“It’s something that I think needs to be transparent, open to the public, and accessible if we truly believe in mitigating climate change and addressing social injustice,” Hopkins said.
When she stepped into the role of chairwoman, however, Hopkins said she didn’t fully understand how much her new responsibilities required working internally with the county administrator’s office and 25 other department heads.
The pandemic, already 9 months in the making and in its deadliest period yet, has added additional strain to the work and the need to sideline provincial programs, Hopkins said.
“I think it was also just something that felt necessary at the time, especially with a pandemic,” she said.
In 2021, the board moved to a hybrid meeting style, allowing supervisors to meet with constituents and participating staff in person via Zoom. This change allowed county supervisors to regain the in-person human interaction that had been largely lost in 2020.
Hopkins felt this loss deeply.
“How do you maintain your culture, your friendships and your relationships when so much of your life goes through a screen?” she said.
This made board politics even more difficult, hampering her ability to, as she put it, “read the room.”
She tip her hat to supervisor Susan Gorin, who led the council the previous year, and Chris Coursey, who began his first term last year in a remote working world.
The demands and pitfalls of that reality didn’t dawn on her until later, she said.
“I wish I had realized that sooner.”
Under his leadership, the county’s main set of challenges revolved around the pandemic and a fluctuating set of public health orders imposed by state and/or local health authorities working under the oversight board.
Hopkins pointed to the council’s choice in the spring to prioritize vaccinations for those ages 75 and older — a “hugely unpopular” move, she said, but ultimately successful, according to the county.
As of Jan. 7, nearly 100% of county residents age 75 and older have been fully immunized, according to county data. (Across the county, the share of eligible residents vaccinated is about 78 percent).
The council’s decisions to require vaccinations for 4,400 county workers — the region’s largest workforce — and its pivot between mask mandates and tailored exemptions for certain groups of vaccinated people as the number of COVID cases rising and falling were equally heavy.
The council’s pandemic governance has often unfolded against the backdrop of criticism, some openly hostile to public health measures and to the elected officials and experts who have made those calls.
Hopkins defended the county’s handling of those decisions.
“I think we did really well what was appropriate on the board, which really let science lead,” Hopkins said.
Dr Jenny Fish, a local family doctor who helped start the health advocacy group HPEACE, praised the council’s use of a tiered system to prioritize vaccine distribution at the start of the campaign .
“The tiered system of vaccine prioritization was put in place with a focus on equity, which was strongly advocated by the community,” Fish said. “They listened and so the fact that they included farm workers, other essential workers in the level of prioritization has honestly saved lives and made a huge difference.”
On the redistricting process: ‘We didn’t have that right’
As chairman, Hopkins assumed a role leading the board through other high-profile matters, including deciding how to allocate PG&E’s wildfire settlement money and American Rescue Plan funds. Act, a federal stimulus bill intended to bolster local pandemic recovery efforts.
“She had a full set of issues that were going to get somewhat elevated in how this was going to affect all of Sonoma County,” said Herman J. Hernandez, a Guerneville resident, real estate agent and board director for Los Cien, a prominent Latino ruling organization.
One such burning issue was the county’s 10-year redistricting process, which dominated local politics at year’s end. The council kicked off the process in July by appointing a 19-member Citizens’ Advisory Commission to recommend new equity-based district boundaries.
The commission’s recommendation of a single map proved divisive, as residents and city officials in areas most affected by the proposal lambasted its most dramatic changes, while others lobbied on the board to support the commission’s recommendation.