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

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.
  • Exchange Bank, 435 West Napa Street, 707-938-8358, Mon.-Fri., 9-5 p.m.,
  • Schell-Vista Fire Department, 22950 Broadway, 707-938-2633, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Sonoma Valley Fire Department, 630 Second Street West, 707-996-2102, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Viansa Sonoma, 25200 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA 95476, (800) 995-4740, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

For more information on the High-Powered Toy Drive, contact Jen Imbimbo at 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.”

Catholic Charities Santa Rosa Caritas Village Update

Have you been downtown lately? If not, you’re missing something big! The entire site for Caritas Center is nearly prepped for construction.

Even bigger, the community has brought us to a new milestone for the Capital Campaign: we have reached $25.5M!

Their generous donors continue to inspire me every day as we work towards our campaign goal of $28M. Thank you.

Caritas Village will combine Caritas Center (a housing-focused service center, emergency family shelter, childcare and preschool center, community clinic and medical respite shelter all owned and operated by Catholic Charities) and Caritas Homes (128 units of permanent affordable housing to be constructed and managed by Burbank Housing.)

Caritas Homes is on track as a priority project for Burbank Housing, with construction of Homes Phase 1 expected to begin in summer of 2021.

In September Catholic Charities signed a construction contract with Wright Contracting, a well-respected firm that is responsible for major components of notable resources such as Cardinal Newman School, Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Redwood Empire Food Bank, and Sonoma State University, just to name a few.

I’m humbled and grateful to share that despite the pandemic, wildfires, and other upheaval this year, our community has stepped up with amazingly generous gifts to the Caritas Village Campaign this year. This November we reached $25.5M raised toward our $28M goal.

You can click here to see a complete list of campaign donors, and we are so glad many of you are included among those on the list. . 

We are seeing the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and we are now turning to the community at large to help us close the gap.

Caritas Village has been an enormous undertaking, and I have found it helpful to stay focused on an important number: one. One child, saved from the perils of homelessness, restored to a safe and healthy home and a radically different future. One veteran, struggling with PTSD and physical disabilities, able to get much-deserved medical care and permanent housing. One grandmother, recovering from serious surgery in a comfortable bed rather than under a freeway.

Each of these is ONE of over 1,200 people per year for whom Caritas Village will be a place to find home…

We have come this far thanks to our community’s generous and compassionate heart.

Redwood Credit Union Recognized for Outstanding Performance in Investment Services

Six wealth management advisors at Redwood Credit Union (RCU) received Pacesetter awards, and RCU’s investment marketing efforts were also recognized at the CUSO Financial Services (CFS) 2020 Annual Conference. Earning Gold Pacesetter Awards were Mike DeFazio (his 11th consecutive gold win), Julie Nix, and Clark Matthiessen. Christine Foster earned the Silver Pacesetter Award, and Steve Kerston and Joseph Turfa earned Bronze Pacesetter Awards. In addition, RCU received its 4th consecutive Gold Impact award for its wealth management services marketing campaign.

Affiliated with broker dealer and Registered Investment Advisor, CUSO Financial Services, LP, DeFazio, Nix, Matthiessen, Foster, Kerston, and Turfa were recognized for being the top-producing registered representatives among hundreds of credit union and bank programs across the country.

DeFazio joined RCU’s wealth management team in 2007, bringing more than 10 years of business and management experience. Nix has been with RCU since 2014, assisting clients with portfolio analysis, retirement planning, risk assessment and more. Foster has more than 28 years of experience in financial services and has worked for RCU since 2001. Matthiessen has also been a financial advisor at the credit union since 2001, helping members develop investment strategies that meet their individual goals. Kerston started at RCU in 2010 and specializes in retirement planning and risk management. And Turfa joined RCU’s wealth management team in 2009, bringing more than 15 years of retirement planning and investment experience.

“We’re proud to see these advisors recognized for their accomplishments,” said Tom Hubert, senior vice president of wealth management, auto services and insurance services at RCU. “In a crowded industry, these individuals have established themselves as professionals of the highest caliber. They are an inspiration to all of us who strive for excellence in our profession.”

Sonoma State’s DREAM Center Receives Multiple Recognitions for its Service to Undocumented Students

Sonoma State University’s DREAM Center, which aims to provide a safe space for undocumented students to receive academic, personal, and professional guidance, has been recognized with an esteemed award for it’s development of a program for undocumented students interested in immigration-related issues.

The DREAM Center’s ASPIRE Fellowship Program, which offers job skills training opportunities to students that are unable to be employed on campus due to their immigration status, was recently awarded the NASPA Region VI Innovative Program Award. The program provides students with a stipend for their leadership on campus where they are acquiring skills that can be used to build a resume.

This award recognizes SSU’s DREAM Center for outstanding programming that results in improved service to students and enhances life on campus.

“This is an incredible honor and well deserved,” said Wm. Gregory Sawyer, vice president for Student Affairs. “The Division of Student Affairs is extremely proud and grateful for the Dream Center team and their coordinator, Rosa Salamanca Moreira, for developing this creative and heartfelt program that benefits our undocumented students by providing a stipend based professional learning environment.”

And, as a further recognition of their important work serving undocumented students, the DREAM Center has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation Sonoma County. The grant will allow the DREAM Center flexibility to expand its Undocu-Survival Initiative, which provides financial and technology assistance to undocumented students so that that they may continue in their education and employment.

