive investigative reporting — on the history of racist real estate covenants and their harmful legacy — with breaking news coverage of a deputy’s fatal shooting of a farmworker; features on the region’s signature wine industry; bread-and-butter reporting on local businesses, sports and government; and special section coverage celebrating the region’s diverse Latino community. Judges based their decision on general news coverage, local news coverage; opinion pages; quality of writing; headlines; use of photography, graphics and other artwork; advertising design and layout, and copywriting; and graphic design and typography.

Breaking news (digital division), for coverage of a sheriff’s deputy’s fatal shooting of migrant worker David Pelaez-Chavez, reported by Andrew Graham, Colin Atagi, Nashelly Chavez, Alana Minkler, Phil Barber and Matt Pera.

“Excellent coverage on this from first story to last,” the judges wrote.

Coverage of local government (digital division), for Paulina Pineda’s story, “A refuge postponed: How a ‘vocal minority’ stalled plans for a long-sought Roseland park,” with photos by Chad Surmick and Beth Schlanker.

Coverage of youth and education, for reporter Kaylee Tornay’s chronicle of the pandemic setbacks endured by Sonoma County students and efforts to catch up, with photos by Christopher Chung.

News photo, for Kent Porter’s image of a firefighter at work in a midwinter wildfire on the flank of Geyser Peak in northeastern Sonoma County.

Coverage of the environment, for Mary Callahan’s look at the specter of even greater floods in California’s future, and how those warnings resonate in Sonoma County.

Enterprise news, for Alana Minkler’s stories on the plight of the Yuki tribe and their campaign for recognition and redress. The reporting helped spur state legislation to amplify Yuki voices in moves to address historical traumas inflicted on their tribe.

Feature photo, for Christopher Chung’s shot of dunk-tank action at Santa Rosa United Soccer Club’s Fall Festival.

Investigative reporting, for Andrew Graham and Marisa Endicott’s series on the troubled PG&E Fire Victim Trust.

“These stories successfully pull back the curtain on how and why fire victims were not receiving compensation in a timely way,” read the judge’s citation. “The reporters clearly and impressively explained the complex financial workings of the trust and those responsible for overseeing and dispersing it.”

Inside section design, for Antonie Boessenkool and Jonathan Byrd’s “Sounds of Bond” feature and page layout. “Typography beautifully integrated with images, and excellent use of photography,” the judge wrote.

Sports feature photo, for Kent Porter’s layered shot of a decisive point in a volleyball title game between Windsor and Maria Carrillo high schools.

In-depth reporting, for team coverage marking the five-year anniversary of the 2017 fires, including nearly 30 stories, hundreds of photos, dozens of videos and a half-dozen podcast episodes. Together, the coverage aimed to be a mosaic that explained how the fires changed us and how the repercussions are still etched in our community’s DNA. Reporters Phil Barber, Mary Callahan, Martin Espinoza, Kerry Benefield, Austin Murphy, Paulina Pineda, Andrew Graham and Marisa Endicott led coverage, with contributions from the entire photojournalism, web production, print design and editing team.

Feature photo (digital division), for Kent Porter’s image of a ballet folklorico performer.

Coverage of business and the economy, by Marisa Endicott, for her stories on the demise of recycling centers statewide and the impact in the North Bay.

Agricultural reporting, for stories by Andrew Graham, Marisa Endicott and Bill Swindell on the struggles of North Coast cannabis growers six years after legalization.

News photo (digital division), for Kent Porter’s shot of the nighttime response to a wildfire in western Sonoma County. “Dramatic light illustrates the scene very well,” read the judge’s citation. “A keeper.”

The 15 second-place awards include:

Investigative reporting (open division), for Marisa Endicott and Andrew Graham’s stories on the Fire Victim Trust.

Enterprise news (open division) for Alana Minkler’s stories on the Yuki people and their efforts to right historical injustices, with Beth Schlanker’s photos.

