Bank of America in Napa, Marin, Sonoma 2020 Impact

As we approach the end of the year, we want to personally thank you for the important work we’ve done together in support of the people who live and work in the North Bay.  Working with partners like you, we’ve been able to drive responsible growth, invest in our community, support the health and wellbeing of our employees and our neighbors, and meet the financial needs of our clients.

Supporting our community

In response to the health crisis, and the impact it’s having on our communities – including the disproportionate impact on communities and people of color – we made a series of investments this year:

  • Committed $100 million to support and address pressing needs related to the coronavirus, including healthcare, food, education and needs in vulnerable communities, in addition to the $250 million provided each year in philanthropic giving.
  • Provided more than $250 million in capital to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to facilitate lending through the Paycheck Protection Program, on top of $10 million in philanthropic grants to help fund the operations of CDFIs and MDIs.
  • Made a $1 billion, four-year commitment to help drive racial equality and economic opportunity, focusing particularly on affordable housing, job training/reskilling, support to small business and health. We’ve already directed one-third, or $300 million, of the $1 billion commitment across the U.S. and globally. For instance, we recently announced our efforts with CVS Health to fund a no-cost flu voucher program for under-resourced communities across the U.S., including Black/African American, Native American and Hispanic-Latino populations that may not have access to low- or no-cost preventative flu shots.
  • Donated more than 15 million personal protective equipment masks and more than 7,000 cases of sanitizer to the most vulnerable populations by partnering with local organizations across the country. In the coming weeks, we will distribute an additional 5 million masks, 2.5 million pairs of gloves and 160,000, 8-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer to communities most impacted by rising coronavirus cases.

Here in the North Bay, we’ve supported Community Action Marin, La Luz Center, 10,000 Degrees, Canal Alliance, and more.  And we are partnering with Redwood Empire Food Bank, Downtown Streets, and La Luz to provide 46,000 masks to those who need them most. All the while, we have continued to support longstanding partners to help them continue their operations, including arts and culture nonprofit organizations. In the North Bay, that meant supporting the “Tested by Fire” photography exhibit at the Napa Valley Museum, Yountville.

Supporting our employees

We’ve continued our focus on being a great place to work by investing in the health and wellbeing of teammates and their families, including:

  • Providing no-cost coronavirus testing; no-cost virtual general medicine and behavioral health consults; mental health resources.
  • Provided over 1.7 million days of back-up child and adult care and invested more than $200 million in child and adult care reimbursements through September.
  • Helped our employees manage their stress, build resiliency and avoid burnout, offering new training programs created in partnership with Thrive Global.

This focus also includes our longstanding work to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace, including:

  • Encouraging employees to talk about what they are experiencing, including helping our teammates have conversations about racial, social and economic injustices, with more than 165,000 employees participating in virtual courageous conversations in the first half of the year alone.
  • Increasing diverse representation in nearly every area of the company, starting with a Board of Directors and management team that are nearly 50% diverse. Within the top three levels of our company, more than 40% are women and nearly 20% are people of color. I invite you to view our 2020 Human Capital Management Report to see a details of all we do to invest in our teammates.
  • After just three years, we surpassed our five-year goal to hire 10,000 people from low- and moderate-income communities across the country as part of our Pathways Program. To do this, we work with local partner organizations to build a pipeline of talent.

 

Supporting our clients

This year, we’ve provided critical financial relief to clients, and have been a trusted source of advice, guidance and capabilities. This includes:

  • Supporting more than 2 million payment deferrals through our Client Assistance Program, including for mortgages, credit cards and auto loans.
  • Helping small businesses access more funds than any other bank through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program. Here in Napa, Marin, & Sonoma, we have helped more than 2,032 small businesses access $162M in funding.
  • Expanded on our solutions to help clients build financial wellness, by introducing Balance Assist, a new low-cost, short-term loan designed to help clients budget, spend, save and borrow responsibly and achieve financial stability. With Balance Assist, clients can borrow up to $500, for up to 90 days, for a flat $5 fee. Balance Assist joins products like SafeBalance, Keep the Change and Secured Card, helping clients develop good financial habits.
  • Continued our focus on affordable homeownership through our Community Homeownership Commitment, which includes down payment assistance and closing cost help combined with low down payment mortgages to help low- and moderate-income (LMI) clients buy homes. Since its launch in 2019, it’s helped nearly 13,000 homebuyers with more than $130 million in grants.

