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Sonoma County Gazette
Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller
Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller

Sonoma Hoopla

Nov 25, 2019
by Stephanie Hiller


I’m not one for big events designed to attract tourists, but I thought it might be fun to check out the lighting of the Christmas lights – even before Thanksgiving this year, and featuring new additions to the resplendent display of previous years.

I planned to just drive around the Plaza to see the lights, but that turned out to be impossible. I parked in my secret parking place and hobbled along what turned out to be a poorly lit street to the intersection of First and Napa, a grueling corner for pedestrians especially in all this traffic.

Crossing First Street in my direction was an energetic younger woman and I decided to wait for her, since two would be more visible to oncoming cars. Immediately she grasped the opportunity for us both and took my arm to escort me across. As we walked through the crowded Plaza, she told me she used to bring her mother to this event every year. Thank you, Lynda Lipps – I hope I spelled your name correctly!

After half an hour in the noisy center of the Plaza – the crowd numbered some 2000 -- only one bank of lights had been lit. I decided to wait for another, less crowded evening. 

I couldn’t help but wonder, in the current era of blackouts and anti-PG&E fury, how much power the new installation uses, so I called the Visitors’ Bureau to inquire.

Director Tim Zahner responded that all the lights are LED, and that VB is a member ofSonoma Clean Power.

A few days earlier, I had attended the Springs Community Hall’s second Annual Pancake Breakfast, a historic tradition held when the Hall was part of the Grange.

It was a rich fare of pancakes, apple compote, sizzling sausages and muffins, prepared bychef Sean Paxton. Every single item was organic, even the butter and the vanilla, and grown by local farms, including theMendocino Grain Project in Willits.

“If it’s not organic,” said Hall manager, Seth Dolinsky, “then you get Monsanto.” Can restaurants afford to do that? He’s not sure. But some producers are committed to pure organic, likeMike Baber, who sells all organic breads at the Friday Market.  

“If you have to pay more, say $100 a month shopping directly from farmers, is that too much for good food?”

We were chatting over coffee at the Barking Dog about the farm situation in general and the “many young farmers who want to farm, but land is too expensive.

“The question is, How can we feed ourselves with a lower carbon footprint and for good health? How much food would that take?” Some 40,000 people live in the Valley, most of them getting their groceries at the supermarket.

Some 150 people attended the breakfast – sold out! “It’s a good way to get people to talk about food,” said Seth.

Supporting farmers, and finding a way to create a farmers’ cooperative farm and food hub, is his mission. 

Farms, like real estate, are up against powerful opposition these days. Investors are in control, buying up farmland for housing development and buying up large tracts of existing developments purely for profit. It used to be called“land speculation”, and since the Great Recession has become a clear threat to our vaunted tenet of private property as the pathway to the“American Dream”, driving up property values nationwide. Promised high annual returns, investors make minor improvements and rents are doubled or tripled, driving out low-income residents who compose much of our workforce.

The Valley is now under further threat of rapid investment under a new policy called Opportunity Zones.Much of the Springs has been so designated. With this new policy, put forth in Trump’s 2017 tax bill, investors can make profits not only on higher rents, but on capital gains from subsequent property sale. And there is little or no oversight of these projects, unless localities create such instruments, like Berkeley has done. If not, projects may not benefit communities at all; they may not employ local people at a living wage, and they are likely to displace people who can’t pay high rents. Instead, they could cater to high tech businesses and their well-paid employees. Is that what we want? If not, we’d better speak up. Contact Supervisor Gorin.

Speaking of speaking up, we’re hoping that the December 6th Climate Strike will happen here, and that high school students will be released from school to participate. TheBoard of Education will address this question tonight and members of theSonoma Valley Climate Coalition will attend. If the Dalai Lama is right, this is the generation that will restore balance to this world. We’re all rooting for them!

Wishing you a happy holiday season – and a Great Turning for the world in 2020.



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