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OpEd: Meeting in the Middle on Sonoma County Conflicts

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OpEd: Meeting in the Middle on Sonoma County Conflicts

By Vesta Copestakes

Conflict - anger - “I’m right/you’re wrong“ rules every public hearing I’ve been to lately. Some people attend to listen and learn...others attend to have their opinions be heard by the audience as much as the public servants and elected politicians who came to hear.   

Winery Events Centers? Coastal Plan Update? Water Rights? Lytton Pomo Tribe seeking home? Public hearings on these topics are opportunities to have a say in decisions being made that impact our communities. The most challenging aspect of all of these hearings is finding a solution that satisfies at least most of the people impacted by growth and development. 

Winery Event Centers

There are three factions that think this is a good idea: the wineries themselves as they seek to diversify how they make a living; the business community who looks at economic benefits; and the tourist industry who is looking for more ways to bring people to Sonoma County.

The opposition? Neighbors who are personally impacted by increased traffic and decreased water in their wells. Very few landowners near a winery event center would claim to be happy. Very few water-watchers would think the high volume of water necessary for these centers is a good idea, especially if drought continues to be a way of life in California.

Middle ground? As we strive for economic profitability and ways to generate income that are sustainable, our efforts need to work toward REAL sustainability, which means minimizing negative environmental impacts. 

In many ways MARKETING is the path to a solution. As the public becomes more aware of what sustainable really means, they also support businesses who reflect their values for clean air, smart water use, clean agricultural methods and products, and responsible, considerate business practices. 

Conscious consumers reject businesses that do not reflect their values and what they want for their families. If wineries demonstrate responsible practices - and market themselves to people with values systems that support the future, they will rise above the competition for the very market that has the means to support their products.

Coastal Plan Update

If this isn’t on your radar, you might consider learning about it. On the most basic level it involves what to do when the sea rises. How do we handle higher water levels not only on our coast at high tide, but also when rain causes floods and rivers rise to unprecedented levels deep inland. 

What happens to building codes for developments along the coast and rivers that run to the sea? What about roads that flood at high tide? Earthquake? Tsunami? Preserving or developing coastal hill communities? 

It’s all in the Coastal Plan Update. Between the Coastal Commission and the Permit Resource Department you have a chance to examine and comment before this plan is complete. 

Compromise? There is no compromise with the sea. With people? Yes, pay attention to this one. It’s still in process and it’s a long process: http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal/

The next Public Hearing is September 15th in Timber Cove and all comments to the current plan must be submitted by September 30th. YOU, the general public - can be part of what makes this work.

Water Rights

Every person who turns on a faucet is part of this one. When you drive past a bright green lawn, or strip of green between a sidewalk and street, do you wonder WHY that lawn still exists in this drought? 

Some people think they have a right to the water if they can afford it. Many on wells think that the water coming out of their well belongs to them and they can do anything they want with it. But that water comes from a groundwater SYSTEM that is as connected to other wells in the same way your veins and arteries are connected to your heart.

When people in water meetings cry out that there’s plenty of what they call PRIMARY water. Do they tell you that the only business capable of reaching it are the ones who drill petroleum products? Maybe Chevron, etc. will see the wisdom of drilling water next.  Will it come cheap? I doubt it!

Meet in the middle solution? Realize that all water belongs to all people. The only middle ground is to be a responsible water user and to support agencies, government entities, etc. that show responsible use as well. When seeking a solution for everyone, there is no ground other than the middle. 

Lytton Pomo Homeland

The meeting in Windsor was the most contentious of meetings I have attended recently. People who came with their agenda firmly established with talking points ready to argue were not swayed by presentations on compromise, or neighborly negotiations. That was hard to see and feel.

Yes, it’s true that Native Americans are not the only people who have lost their homelands, been promised things that never happened, been slaughtered and been the victims of racism, etc.  Living with prejudice and resentment on both sides creates a stalemate and the only way it will move forward is if one or both sides agree to change their stance.

Unless I’m totally mistaken, the Federal Government plays a huge part in this because they are recognizing the Lytton Pomo Tribe and have every intention of putting their lands into a trust that gives the tribe federal rights that supercede state and county regulations. 

This tribe can walk away from negotiations and just do what they want to do regardless of community wishes. But so far they have been taking the opposite approach and have met objections with compromise and mitigations. 

Someone has to be the grown-up and so far it looks like the tribe and elected officials who are trying to compromise are the grown-ups in the discussion. 

Middle ground? Neighbors need to be neighborly. From my perspective, and I have to clarify that since I do not live where my home would be impacted - working WITH the tribe to design a community that lives in concert with the land as well as resources and community would bring mutual benefit to everyone. The one area that the tribe is agreeing to is NO casinos in the future and if that future is forever, everyone can calm down and look at what will work so they can live together in peace.

We are in this together. We can’t win or lose without generating harm for our home and neighbors. Paying attention and being part of the negotiations is where we have power over our future.