As we look to the future, I invite you to view the Outlook 2021 Webcast, available Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. ET. It will feature experts from the Chief Investment Office and BofA Global Research who will share their perspective and analysis about the year ahead.

Amy Loflin

Market Manager

Napa, Marin, Sonoma

Jason Foster

Market President

Napa, Marin, Sonoma

https://myvideo.bankofamerica.com/localmarkets/q42020/index.php?market=North%20Bay&mp=Jason%20Foster

Marin coronavirus vaccinations could begin in late December

Marin County health officials expect to begin the first coronavirus vaccinations as soon as late December with a priority on immunizing frontline health care workers first.

The vaccine developed by the Manhattan-based Pfizer company is anticipated to be the first to gain U.S. approval sometime in mid-December. Pfizer’s vaccine must be transported and stored at ultra-cold temperatures of at least -94 degrees Fahrenheit — more than four times colder than the South Pole in Antarctica was at noontime Monday.

This requires specialized freezers typically only found at college campuses and research institutes. Fortunately, Marin County has both.

Three local research institutions — BioMarin, the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and Dominican University — are offering the county their ultra-cold freezers for free once the vaccines arrive.

“Fortunately in Marin, we’re able to leverage these public-private partnerships and all three of those partners eagerly stepped forward to offer resources,” Marin County Public Health Officer Matt Willis said. “We’ve got freezers identified at those three locations, which are going to allow us to store the Pfizer vaccine within Marin.

“Those become local hubs of distribution for the doses that would go along with the very first phases,” Willis continued. “So we’re talking about the first tier, which is not the general public. We’re talking about essential health care workers, hospital workers, staff at long-term care facilities, first responders and other highest priority groups that are part of our critical infrastructure.”

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses spaced out three weeks to be effective. At least 10,000 people in Marin County will need to receive vaccines in the first phase, Willis said, which means at least 20,000 Pfizer vaccine doses will be needed.

Exactly how many doses Marin will receive in the first round is unclear, Willis said. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that the state will be receiving 327,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-December assuming the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants emergency approval to distribute it.

Pfizer states its trials show the vaccine is 95% effective in preventing people from contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Access to ultra-cold freezers likely will only be important for the first rounds of vaccination, Willis said. Other vaccines being developed by companies such as Moderna and AstraZeneca can be stored in typical medical-grade refrigerators found at hospitals and pharmacies. This will be important later when mass vaccinations on the general population are taking place, which Willis estimates could start in spring 2021. Moderna submitted an application for emergency approval with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday and states its vaccine could be authorized for distribution in mid-December.

How many doses can be stored in the ultra-cold freezers being made available in Marin is still being determined, according to the research groups. Both the Buck Institute and Dominican University plan to offer three ultra-cold freezers each that can reach temperatures of at least -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

If needed, Marin could access other freezers at nearby institutions such as the University of California San Francisco, Willis said.

The Novato-based Buck Institute, which specializes in research of aging and age-related diseases, typically uses its freezers for storing biological samples — some of which are set to be cleared out to make room for vaccines.

“It behooves us to really help,” said Eric Verdin, the institute’s president and chief executive officer. “This is the issue of our time. I would not want to be missing on the opportunity for Marin County to know that the Buck is helping.”

The institute has shifted its focus on studying the coronavirus given its significant effects on the older population. In addition to the freezers, the institute had also scoured its labs for testing tubes in March when the county was scrambling to get enough materials for coronavirus testing.

Dominican University, a private university based in San Rafael, typically uses its ultra-cold freezers to store samples for research in its biological sciences and biochemistry programs, according to university communications director Sarah Gardner.

BioMarin will be donating “several” ultra-cold freezers, according to company spokeswoman Debra Charlesworth.

“BioMarin will assist with the transfer and installation of the units for the county,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “The company uses these types of freezers in its operations to store pharmaceutical products, reagents used in laboratory experiments, and clinical samples.”