Public service journalism (digital) and investigative reporting for leading coverage of the sexual harassment and retaliation scandal at Sonoma State that began with The Press Democrat breaking news in April 2022 of a secret $600,000 settlement paid to a former top SSU administrator. Reporters Kaylee Tornay, Martin Espinoza and Marisa Endicott led coverage, with contributions from Andrew Graham and Austin Murphy.

“Turning around a story of this magnitude in two days is an impressive feat, as is the ability to turn around 40 stories in the following two months,” the judge wrote. “Coordinating dozens of interviews and poring over thousands of documents, the team was able to effectively convey the shocking details behind a power couple’s fall from grace.”

Photo story, by Christopher Chung, for his essay on the last run of The Press Democrat’s storied print plant in Rohnert Park, which closed in April 2022. “Captured the heroes of the press in their final hours with great humanity and left no detail of the wonders of a press room undocumented. Bravo!” wrote the judge.

Health coverage (digital division), for Kerry Benefield’s story on the failures of California’s death with dignity law for a Santa Rosa woman and the deep grief of her husband. “This is a beautifully written, moving piece that shows the gaps in California’s system for medically assisted dying,” the judge wrote. “As the best stories do, this one offers the opportunity for change.”

Writing, by Phil Barber and Randi Rossmann, detailing the largely untold story of a daring 2 a.m. rescue amid the Tubbs Fire that saved dozens of vulnerable seniors in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood. “Wow. Just wow. A heart wrenching story. Hard to put down,” the judge wrote.

Front page layout and design, for covers designed by Lisa Ostroski and Bryce Martin.

Breaking news, for team coverage of the fatal shooting of migrant worker David Pelaez-Chavez by a sheriff’s deputy.

Feature photo, by Kent Porter, of welders at work on Sonoma County’s new courthouse.

Enterprise news and coverage of business and the economy, for a pair of stories by Andrew Graham and Kent Porter from Humboldt County, where the legalized market for cannabis has left many growers bitter and broke.

Feature story, by Alana Minkler and Kent Porter on the case of a missing Yurok woman and the wider crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Inside page layout and design, for “Milestone with Marsalis,” by Antonie Boessenkool and Jonathan Byrd.

The 10 third-place awards include:

In-depth reporting (digital and circulation divisions), for stories by Andrew Graham and Ethan Varian on squalid housing and broken promises endured by vulnerable residents of two publicly funded homeless housing sites, the Palms Inn and former Gold Coin motel in Santa Rosa, with photos by John Burgess and Kent Porter.

“Such an important story to tell, and it was done with rich detail and interviews that only could have been gotten by boots-on-the-ground reporting,” the judge wrote.

Columns, by Marisa Endicott, highlighting unionizing efforts among low-income tenants to safeguard themselves against corporate landlords, and an exposé on the suddenly shuttered Huntington Learning Center in Windsor.

Photojournalism, by The Press Democrat’s team (John Burgess, Christopher Chung, Chad Surmick, Beth Schlanker and Kent Porter)

Sports feature story, by Kerry Benefield, on former Sonoma State soccer player Courtney Shoda’s new heart and legacy on the Seawolves. “Really nicely written, engaging and filled with unexpected moments,” the judge wrote. “It has the best kicker of the bunch.”

Environmental reporting, for Mary Callahan’s series on a fundamental question for California and the North Coast: Should logging of century-old redwoods continue on public lands in an era of advancing climate crisis?

Feature photo (digital division), by Kent Porter, of a Santa Rosa firefighter rescuing Rihanna the dog from a home that caught fire June 1, 2022.

Inside page layout and design, for a feature page by Antonie Boessenkool, Elissa Torres, John Burgess and Allison Gibson, on the proud legacy of Italian winemakers in Sonoma County.

Profile story, by Austin Murphy, of star climate scientist and North Bay native Daniel Swain.

