Happy and Hopeful about 2021

Written By: Andrew Smith, Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner
Published: January 4, 2021

As we bring this tumultuous and unprecedented year to a close, we reflect on the chaos that has ensued and the healthcare and economic strain that has gripped our communities. Many lives, businesses, and livelihoods have been lost along the way and we have lost a lot of human contact, the ability to say goodbye, and the opportunity to celebrate. On top of the pandemic and the associated health crisis, we have once again become the victims of disastrous fires in the county and the compounded and ripple effect that has had on our resilience as a community. We are tired and I feel we can all agree that we are happy to see 2020 come to an end and to look forward to 2021 with hope. Hope that we will conquer COVID with some very promising vaccine research and adoption. Hope that we will get to regain the human contact that we as a society crave, and hope that we will be able to gather, share a handshake, a warm embrace, and stories about our shared experiences with sheltering in place, evacuations, or both.

This year has been one hell of a ride for your friends here at the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture/Weights & Measures. From the beginning of the shelter in place order on March 18, to the August LNU Complex fires and the Glass Fire in October, it seems that we have been on a reactionary treadmill for most of the year. Shrinking the department to essential services in March took a lot of logistical agility as we strived to continue to deliver services to our public and industry stakeholders. We made adaptations to our department functions and worked especially hard at creating a safe working environment to reassure our staff and bring them back to work, as well as to instill confidence in our stakeholders that we continue to be here to help the agriculture industries and commerce in the county through our agricultural and weights and measures programs.

We have made great strides in the adoption of technology, and although forced to, I feel we have embraced new platforms for meetings and public hearings with grace. This has been a year of Zoom, Webex, MS Teams, and GoToMeeting webinars. This year has offered us an opportunity to look at how we deliver services and to think of innovative ways to provide outreach and education, which we will build on in 2021. We are hoping to bring some informational videos to our website, hold virtual trainings and workshops, and implement changes adopted by the Board of Supervisors for Vineyard and Orchard permitting and replanting. With the help of agricultural industry representatives, other County departments, and buy-in from state agency partners and the Board of Supervisors we will work to develop a robust program to address agricultural access to properties during declared emergencies.

For me personally, this year has been one of tremendous growth and change. Baptism by pandemic and fire to the position of Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights & Measures. This has made for a very challenging year and I have learned a lot about leading through crisis, supporting staff, and providing vision for the future, which I see as hopeful and bright. While stressful and full of tension at times it has also been a very rewarding and fulfilling year. I would not be here today without the love and support of my family, or without the support and engagement of our department staff. I feel so fortunate to work with a group of such dedicated and motivated people that not only like what they do but are good at it and deliver excellent customer service as well. This support has given me the confidence in my role to advocate for, promote, and protect agriculture, and to maintain equity in the marketplace.

So, as we bring 2020 to a close we remain vigilant in exercising our precautionary practices and doing everything we can to keep ourselves, our families, and our coworkers safe from COVID. As a department, we pledge to make 2021 a year of innovation and prosperity and to be focused, efficient, and purposeful in the delivery of our programs and services.

We place great value in the relationships that we have with the Farm Bureau, other agricultural industry groups, and all of the agricultural producers in the County. We appreciate all of your patience, collaboration, and support through these trying times, and we’d like to wish all of you and your families a very safe, prosperous, happy, and hopeful new year!

Annual Billing Hazardous Materials Program

by Department Staff

The Sonoma County Department of Agriculture/Weights & Measures, along with the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, is responsible for regulating the use, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials and waste generated by agricultural producers in Sonoma County. For agriculturists, the majority of these operators are registered because they are storing large amounts of fuel and/or used motor oil. Also regulated is the storage of other chemicals (antifreeze, hydraulic fluid, etc.) associated with equipment used on the farm. We conduct inspections at these locations to verify if materials are stored, used, and disposed of properly. Additionally, we check that containers are sound, properly labeled, and have required secondary containment when required. 

We also ensure businesses have prepared a Hazardous Materials Business Plan (HMBP), which consists of basic information on the operator, location, type, quantity, and health risks of the hazardous materials. All HMBP submittals, including updates, must occur electronically via the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) every 12 months. Currently, our department continues to assist growers with submitting their HMBPs to Cal/EPA electronically; however, you can access the CERS system directly at http://cers.calepa.ca.gov/.

If you have a HMBP, you will receive an annual fee invoice in February.  Please review your invoice to ensure the information and fee amount is correct and remit your payments within 30 days to avoid late penalties.  Please contact Beverly Hammond in our department by calling (707) 565-2371 if you have questions regarding the Hazardous Materials program, need assistance completing your CERS submittal, or making changes in the system. You can learn more about this program on our website at https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Agriculture-Weights-and-Measures/Agriculture-Division/Services/Hazardous-Materials-Program/.

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