Pfizer plans to deliver 50 million doses of its vaccine globally before the end of the year and another 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. The vaccine will be shipped in containers with dry ice, which is good for 10 days of storage. Once received the vaccine can be stored for another five days in typical medical-grade refrigerators of 35-46 degrees Fahrenheit. Ultra-cold freezers, however, extend the vaccines’ shelf life by six months, allowing for greater flexibility for when they are used.

If approved by the FDA this month, Moderna states it could ship about 20 million doses by the end of the year. Similar to the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine requires two doses to be effective but spaced out over four weeks.

The rollout of who gets the vaccine first before others will be decided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and California Department of Public Health, Willis said.

“We’re also working with the health officers across the Bay Area to make sure there is a fair and equitable process regionally,” Willis said.

A CDC advisory group voted on Tuesday to recommend health care workers and nursing home residents receive priority. The two groups encompass around 24 million Americans out of a U.S. population of about 330 million. Residents of long-term care facilities have been the hardest hit in Marin, accounting for about 84% of total deaths.

Assuring the public’s trust in the vaccine also will be vital to the success of achieving immunization levels needed to prevent widespread infection, Willis said. Information about the vaccines and trials so far have come through company press releases and have been the subject of politicization, Willis said. The state has established a commission of scientists to independently review the vaccine trials to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Marin County has had issues with vaccinations in the past, Willis said. In 2013, the county had one the lowest childhood vaccination rates in the state at 78% but has since improved the rate to about 95% in 2020, he said. SB 277, which became law in 2016, eliminated all non-medical exemptions to vaccine requirements for enrolling children in public or private elementary and secondary school.

“People are going to need to be assured of its safety and effectiveness before we would expect widespread adoption of this,” Willis said of the coronavirus vaccine. “We’re also planning to lean heavily into the review process of the scientific review committees that have been established by the state.”

Redwood Credit Union Kicks Off Holiday Giving Program

Redwood Credit Union’s (RCU’s) annual holiday giving program looks a little different this year. Instead of asking members to bring food and gift items into the branches, the credit union is offering virtual options.

While the manner of giving is virtual, RCU’s partner organizations are very real. It’s those organizations that will collect food and gifts and give them out locally to those most in need. To support its communities this year, RCU has built a web page, redwoodcu.org/holiday-giving, to highlight the partnering nonprofits and make it easy for people to contribute.

“In the past, we’ve offered our branches as convenient food and gift collection sites to support local nonprofits, but for safety reasons, we had to do it differently this year,” said Brett Martinez, RCU’s President & CEO. “We’ll miss the cheerful visits, but we feel good about delivering a safe way for people to donate. In this way, we can still work together to make the holidays brighter for those in need.”

And the need is greater than ever this year. RCU encourages all who can to use the holiday giving page to choose a nearby nonprofit that will share the love with local families.

About Redwood Credit Union
Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including 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 through RCU Services Group (RCU’s wholly owned subsidiary), insurance and auto-purchasing services are also available. RCU has more than $6 billion in assets and serves approximately 375,000 members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit redwoodcu.org, or follow RCU on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for news and updates.

CannaCraft Sees Cannabis Industry as Another Entrepreneurial Adventure

When Bill Silver tasted his North Bay cannabis company’s version of a THC-infused root beer float, the new, palate-pleasing beverage took him back to his roots.

CannaCraft’s president of new markets affectionately returned to his youth working at the local pharmacy his parents ran in West Haven, Connecticut. The pharmacy — complete with an old-fashioned soda fountain — represented a gathering place for locals to belly up to the counter barstool.

“(The tasting) gave me a certain sense of nostalgia. When I wasn’t skiing, I was there. This was before Starbucks. Back then, if you’re old enough to walk, you’re old enough to work,” Silver, 56, said of New England’s proverbial pilgrim work ethic.

Silver is the type of person who understands the importance of a strong work ethic. Because of that, he’s spent his career reinventing himself.

The cannabis executive started his journey attending the University of Michigan, back in the days when Bo Schembechler led “the Big Blue” football team to many winning seasons.