Special section cover, for a series by Elissa Torres promoting Latino Living, the northern Sonoma County community section, and year-end 23 People to Watch in 2023 feature.

SMI sister publications

The Petaluma Argus-Courier won 16 awards, including seven first-place awards: for photojournalism by Crissy Pascual; health coverage by Amelia Parreira spotlighting shortfalls in local mental health care; editorial comment by Emily Charrier calling for improved workplace treatment of female firefighterswriting by Don Frances; and public service journalism for team coverage in an 11-part series on the twisting fate of Petluma’s prized fairgrounds, eyed for sale and redevelopment.

It also was named second for general excellence in its circulation division among weeklies with 4,300 to 11,000 print subscribers. “This is a newspaper that knows its readers well,” judges wrote.

The Sonoma Index-Tribune won 13 awards, including four top honors: for Daniel Johnson’s profile of Sonoma native and U.S. poet laureate Ada Limón; a sports feature story on USA Team Grappler Brady “Copper Head” Wicklund; and feature photos by Robbi Pengelly. It earned a second-place award for public service journalism, for reporting and editorial comment on the poor response by city and county government to a series of punishing cold snaps and heat spells that threatened the region’s most vulnerable residents.

The North Bay Business Journal won seven awards, including three second-place awards and four third-place awards.

Exchange Bank Receives the Northbay Biz Magazine “Best Of” Award for Best Consumer Bank

In a LinkedIn post, Exchange Bank wrote,

“Exchange Bank is honored to receive the Northbay biz Magazine ‘Best Of’ award for Best Consumer Bank. Supporting our community and customers has been at the center of our core values since 1890.”

Midstate Construction Completes Mirasol Village Blocks B&E (formerly Twin Rivers)

General contractor Midstate Construction Corporation, and developer McCormack Baron Salazar in coordination with Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency recently completed Mirasol Village Blocks B & E (formerly Twin Rivers), a new 123 unit mixed-income residential complex in Sacramento, CA.

Designed by SVA Architects Inc., Blocks B & E include new construction of 12 two and three story buildings providing 123 units via one, two and three bedroom layouts. Community spaces include a 1.2-acre community park, 2/3-acre community garden, fruit tree orchard, garden learning center, pool, playgrounds, and walking paths.

Mirasol Village Blocks B&E are the first phase of the four phase Mirasol Village redevelopment project, creating 427 units of mixed-income housing on a 22 acre parcel. The remaining phases are projected to complete by Q4 2024.

Northern California Public Media Nominated for and Emmy Award

Congratulations to the NorCal – Public Media TV production team on being nominated for an Emmy Award in the category of Public Affairs – “From Homeless to Housed-Labath Landing.” Paul Swensen: Producer/Director. Rick Bacigalupi and Jeremy Jue: Field Producers. William Meese: Editor. The NATAS SF/NorCal awards take place this June.

Sonoma Raceway Offers $25 College Race Ticket Announced for Toyota/Save Mart 350

It’s graduation season, and in celebration of grads and NASCAR’s stop at the famed West Coast road course, Sonoma Raceway is extending an exclusive opportunity to all college students with a valid .edu email address. Students can now purchase tickets for the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 on June 11 for the exceptional price of only $25.

Recognizing the importance of engaging and involving the college community, Sonoma Raceway is excited to provide an accessible way for students to experience the thrill of NASCAR from an exclusive college student section in the Turn 3 Terrace, a prime location to watch drivers jockey for position at high speeds. Students simply enter their .edu email address to unlock the offer during the online ticket purchase. College attendees can take advantage of this limited-time offer and secure up to four tickets to see the exhilarating Toyota/Save Mart 350 race.

Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 offers plenty of heart-pounding action and high-speed competition on one of the few road courses on the NASCAR schedule. Set against the stunning backdrop of Sonoma’s rolling wine country hillsides, this race promises an unforgettable experience for motorsports fans and first-time sporting enthusiasts with a Fan Zone packed with entertainment, activities and vendors. With the $25 college ticket offer, students can indulge in the sights, sounds, and excitement of NASCAR without straining their budgets.

