For Immediate Release
Sonoma County establishes Agricultural Access Verification Card Program concerning access of operators, farm workers in evacuation zones
SANTA ROSA, CA | August 31, 2022
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today adopted a resolution establishing an Agricultural Access Verification Card Program with delegated authority for program administration by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
The verification card program is designed to allow safe access to areas under evacuation orders so that agricultural operators can evacuate, transport, shelter, feed, water, and administer veterinary care to livestock; irrigate crops; fuel emergency generators or provide auxiliary support to emergency personnel. Harvesting or sowing crops, food processing, and facility repairs are not considered eligible activities as part of the new program.
Under the new verification program, access cards will be issued to operators or full-time employees of commercial agricultural operations, rather than by operation or property locations. Obtaining and using an access card is voluntary and individuals cannot be required to be present in an area subject to an evacuation order.
“The ongoing threat of extreme weather events to life, property and infrastructure has resulted in efforts to provide agricultural producers access to evacuated areas while ensuring public safety,” said James Gore, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “The ability to provide some degree of access into evacuated areas for critical commercial agricultural activities is expected to support compliance with evacuation orders.”
Following its community workshop on July 19, the Board directed county staff to return in August with information on legal considerations relevant to an access program and recommendations for program scope and administration.
The county will assess potential methods and resources for supporting agricultural workers who are directly impacted by the program. During its June budget hearings, the Board of Supervisors set aside $2 million to support an Immediate Needs Disaster Fund and $1 million to support a proposed Low Wage Disaster Pay Program.
County staff will return to the Board of Supervisors to address additional fiscal and programmatic considerations, as well as proposed program improvements, including the process for receiving and resolving worker, resident and community feedback and complaints.
The new county program also requires in-person fire and worker safety training in requested languages and accessible formats and venues. The policy maintains that operators are responsible for compliance with state and federal safety regulations, including protective actions that may be required due to changing conditions during a flood, storm, wildfire, or other disaster.
Since 2019, the county has invited 43 different stakeholder groups to provide feedback on a possible Agricultural Access program and has held 18 stakeholder meetings on access to agriculture and livestock operations during mandatory evacuation, including the safety of operators and workers.
The Board of Supervisors Ad Hoc Committee was created in February 2022 to identify efforts to address evacuation zone access with a focus on farmworker protections. The committee included Supervisors Lynda Hopkins and Chris Coursey and staff representatives from Emergency Management, Agriculture/Weights & Measures, Sheriff’s Office, Office of Equity, and County Office of Communications as well as the University of California Cooperative Extension.