“I fell in love with the college atmosphere,” said Silver, who graduated in 1986. He attended the same time former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh played for the Wolverines as the quarterback.

From there, the seed of higher academics with a major in organizational psychology was planted.

“I’ve always been fascinated with learning. It felt true to me,” he said, responding to the question of what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer was “a teacher,” but that term morphed into an unconventional role as his college life and career progressed.

Silver headed west again for graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he cultivated an additional business focus to his major. He spent his last year in college in Australia.

“I thought about that for a half second,” he joked about the prospect of going abroad to study. His adventurous nature called.

In 1990, Silver decided to stay in the college world by becoming a professor at the University of Denver.

“It was an interesting choice,” he said.

For one thing, Notre Dame offered him a similar dean post, but he turned down the prestigious opportunity for the one in Denver based on the school’s reputation and founder Bill Daniels.

The university, which later became known as Daniels College of Business after the cable television magnate, gained recognition as the first college to work with Outward Bound. The world-renowned outdoor education organization brought a curriculum to the Denver college that used outdoor adventure activities as a means to teach students teamwork, focus, decision-making and a little grit along the way.

After 18 years there, Silver met a new crossroads when a position as dean of the business school came up at Sonoma State University, a smaller campus in budget and size. But that didn’t deter Silver. He saw an ideal “entrepreneurial” opportunity in the Wine Country, where Silver helped spearhead the university’s Wine Business Institute.

“When there are two paths, you have to make a choice. I think the toughest decision to make is to leave a position you’re happy with. But my intuition told me to make a change,” he said.

After all, his wife of 27 years and “soulmate,” Adrienne, has also relished the Sonoma County lifestyle and sought another adventure.

“She’s always been supportive of me. What works for us is we each have parts of us that are unique to us, then we have each other. There’s her, me and us. It makes us strong and complete,” he said.

Sonoma County calls

In 2008, the couple made their last journey for his career to the North Bay. Along the way, the duo has raised three boys, Ari, now 15; Zachary, 18; and Benji, 21.

Silver has taught them to work for what they have and count each day as a blessing.

Above skiing, trail running and hiking, family time tops the list of favorite activities. The list gets longer as Silver moves on and delves into a newfound source of enjoyment and fulfillment.

“I have found it’s OK to leave something you love,” he said of his moves in life. “I just wanted to make a difference.”

In 2018, CannaCraft founders, Ned Fussell and Dennis Hunter, recruited him to be the CEO for their “seed-to-shelf” cannabis operation in Santa Rosa that launched in 2014.

“I took the idea to my family,” he said. Silver got the thumbs up and felt the move from the academic wine world to weed would represent an ideal ground-floor opportunity, one where the potential of growth proved massive.

Even his Sonoma State students saw something brewing with cannabis when they started asking more questions about it in class.

A love of learning and teaching

For those who know Silver, he comes across as a good leader.

“When I first met Bill, I saw great leadership qualities he had. He was looked up to and able to inspire folks,” said Joseph Rubin, CEO of Doobie & Lighthouse, which has two dispensaries in Palm Springs and is working on another in Sonoma County.

The two men encountered each other two years ago through a CannaCraft sales representative working with Rubin’s dispensary. CannaCraft doesn’t manage retail operations and instead works with others.

“When I look at a leader like Bill, I see the feeling that you work with him and alongside him, not for him. He’s created an environment that everyone feels included,” Rubin said. “A leader and teacher hold specific qualities that take a lot of talent and care. He truly cares.”

Silver is respected by colleagues, whether he’s a subordinate or superior.

“He’s professional, courteous, respectful and is also even tempered. That’s a quality needed in a volatile industry like cannabis,” CannaCraft CEO Jim Hourigan said about Silver.

When Silver was hired as the CEO, Hourigan worked for him as the chief operating officer before Fussell and Hunter changed their roles. Now, Silver works for Hourigan.

“The tables turned a little bit, but throughout working for him, I saw a lot of people turn to Bill for advice,” Hourigan said, adding himself to the list.

The two cannabis executives have relied on each other as they’ve negotiated the minefield of issues that goes with an industry considered legal in the state and illegal by the federal government.

