The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

Healdsburg Highlights - May 2015


Healdsburg Highlights - May 2015

by Gina Riner

A Tale of Two Cities

Who loves Healdsburg? Well, we know the national media does. And of course locals love it, especially our community spirit, and the Tuesday summer concerts in the downtown Plaza, and places like Wright’s Feed Store, the Bean Affair Coffee Shop and the B&B Lounge. New residents love the beauty and simplicity of living in a small rural city where you can run into your neighbors on a regular basis. The tourists LOVE the wine, the art galleries, the majestic vineyards and the many recreational opportunities. Fancy food restaurants, high-end shopping, wine tasting and the quaint Bed & Breakfast Inns delight the visitors.  For them, it’s an amazing and charming experience. “Healdsburg is like ‘Pleasantville, USA,’ offering big city luxury set in a rural background,” commented a recent guest of a local couple who operate a vacation rental business. (Yes, the vacation rental is legitimate but the City of Healdsburg’s Planning Commission required $14,000 in permit fees plus property modifications.)

Although I’ve lived in Healdsburg over 13 years and enjoy everything this magical place offers, I’ve noticed some disturbing changes: increasing homelessness, little to no workforce or affordable housing offered; and, as of April 2015, an average listing price of $1.9 million to buy a home in Healdsburg. It’s well known that many people who work in Healdsburg can’t afford to live here including police officers, teachers, retail clerks, tasting room staff, hospital employees and firefighters. A relatively new business in town that caters to tourists employs several people, yet not one of them lives in Healdsburg. They can’t afford it. So they commute from Cloverdale, Windsor and Santa Rosa.

North of Healdsburg Ave. the lines are getting longer at the Food Pantry. And south of Healdsburg Ave., near the downtown Plaza, lines at the expensive restaurants are also getting longer with eager tourists waiting to try the current food trend or sample a “curated” seasonal cocktail. With a population of about 11,300 people, Healdsburg has 178 active on-sale and off-sale liquor licenses.

Something is wrong with this picture. If we continue along this path Healdsburg will wind up a monoculture of grapes, wealthy people, and million dollar homes. Without diversity, Healdsburg becomes a community of bored rich people who have way too many choices to drink away their loneliness.

That said, the City of Healdsburg is aware of the disparities and declares that housing is one of the most important priorities in 2015. In a series of public community workshops called “Housing Our Community,” policies are being developed. But the process of turning those policies into actions plans will be long and difficult.  Currently, about 1,910 out of 4,900 households in Healdsburg face affordability challenges. This is a staggering number. And this situation is not likely to be resolved any time soon.

If there is little to no affordable housing for the workforce, it is difficult for employers to attract qualified employees. And if you happen to be one of the fortunate middle-class homeowners in Healdsburg who purchased a home prior to 2001, it’s likely that you need to work outside of Healdsburg to earn a higher income in order to afford your mortgage and property taxes. What a conundrum. How did we get here? What do we do as a community to address these disparities?

Yes, everyone loves Healdsburg but at what cost to a large part of the population?

Neighbors Network of Healdsburg

I hope it’s not true that the fledgling Neighbors Network of Healdsburg (NNOH) is considering disbanding. Gail Jonas founded the all-volunteer organization several months ago, and has amassed a list of about 200 volunteers who signed up to help neighbors who need support before or after a medical operation or procedure. Last week I called to see if I could get a ride to and from Santa Rosa for a minor medical procedure. Susan picked me up and we had a lovely conversation on the drive down. My neighbor, Marion Murphy, who owns Piper St. Inn, brought me home. It was great to see a friendly face after my appointment. The experience was just terrific and I’m grateful it was available to me. I hope the organization stays active. Call Gail at 707/431-8451 or visit to learn more.