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[caption id="attachment_42256" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Efren Carrillo"][/caption]

Efren Carrillo is the Fifth District Supervisor for Sonoma County and is the current chairman of the board.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My parents raised my brother, sister, and I in Sonoma County’s first Habitat for Humanity home, and this remains our family home.  I attended school in Santa Rosa, and have lived here for most of my life.  I left to attend UC Berkeley, and graduated with a degree in Environmental Economics and Policy.  My first public service job was at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board for Ben Stone, followed by a post at the office of Assemblyman Joe Nation. 

What do you see as Sonoma County’s biggest challenge, and how do you intend on addressing such challenges?

The obvious answer is the economy and jobs.  These are at the top of everyone’s mind during this period of economic recession and hardship.  It is hard to forget that issue when you’re struggling to pay your bills, or like me, are underwater on a mortgage.  However, I think our greatest challenge lies with the achievement gap for our growing Latino population, and how to most effectively address this future economic and social problem.  We are facing a potential tsunami of failure that has incredibly high social and tangible costs.  We already spend a huge portion of our discretionary funds on criminal justice.  When people can’t succeed, these costs will be astronomical.  This has resulted in a priority for funding programs (Upstream Investments) meant to tackle the problem at the root.

How can Sonoma County balance business development and environmental concerns? Can things like SMART be helpful?

Sonoma County needs to continue established policies which have been laid in place to protect the environment – which is irreplaceable - and at the same time facilitate projects along the path through the process.  My office regularly works with applicants and their projects to help speed up the process.  For example, this past summer we were able to fast track the applications of three new businesses on Main Street in Guerneville so that they could open for the tourist season, and revitalize the area. 

SMART is a project with the potential to make the area more accessible to the metropolitan Bay Area, for people visiting our area and Sonoma County residents to work or play in the Bay area.  Projects like SMART and the Sonoma County Airport make our area easier to reach, which enhances the desirability of our community for employers … as does our beautiful area and protected open spaces.  This coincides with the airport expansion plan, which will make Sonoma County easier to reach for tourists, and allow major business convenience for business travel when that is needed. 

How can the Board of Supervisors and other government leaders contribute to a healthy business environment? Any specific policies you would champion or oppose?

It is critical to be out in the community listening to people, and aware of how policies effect the business climate.  Two years ago, we kept fees low in our planning department, and asked staff to come up with innovative ways to spur business.  PRMD responded with a penalty relief program, as well as reduced fees for energy retrofits, which went hand in hand with our Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP).  SCEIP has been responsible for continued job creation in the green energy sector throughout this recession.

We’ve also had staff look at ways to build a local preference component into our RFPs … to give points for local firms bidding on county contracts.  The board has an active economic development Ad hoc, which will be reporting out in the next month.  We’re focusing on efforts that will have an ongoing impact … in addition to partnering with other efforts such as Sonoma County BEST.

What sectors of the economy do you feel need the most attention from government leaders in Sonoma County? How can Sonoma County remain competitive with surrounding areas?

Green jobs, clean energy, and local provision of both of these … continuing focus on agriculture, tourism, and our recreation draw -- look at the Gran Fondo and Santa Rosa Marathon. These two huge success stories, with their tourism dollars, were born during this horribly challenging economic time.  We need to continue supporting our innovators and creators.  Sonoma County’s climate offers competitive advantage in many food related endeavors, and our reduced cost of living increases our status, too.