Students wishing to take advantage of this great opportunity to kick off their summer just need to visit and enter their valid .edu email address to start the discounted ticket purchase process and be a part of the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 on June 11 at Sonoma Raceway.

Tickets and add-ons for the tickets for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 race weekend June 9-11 are available now at

For more information contact:

Brandy Falconer
Director of Communications
O: 707-933-3981  |  C: 707-231-6005
Social media: @racesonoma

Sonoma Raceway is a 2.52-mile and 12-turn road course and quarter-mile drag strip located at Sears Point in Sonoma County, California. Built in 1968 the track is carved into rolling hills with 160 ft of total elevation change. It is host to one of the few NASCAR Cup Series races each year that are run on road courses. It is one of the world’s busiest racing facilities, with track activity scheduled an average of 340 days a year. A complete and versatile motorsports complex, it is home to one of the nation’s only high-performance automotive industrial parks with approximately 70 tenants.

SRJC Breaks Ground on Construction Training Center

Santa Rosa Junior College on Wednesday officially began building its long-planned 10,000-square-foot construction training center at its 40-acre Petaluma campus.

The project has been more than three years in the making, but has been delayed for reasons that include the pandemic and increased materials costs.

Formally called the North Bay Regional Construction and Building Trades Employment Training Center, the structure is scheduled to be finished in May 2024, with instruction to begin soon afterwards, according to Benjamin Goldstein, dean of agriculture/natural resources, culinary arts, and industrial and trade technologies. He is overseeing the project with Vanessa Luna Shannon, dean of instruction and enrollment management for the Petaluma campus.

The program will offer short-term training in a variety of specialties for certificates, as well as a program that will take one to four semesters to complete. An associate degree program for students in trade union apprenticeships is under development.

“We’ll be hosting some initial classes in the building in the fall semester of 2024, but it’s going to take us (another) year or so to build out the full suite of academic programs,” Goldstein said. Once the center is operating at full capacity, it should be able to produce up to 500 skilled jobseekers each year, according to the college.

SRJC and the Sonoma County Economic Development Board jointly announced in January 2020 an award of $7.12 million in grant funding to build the construction training center. The grant was funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s disaster relief fund. The county’s economic development board also led efforts to secure a $1 million matching grant from the Tipping Point Community Foundation — bringing the total funding to $8.1 million.

But delays followed, initially because of the pandemic, then compounded by the need for more funding because of escalating costs for construction materials due to supply chain issues, Goldstein said. The economic development board ultimately provided another $4 million in funding, which was awarded in September 2022. Bank of America donated $250,000 for the project a year earlier.

On Wednesday, Ukiah-based The Mendocino Companies, owner of sawmills, 440,000 acres of timber forest and biomass energy plants, announced a donation of $100,000 to the center.

With construction now in full gear, Goldstein detailed three “major” programs that are being developed:

  • Carpentry
  • HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration)
  • Fire-resilient landscaping

“When we talk about building new housing, and building accessory dwelling units, which now have a much simpler permitting process, the first thing that you need are carpenters,” he said.

The focus on the heating and cooling training aims to fill a long-term need.

“There’s a tremendous amount of money coming from the federal government through the Inflation Reduction Act, and the bipartisan infrastructure law for energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and upgrades in residential homes,” Goldstein said.

Fire-resilient landscaping is currently taught through SRJC’s existing construction management program at its main campus in Santa Rosa, but the fully developed program will bring that education to a whole new level.

“The biggest message I think that we want to send to Sonoma County is we are stepping up to help rebuild this county after years of devastating wildfires, floods, and a housing crisis that is pinching everybody’s wallet and making it very hard to live and work in in this county,” Goldstein said. “And as a community college for the county, it’s our job to develop workforce programs that respond to workforce needs. And construction is a huge workforce need.”

