FAIRFIELD — The Solano County Board of Supervisors this week dissolved two advisory committees and restructured several others in an effort to transform how the board receives input from residents.
At Tuesday’s meeting in a close vote, the board disbanded the Agriculture Advisory Committee and unanimously dissolved a domestic abuse advisory committee known as the Solano Partnership Against Violence.
“It’s very disappointing that on a 3-2 vote they dissolved an important voice of agriculture. It’s just kind of sad,” said Ian Anderson, a member of the Agricultural Advisory Board and a fourth-generation farmer in Solano County.
The move is part of an annual evaluation the county conducts of advisory bodies and reports to voting members of the county board, who determine if there is an ongoing need for each board, commission or committee. An ad-hoc committee made up of supervisor John Vasquez and Monica Brown reviewed the evaluation and made recommendations to the full board to maintain, restructure or dissolve the advisory bodies.
Brown and Vasquez recommended that the board dissolve the Alcohol and Drug Advisory Board, the Solano Partnership Against Violence, the Agricultural Advisory Committee and the Solano County Historical Records Commission. Their recommendations included maintaining or restructuring four other committees.
The board agreed to dissolve the Solano Partnership Against Violence because it had accomplished many of its goals and the Solano Family Justice Center is positioned to absorb the committee’s work.
However, the supervisors’ discussion of the agricultural advisory and other committees that the ad-hoc committee recommended to be disbanded showed a clear rift in how the supervisors envision bodies tasked with reporting to them.
Supervisors Wanda Williams and Erin Hannigan firmly opposed the dissolution of the advisory committees, stating that they are a crucial public voice in county decision making.
“I don’t see where there has been input from the committees themselves or by citizens in terms of what to do next. We need community input to do the work that we are doing,” Hannigan said. “I think if you want to enhance the [commissions and boards] then now is the time to do that, but eliminating them is not the path that we should go down.”
Instead, Hannigan and Williams welcomed and encouraged the committees to bring issues to the attention of the supervisors independently.
“I need the voices of these committees,” Williams said. “They are our eyes and ears in the county, and it is not just us telling them what issues we want them to advise us on. They should also bring information that they find important to us.”
‘I don’t like bureaucracy’
Supervisors John Vasquez and Mitch Mashburn expressed concern that the advisory boards had strayed from their intended function of advising the board on specific issues board members choose.
“I fully support agriculture,” Mashburn, who was elected to the board in 2020, said, “but I don’t support bureaucracy or government for the sake of government, and I have not seen a report from this particular group since I have been here.”
Mashburn said that although agriculture in Solano County is a billion-dollar industry, just under half of that — $440 million — is crop value, and the rest is generated by rapidly growing industries that support agriculture with technology and other inputs.
”An advisory group that is not representative of all that is not necessarily giving us the best advice that we could have as a board,” Mashburn said. “Associations like the Farm Bureau, the vintners association, or the fruit growers association, offer a broader, more current voice and it has more direct relevance to this board at this time.”
Vasques said that the Agricultural Advisory Committee was formed in 2000 to provide input on the general plan, but the committee’s usefulness to the board has declined since its key recommendations were implemented.
“What I have seen over the years is that the Ag Advisory Committee has just become a committee to meet,” Vasquez said. He pointed out that a recent committee meeting agenda had a list of information updates on issues that it had been monitoring independently of the board.
“It wasn't a group set up to receive updates,” Vasquez said. “It was a group to provide information on topics of interest to the board. We have chosen that there is not much work for them because we have not delegated that to them, so it became a group that just met to be meeting. I don’t see the usefulness in it anymore.”
During public comments prior to the board’s discussion, Jeanne McCormack — a third generation Solano County farmer who has been farming for over 30 years — said that family farms are struggling to survive as large agricultural landholders are pressuring farmers to sell their property at below-market rates.
McCormack said she fears that family farming could disappear from the Montezuma Hills before the end of her lifetime.
“I cannot bear that,” she said. “We need to marshal our agricultural human resources and that’s what the Agricultural Advisory Committee has been. It is just a fantastic way of sharing information among farmers who are involved in very different enterprises.
