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Grassroots Graton - September 2015

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Grassroots Graton - September 2015

by Heather Granahan

The Hourglass Figures

Graton has the distinction of being one of the top four communities in Sonoma County with the highest life expectancy as measured in the Portrait of Sonoma County. The lowest ranking communities are a full decade lower in life expectancy – well below Mississippi, the lowest ranked state. Do I need to tell you that those lowest communities are largely communities of color, who bear the brunt of the poverty while doing the bulk of the county’s labor? This study, commissioned by the County of Sonoma Department of Health Services, was done by the Measure of America team and local advocates and tells the story of the huge income, housing and health gaps here in our “bubble”.

 Graton-based group the North Bay Organizing Project paired with the Living Wage Coalition a couple of years ago to issue a similar analysis of poverty in the county, illustrating a sobering picture of an economy with the middle class being cinched steadily out, like a suffering matron having her corset pulled ever tighter. Suffice it to say the picture isn’t getting any prettier, with something around a 1% vacancy rate in rentals and home prices rising like so many tiny bubbles in a glass of sparkling wine. Landlords raise the rent just because they can, and families vie over them, offering higher and pre-paid rents. If you happen to have rescued a pet – well, better start thinking about another state. 54% of us spend well over the 30% “affordable” level of our income on housing. Try 50%.

 Adding to the hourglass figure effect is a the fact that California does not adjust its minimum wage for inflation (reforms aside) – and this in a county that the California Budget Project calculates an actual self-sufficient living wage to be $19.11 an hour for both of two earners per household. But what about the “recovery”, you say? All the new job growth? Try this on: 21% of the jobs lost in the recession were jobs that paid less than $13.83 an hour, while approximately half the jobs to be added through 2018 are expected to pay $15 or less an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project. So who is this recover really for?

I know you’re busy working to make the rent, so support the work of the North Bay Organizing Project, who work on a broad, linked web of issues including income equality, housing, transportation and education –at #righttoaroof.

The Bray Of the Steam Donkey

If you haven’t been to our local living museum, Sturgeon’s Mill Restoration Project, you are missing one of the country’s treasures. In a classic West County twist, it is located behind Graton but is in Sebastopol’s zip code. Considered one of the last great mills of its kind, this steam driven operation is a blast to wander through and watch in action. If you have been there, you must re-visit to meet the new addition to the rumbling, steaming iron menagerie. The founding family members (some still living on site) and their team of intrepid volunteers have reached another restoration benchmark. The big 1905 “Steam Donkey” has been brought back to life and certified to run during demonstration days. Having received more attention than it’s had since it was re-tubed in the early 1920’s, this towering beast is now fed a diet of mill scraps to demonstrate its immense power. Once used to haul itself up mountainsides on its own giant skids (creating “skid roads”), it would then dangle logs out one by one on a huge chain sling. Today it produces more oohs and ahhs than lumber – though the Mill is still active on demonstration days cutting donated windfalls and timber from occasional locals’ lands. Come see all the fun, gawk at the Dawn Redwoods and giant corkscrew redwood, watch blacksmiths and if we’re lucky, the enormous Shire draft horses will show off a bit during lunch (available for sale – the lunch, not the horses). There are only four public open days left this year so get your walking shoes on Sept. 19th and 20th and get down to Sturgeon’s Mill at 2150 Green Hill Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Free admission. School visit days available.