Dec 29, 2019
by Stephanie Hiller
Sonoma Democrats held a sweet Christmas Party at the Springs Community Hall in mid-December. Sonoma School Board member Cathy Coleman spoke up for the proposed new method of electing Board members to better ensure more balanced representation, as did Councilmember Logan Harvey, who has since become Sonoma’s new Mayor.
The Dems has been hosting public viewings of the presidential debates at the local Round Table Pizza. The most recent, on December 19, followed fast on the heels of the House Impeachment hearings. I found myself sitting next to Jack Ding, a local accountant (he helped me with my taxes last year) who ran for city council in the last election, and Teri Shore, director of Greenbelt Alliance and a staunch proponent of Urban Growth Boundaries lately been under fire from the affordable housing community. UGBs contain the growth of cities so that they do not spread into the surrounding countryside, turning farms and open space into developments and accused of contributing to the high cost of real estate. Proponents argue that there is plenty of space to build within the cities, especially if we build up, instead of out, as I understand Santa Rosa is planning to do. Here in Sonoma we have many longtime residents despairing about the possibility of changing the small town flavor of our town. But heck, our town has already changed, as the steady flow of traffic on W. Napa Street attests. And where are the farms of yesteryear? Gone to grapes.
In my little neighborhood, the once sleepy Fifth Street Marketplace is sprouting new life with the arrival of two restaurants, the Vietnamese Pho shop, which appears to be enormously popular, (see menu here ) and a second location for the busy Hacienda restaurant in the Springs. There are many other local businesses at the site, including the busy Yoga Community. And I must say, fan as I am of rural living, the liveliness of this little urban environment is quite appealing, bringing new life to the ‘hood.
We’ll just have to get used to being city folk – and maybe that’s ok, as we are a city. But is the old Sonoma Developmental Center going to become a city too?
The planning process for the reuse of the SDC is beginning. The Permit Department has selected a contractor (specialists in urban design) to lead the development of a Site Specific Plan for the 900-plus property in Glen Ellen, and 17 members of the new Planning Advisory Committee (the PAT) have been selected. Two are from Glen Ellen – Vicki Hill of the Glen Ellen Forum and Nick Brown. Two are from Sonoma, city planning commissioner Kelso Barnett, and Victor Gonzalez, a semi-retired planning consultant with experience in “urban in-fill & high density residential and commercial projects,” according to his page at LinkedIn. Richard Dale of the Sonoma Ecology Center and John McCaull of the Sonoma Land Trust are, of course, among them; but also a number of developers.
At the Glen Ellen annual Christmas party, held at the Lodge, I ran into Gregg Montgomery, who worked for years at the SDC. He and members of the Glen Ellen Forum’s SDC Committee have been active in the community planning process since 2015 when the state announced closure of the old institution for the developmentally disabled. “There’s going to be lots and lots of housing,” he told me.
That’s good, because we certainly need it, but will it be affordable? Will it be paved in cement?
Will the open space be protected as promised? See more information of what is at stake here:
Time will tell. The state, having promised us community involvement, has funded the two-year planning process about to begin. But I was shocked to learn from Kyle Rabellino of the County Permit Department that is overseeing the project that the meetings will not be public.
He wrote in an email, that the – large, orchestrated – community meetings will be open, but “PAT meetings are not subject to the Brown Act and will not be open to the public.” He went on to say that the PAT members “are the community.” But not very diverse. They are all professional people, all but one of them white.
This is more than a little disheartening. The state had repeatedly promised a community process but that’s not exactly what this looks like. Who will make the actual decisions? The Permit Department? Behind closed doors?
A sour note to end on in my recently renamed column! We’re fortunate to be living off the beaten path in sweet Sonoma as this critical New Year begins.
Or are we really as far off as we think?
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