“I don’t like bureaucracy,” McCormack said, “but I do like democratic — small ‘d’ — participation in our county business and in our county politics. We need this committee desperately right now.”
Committees dissolved with little notice
Many members of the advisory boards didn’t learn about the recommendations to dissolve them until late last week. Solano County Historical Commission circulated an online petition in support of the commission’s work and collected nearly 700 signatures before Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting.
Concerned citizens, volunteers and members of the advisory committees and commissions showed up to the meeting to speak about the work they're doing in the county and the importance of the advisory boards as a public voice in county decision-making.
Supervisors voted 3-2 against the ad-hoc committee’s recommendation to dissolve the Solano County Historical Records Commission. Brown said that she joined Williams and Hannigan in the vote to maintain the commission because she felt she needed to review a 2018 study on the county’s archival process that community members brought to the board’s attention during public comment.
Elissa DeCaro, president of the records commission, said that the study highlights the value of the county’s large collection of historical records that the commission and its volunteers have worked to preserve. The collection contains documents dating back to the 1850s including probate records, marriage licenses, maps and records of freed slaves.
“Not only does the report give guidelines for what should be done with the existing collection, but it identifies flaws in the county’s management of contemporary collections,” DeCaro said. “There are things that are slipping through every day.”
Without the advocacy of the records commission, DeCaro said that she is afraid that the collection could be broken up and lost between different organizations, diminishing the historical value of the archive.
The collection is currently stored at a facility in Contra Costa County, but the records commission has been urging the county to find a location where the records can be made accessible to the public.
The costs to the county to support the various committees came up several times in the board’s discussion. Mashburn noted that an agricultural department staff member is required to be present at agricultural committee meetings, paid for by the county. According to county staff, the cost to support the records commission is $8,300 a year.
Other committees have supported some of their efforts by establishing a separate nonprofit and applying for grants.
Board keeps alcohol and drug committee
The supervisors unanimously voted to temporarily maintain the Alcohol and Drug Advisory Committee against the board’s ad-hoc committee’s recommendation. Supervisors agreed that this would allow the committee time to transition towards complying with state laws that will require the advisory board to merge with the county’s health and social services department within two years.
Patty Vargus spoke in support of the alcohol and drug board, sharing the story of losing her son, Joel, to drug addiction, despite costly rehabilitation programs. She said that the advisory board’s role in promoting awareness about free and low-cost drug and alcohol treatment programs is crucial for parents and families.
“I just assumed that we had to pay out of pocket,” Vargus said. “The first time we sent Joel to rehab it cost $45,000 for 30 days. When your child is dying, you don’t shop around for the best option. Instead, we put it all on credit cards and took out a second mortgage and eventually lost our home.”
Other speakers pointed to the ongoing opioid crisis and the work that the alcohol and drug board does to provide organizations and individuals with free Narcan (naloxone) emergency overdose reversal kits and training to administer the life-saving drug.
The ad-hoc committee stopped short of disbanding the Solano County Commission on Women and Girls and instead recommended a transition to an independent nonprofit. Brown explained this recommendation in the discussion.
“The goal is to set you free,” Brown said. “You can continue working — no one is saying that you can't continue to do your work. It’s just that you don’t need the board’s support. Now you can go and do what you want to do. You can always come back and give us an update.”
After deliberation, the board voted to maintain the women and girls commission for one year and have the county staff work to develop a recommendation on transitioning it to an independent nonprofit.
The Nut Tree Airport Advisory Committee, the Solano Parks and Recreation Commission and the Solano County Library Council all received unanimous votes to continue their function as recommended by the ad-hoc committee.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Solano County
- Solano County Board of Supervisors
- Agriculture Advisory Committee
- Solano Partnership Against Violence
- John Vasquez
- Monica Brown
- Alcohol and Drug Advisory Board
- Solano County Historical Records Commission
- Solano Family Justice Center
- Wanda Williams
- Erin Hannigan
- Mitch Mashburn
- Elissa DeCaro
- Patty Vargus
- Solano County Commission on Women and Girls
- Nut Tree Airport
Ryan Geller writes about transitions in food, health, housing, environment, and agriculture. He covers City Hall for the Vallejo Sun.
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