“There’s always a teaching component to him. When we just want to talk, we’ll do the ‘cannaloop,’” he said of a quarter-mile running route outside CannaCraft’s southwest Santa Rosa headquarters. “We don’t just sit down in front of a computer.”

CannaCraft is Turning Plastic Packaging in to Fuel

Building on our successful effort of reducing plastic waste by certifying our vape carts inherently child resistant, CannaCraft turned its attention to reclaiming the regulated plastics we couldn’t eliminate.

The Resynergi process is an evolution in recycling technology that takes plastic packaging waste and turns it into usable fuel. Microwaves power this unique system and the clean fuels produced are used as an alternative to refined oil products. In 2019, we began work with Resynergi, by reclaiming plastic for conversion into fuel from large scale cannabis events and our own facility. This R&D took place at Resynergi’s Sonoma County based facility.

In 2020 we are launching our pilot plastic collection and recycling program. We’re installing receptacles to harvest plastic packaging as shoppers leave dispensaries, transporting it to the Resynergi facility and beginning the plastic/fuel conversion process. It is our aspirational intention to someday run our fleet of delivery vehicles on fuel from repurposed cannabis packaging.

The Resynergi process is an evolution in recycling technology that takes plastic packaging waste and turns it into usable fuel. Microwaves power this unique system and the clean fuels produced are used as an alternative to refined oil products.

We encourage you to visit their site to learn more details about their technology and important outcomes from the work they do everyday.

Sonoma State University Breaks Ground on Major Renovation of Stevenson Hall

After more than 10 years of planning, Sonoma State University is proud to announce the groundbreaking of the Stevenson Hall Renovation Project, which is designed to refresh the building into a 21st century academic learning environment and will provide educational and meeting spaces. Stevenson Hall has played such a vital role in the history of the university, including being the first building constructed on campus. We look forward to reopening its doors in Fall 2022, so it may continue to positively serve our campus community.

The renovated Stevenson Hall will house the Schools of Business and Economics, Education and Social Sciences, and will feature state-of-the-art classroom and lecture spaces. The Stevenson Hall renovation is designed to a LEED Gold sustainability standard, taking advantage of natural sunlight throughout, using green materials and enhancing energy efficiency.

We invite you to view our Virtual Groundbreaking video playlist, with recorded messages, photos, and appreciation for everyone who helped to make this project a reality and success. We encourage you to follow the metamorphosis of the building over the next year by visiting the Stevenson Hall Renovation Project website.

ABOUT US: With a student population of 9,200, Sonoma State is a regionally serving public university committed to educational access and excellence. Guided by our core values and driven by a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences, Sonoma State delivers high-quality education through innovative programs that leverage the economic, cultural and natural resources of the North Bay. See more news from SSU at http://news.sonoma.edu/

Sonoma Raceway Kicks Off 18th Annual Holiday Toy Drive

For the 18th consecutive year, race fans and community members can help spread some much-needed holiday spirit to Sonoma Valley kids by donating toys to Sonoma Raceway’s High-Powered Toy Drive.

All toys collected during the toy drive, which runs through Wednesday, Dec. 16, will be distributed to Sonoma Valley youth-serving organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma Valley as well as the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance. New, unwrapped gifts and gift cards for newborns to 12 year olds are needed.

For the past 17 years, Sonoma Raceway has distributed collected toys at its annual Race to the Holiday Christmas Party. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the party has been cancelled for 2020 and toys will go directly to youth-serving non-profit organizations in Sonoma Valley.

Toys are accepted at the following Sonoma locations until Dec. 16:

  • Sonoma Raceway, 29355 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, 800-870-RACE, Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.  www.SonomaRaceway.com
  • Exchange Bank, 435 West Napa Street, 707-938-8358, Mon.-Fri., 9-5 p.m., www.exchangebank.com
  • Schell-Vista Fire Department, 22950 Broadway, 707-938-2633, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. www.schellvistafire.com
  • Sonoma Valley Fire Department, 630 Second Street West, 707-996-2102, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. www.svfra.org
  • Viansa Sonoma, 25200 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA 95476, (800) 995-4740, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. www.viansa.com

For more information on the High-Powered Toy Drive, contact Jen Imbimbo at jennifer@SonomaRaceway.com or (707) 694-2141.