The grant will provide resources to undocumented students in a wide range of areas, from at-home learning environment upgrades such as laptops, hotspots, and noise-canceling headphones to assistance with DACA renewal application scholarships and basic needs grants for students financially impacted by COVID-19.

“Undocumented families are essential, however, they do not qualify for federally funded programs,” said Rosa Salamanca, DREAM Center coordinator. “With the generous support from the Community Foundation Sonoma County, the DREAM Center is beyond excited to provide financial and technology assistance for undocumented students on campus.”

The DREAM Center, which is now in its third year on campus, and assists more than 200 undocumented students currenlty attending Sonoma State. For more information about the DREAM Center, visit the DREAM Center website, and for resources regarding finding career opportunities for undocumented students, visit the Career Center’s Uncodumented and DACA students 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

Sonoma Raceway Takes Virtual Food Drive into High Gear

Sonoma Raceway has kicked off its season of giving with the 20th annual Thanksgiving Food Drive, but for the first time ever, the food drive will take place virtually, Nov. 2-Dec. 5.

 Through the Virtual Food Drive, race fans can donate nutritious food without lifting a can. Each week for five consecutive weeks, Sonoma Raceway will utilize its social media channels to highlight Bay Area food banks, including Alameda County, Contra Costa-Solano Counties, Napa County, San Francisco-Marin Counties and Sonoma County, and encourage race fans and community members to donate online.

The raceway’s annual food drive has distributed more than 40 tons of food since its inception in 2000, including nearly 2,500-pounds of food and more than $2,400 in donations in 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the raceway has suspended the donation of non-perishable food items, but encourages donating virtually to the food banks listed below.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate all that Sonoma Raceway does for us,” said Dee Weaver, volunteer coordinator for the F.I.S.H. Holiday Food Basket Program. “The monetary donations will help with gift certificates for meat and produce for each participant, as we will have about 450 families sign up for holiday food baskets.”

In addition, RKA, a Windsor-based manufacturer and retailer of motorcycle equipment and luggage, is accepting monetary donations for Redwood Empire Food Bank and F.I.S.H. in Sonoma. For the past 19 years, RKA has coordinated a food drive motorcycle ride, collecting donations for area food banks, but has cancelled this year’s ride due to the pandemic. Currently, RKA is offering a $25 gift certificate for any single product they offer in exchange for a donation of $100 or more to REFB or FISH. For contact information, visit

Donations can be made to the following food banks on behalf of the Sonoma Raceway Thanksgiving Food Drive: 

·        Nov. 1-7:  Redwood Empire Food Bank and Friends in Sonoma Helping

·        Nov. 8-14: Community Action of Napa Valley

·        Nov. 15-21: San Francisco-Marin Food Bank

·        Nov. 22-28: Alameda County Community Food Bank

·        Nov. 29-Dec. 5:  Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano

 For more information about the food drive, visit, follow @RaceSonoma on social media or contact Jen Imbimbo at or 707-933-3981.

CannaCraft’s CEO Jim Hourigan Spotlight

Full birth name: James “Jim” Hourigan

Title: Chief Executive Officer

Company: CannaCraft

Years at current company: 2

Education profile: MBA from the University of Dallas, a Bachelor’s degree in Business from the State University of New York, and certification through executive education programs at INSEAD University in Paris and Ashridge Business School in London.

Latest product offering: At CannaCraft, we have a handful of California’s top brands including AbsoluteXtracts (ABX), Hi-Fi Hops (a partnership with Lagunitas) and Satori Confections.

Our latest offerings come from Care By Design: We’ve recently reformulated our best-selling ratio line. The tincture and soft gel products now have an increased cannabinoid count by more than 25% per ratio, as well as the minor (but mighty) cannabinoids, CBDa and THCa. And we now offer a groundbreaking new ratio, the highest available in the California market – 40:1. This 40:1 offers those who are less familiar with cannabis to experience its benefits without worrying about psycho-activity.

Not only has Care By Design added CBD and minor cannabinoids, but we’ve been able to make these improvements without raising our prices. Consumers can experience the wellness benefits of cannabis in measurable doses, and access better value. The reformulated tinctures are available in a new 30ml value size, and the entire line of 36 products across six ratios and five product forms (tinctures, gummies, soft gels, topicals, and vapes) can be found at hundreds of licensed dispensaries around California.

Care By Design Hemp: Formulated and manufactured by the same team of scientists and experts that created our top-selling signature ratio line, Care By Design Hemp is now available online and ships nationwide.

Care By Design Hemp is available in both sublingual drop and gel capsule form, and includes five effect-based options: Relief, Rest, Calm, Balance, Uplift. Each formulation is created with California sungrown hemp CBD and carefully selected botanical terpenes to maximize therapeutic benefits. Like all Care By Design products, the hemp line meets the highest standards for safety and efficacy and is triple-tested to ensure purity, consistency, and potency.

Company Mission: Cultivating Health & Happiness through Cannabis

Company’s most successful achievement: Beyond building the most comprehensive portfolio of brands and form factors we are most proud of our work in our community – when we had Fires and now it seems like every year but in 2017 CannaCraft donated 12,000 sq ft office space for the American Red Cross Headquarters for Northern California fire relief.

Has the company raised any capital (yes or no): Yes

if so, how much?: Through our Friends & Family program – $27m

Any plans on raising capital in the future? We are always looking to improve our financial position but have no formal plans finalized

Most important company 5-year goal: We would like to have established CannaCraft and our brands across North America as trusted, caring and authentic with consumers.