Burbank Housing Gets $14 million for 1st-Time Homebuyer Loans

Burbank Housing has received $14.72 million for homebuyers that can be used on homes anywhere in Sonoma County, provided the buyers are lower income (or moderate-income disaster victims) first-time homebuyers.

The fund will allow Burbank to provide over 140 down-payment assistance loans of up to 40% down (up to $100,000) to eligible buyers.

This funding was awarded through a competitive notice of funding availability process through California Department of Housing and Community Development’s CalHOME down payment assistance program.

“In today’s real estate financing market, ethnic groups are socially and economically challenged when it comes to qualifying for mortgages based on the way FICO scores for credit worthiness are determined,” said Larry Florin, CEO of Burbank Housing. “If prospective homebuyers have only rented over the years, a record of their regular, on-time payments is not factored into the equation.”

Florin said consistent rental payments are the perfect example of the kind of responsible behavior credit agencies and lenders are wanting to see and yet these payments have not traditionally been considered as part of a person’s credit score.

To address this void, Burbank Housing partnered with ESUSU Rent, a rent reporting service that helps landlords and their renters build credit by sharing their monthly housing payment information with the major credit bureaus, while also providing limited relief for renters experiencing financial hardships.

Florin said Burbank Housing has nearly 8,700 residents living within 72 rental housing communities it has built in Sonoma and Napa counties. San Francisco-based ESUSU’s reporting process now includes residents at nearly all of Burbank’s developments.

“Burbank has a long track record of good stewardship of HCD funding, and plans to deploy this funding to help address the affordability needs across the county. Because we are working with buyers countywide, as opposed to exclusively for our developments, buyers aren’t required to have a specific down payment amount to be eligible for this funding.” Florin said.

Down-payment aid in Santa Rosa

The city of Santa Rosa — in partnership with Burbank Housing — is working to launch a down-payment assistance plan that the city will be able to utilize in conjunction with Burbank’s program. CalHFA also offers a variety of programs exclusively for first-time homebuyers to assist with down payment assistance and first mortgage loans.

Additionally, the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco offers a down-payment assistance grant of around $29,000 through a program called Workforce Initiative Subsidy for Homeownership, or WISH.

“We also offer prospective homeowners a planning road map that includes reaching a low down payment amount by scheduling partial payments every three months held in reserve leading to the closing, while also hosting individual counseling and seminars to guide them through the process as part of a pathway to homeownership,” Florin added.

Sebastopol affordable development

Jacqui Salyer, Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County director of fund development and programs, said homeownership is the way to build generational income for a family and descendants while also creating community stability.

“Anything that makes it more difficult for would-be homeowners to obtain first time funding can have a big impact. Habitat has helped to finance construction of 48 homes and nine cottages since 1984 many of which were built with great pride and sweat equity by future owners,” Salyer said.

The all-electric cottages with air-conditioning, a heat pump, washer/dryer and appliances are now for sale, after serving the temporary housing needs of families displaced by the Tubbs wildfire since 2017.

Cottages include five two-bedroom homes (744 square feet), and four one-bedroom homes (425‒450 square feet). These cottages were originally placed on Medtronic property in Fountaingrove and must be relocated.

“In addition to being ADUs (accessory dwelling units), these cottages would be ideal for workforce housing or permanent housing for Habitat for Humanity families if land with utilities is donated,” Salyer said.

She said throughout these 40 years not a single Habitat home has been foreclosed and only one unit was sold when the owner graduated from college and moved. A four-unit Habitat development is being built in downtown Sebastopol at 333 Main St. within walking distance to stores, libraries and transit. Through Habitat funding sources, the down payments are as low as 3% to 5% for low-income buyers who qualify for their first home.

Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit housing organization working in over 1,300 communities in the U.S. and 70 countries around the globe.