Kaiser Permanente Donates $18 Million in Grants Help Residents Recover After Fires

Three years after the Tubbs Fire vaporized his Santa Rosa, California, home in a 30-foot wall of flame at 2 a.m., Max Siem and his wife were just beginning to feel like things were getting back to normal.

Construction on their new house in the Coffey Park neighborhood, where 1,500 other homes were lost, was coming along, and it looked like Siem, a manager at a local Best Buy, his wife Danielle, and their daughter could finally move out of the borrowed trailer they were living in and get ready for a new life in a new home.

But the contractor they paid in advance failed to pass on some $65,000 to the construction supply store where materials were bought on credit.

A lien was placed on Siem’s new home, and lawyers from the supply store told him if he didn’t pay the $65,000, they would sell his home to satisfy the debt of the contractor.

That’s when Siem contacted Legal Aid of Sonoma County, an organization supported in part by Kaiser Permanente grants that helped Siem at no cost.

“We didn’t have a lot of money left to hire lawyers, but we had heard really good things about them,” Siem said. “They’re great people. I met with them and they said, ‘We’re going to get you taken care of; you’re not going to lose your home.’ We got released from the lien about 2 months ago, and that was a huge weight off our shoulders.”

Kaiser Permanente recently awarded the organization $500,000 for the next 2 years, and that is on top of a $90,000 grant in 2019.

Those grants are just one part of approximately $18 million Kaiser Permanente has awarded to 40 community-based organizations helping rebuild homes and lives of Sonoma County residents impacted by fires since 2017. Some examples include money for construction of affordable student housing at Santa Rosa Junior College and expanded mental health services at local public schools.

“Here’s someone who is about to lose his home, a second time, so we intervened and got the lien removed and convinced the supply store to go after the contractor,” said Ronit Rubinoff, executive director of Legal Aid of Sonoma County. “The Kaiser Permanente grants enable us to make victims of these disasters whole again by helping them with income streams and by stabilizing their housing.”

Since 2017, the organization has helped fire victims access some $8 million worth of resources in the way of unemployment insurance, home insurance payouts, Federal Emergency Management Agency benefits, recovery of funds lost to contractor fraud, eviction prevention, temporary housing, and other forms of legal advocacy.

The fire-related assistance from Kaiser Permanente to the area is part of a strategy to support the health of communities in need.

For Siem, who barely escaped the flames in 2017 and then became the victim of an unscrupulous contractor, the support has been a game changer.

“It has definitely let us breathe a lot easier.”

California Press Foundation Names Press Democrat Publisher Steve Falk Top Newspaper Executive

Steve Falk, publisher of The Press Democrat and CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, was named newspaper executive of the year Friday by the California Press Foundation.

The annual honor goes to a top executive of a newspaper that has made an impact in the community, state and nation through its exceptional journalism. Falk will be recognized during the foundation’s annual winter meeting on Dec. 4.

Falk was named the 56th recipient of the award by previous winners of the Justus F. Craemer Newspaper Executive of the Year, said Joe Wirt, administrator for the foundation, part of the charitable division of the California News Publishers Association.

The selection recognizes eight years of achievements at Sonoma Media Investments, the Santa Rosa media group that acquired The Press Democrat and its sister publications in 2012 from Halifax Media Group of Daytona, Florida.

Under Falk’s leadership, the daily newspaper has won dozens of state journalism awards for local news, sports and business coverage. In 2018, The Press Democrat received the most coveted award in journalism, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the 2017 wildfires.

“I can’t take any credit for the great journalism. I don’t write the words. I only write the checks,” Falk, 66, said in an interview.

The newspaper executive said he was humbled by the recognition after a career that began as a paperboy in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Years later, he was part of the USA Today newspaper launch team in New York and served as publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle.

As a locally owned company connected to its community, Sonoma Media Investments partnered with Redwood Credit Union and state Sen. Mike McGuire to raise $32 million for victims of the devastating 2017 wildfires.

Last year, Sonoma Media Investments paid off the remainder of $15 million in debt and equity funding used to buy the company, which also publishes the Petaluma Argus-Courier, Sonoma Index-Tribune, North Bay Business Journal, Sonoma and Spirited magazines, Sonoma County Gazette and La Prensa Sonoma.

Wirt said Falk was chosen for the state award for “the recent body of work that he’s done on behalf of all of you at the newspaper” and across the local media company.

The key to success the last eight years, Falk said, was ensuring quality journalism stayed at the forefront of Sonoma Media’s operations.

“I learned a long time ago you cannot save your way to prosperity in this business,” Falk said. “We have proven to the world you can be a privately held, local media company and produce journalism of distinction and still make a profit.”

Kaiser Permanente Donates $1 Million to Revive Santa Rosa Junior College Housing Complex

A $1 million grant from a prominent Northern California health care company has revived an ambitious student housing project at Santa Rosa Junior College that was in danger of being scaled back after construction costs soared over budget.

Kaiser Permanente this week announced the grant to help SRJC pay for the affordable housing complex, including apartments and dorm-style residence halls for about 350 students at the Santa Rosa campus.

With the cash injection, the $46.5 million development now can stay on its original timeline, and construction can start before the end of the year, said Pedro Avila, SRJC vice president of student services.

The five-story development, slated for the corner of Elliot Avenue and Armory Drive next to Highway 101, is under final review by the California Division of the State Architects. It’s scheduled to be available for students in fall 2022.

“The timing of (the grant) was just amazing,” Avila said. “It really helped save the project.”

The nearly 3-acre residence hall will feature a mix of single- and double-occupancy rooms, partial suites and four-bedroom apartments. Students will have access to common areas such as kitchens, lounges and patios. The cheapest units will be $950 a month, Avila said.

But some of those amenities, and the size of the complex, were being reconsidered when the project was confronted with escalating construction costs — a persistent reality for most developments throughout the fire-torn region.

Frank Chong, president of the college, said the price for materials, including steel and red brick to match the existing campus buildings, was the biggest factor in the expanded final budget, which was roughly $4.5 million more than projected.

That didn’t sit well with Santa Rosa resident Alena Wall, a regional community health manager for Kaiser, who had been interested in the project and its pitch to provide affordable housing for students struggling to afford the area’s high cost of living.

Earlier this year, Wall encouraged college officials to apply for the $1 million Kaiser grant program, which funds initiatives designed to improve community health, said J Mullineaux, executive director of the SRJC Foundation. The project grant was approved by Kaiser’s national board of directors.

Tom Hanenburg, interim president of Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in a prepared statement that supporting student housing was a way to give back to the nearly 1,000 SRJC students who lost their homes or were affected by the 2017 North Bay firestorm.

“We are supporting the health of these communities by investing in long-term infrastructure, affordable housing and services that will help them rebuild, recover and move on with their lives,” Hanenburg said.

At-risk students who are disabled, homeless or rising out of foster care, for example, will be prioritized when the residence hall begins accepting applications. Mullineaux said various fundraising efforts are underway to create an endowment that could completely subsidize rents for some students, and help offset rent increases due to inflation.

The development was first proposed two years ago following a 2018 survey, which found that 7% of SRJC students reported they planned to leave the college after the 2017 fires, and 30% said they were considering leaving. Cost of living here was the biggest factor in every decision.

Student housing also could help the college’s budget challenges and declining enrollment, which has dropped by more than 20% over the last nine years.

A previous estimate indicated the housing will provide $3 million in revenue by 2031, and grow to more than $71 million by 2061.

SRJC previously offered dorms, but not at this scale, Chong said. As of 2015, about 28% of community colleges nationwide offered housing.

Much of the construction will take place while the campus remains empty because of the pandemic and most classes are held online until the end of the 2020-21 school year. It will also dovetail with several other projects, including the Luther Burbank Auditorium renovation, a new science, technology, engineering and math building and various athletic facility upgrades, funded through a $410 million Measure H bond offering approved by local voters in 2014.

“I’m excited beyond words,” Chong said. “With the Measure H projects … people will be coming back to an extreme makeover of a 100-year-old campus.”

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