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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - September 2016


Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - September 2016

Gobbling the goose that laid the golden egg?

I live close to Highway 12, and I’m wondering if anyone has been counting cars lately? There seems to be much more traffic than just a year ago. All day long, one or both lanes are packed with a steady stream of cars interrupted only by a squawking delivery truck or the vibrato of a Harley motorcycle. 

On August 15, the City Council held the second of a series of meetings with the Planning Commission to listen to their consultants, Karen Warner Associates and Keyser Marston Associates, on the question of how to provide more affordable housing for the many Sonomans currently unable to afford the rents.

One of the obstacles is the lack of buildable sites. One idea is encouraging the addition of Junior Accessory Dwelling Units or JADUs. These second units at private residential sites used to be called Granny units.

Of course, the idea of affordable housing is so sacrosanct that whether we just talk about it or do something about it, the impact on existing space is seldom considered. But when you drive into Boyes toward Agua Caliente, the new apartment complexes are definitely turning that section of highway into an urban space. And where are people going to park? Residents at the neighboring mobile home park are squeezed for space and they’ve just been told they cannot park on Highway 12 because that’s going to be a bike lane, another laudable achievement, but most people do not bicycle to jobs in Santa Rosa yet.

At the end of the hearing, one woman spoke passionately about moving here for its small town quality, and what would be the effect of new housing on that concept? Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd in the packed Community Meeting Room.

What to provide, what to let go of, in this era of rapid change?

No one thinks – do they? – that the city should block the addition of more affordable housing, and let all those poor people go somewhere else.

Of course, that’s essentially how it is right now.

But it’s not the pressure for affordable housing that’s robbing us of our small town quality – it’s tourism. Those cars pouring down Napa Road are not only the workers commuting from Vallejo to work here. They are visitors, and they are coming here in droves because we have an active promotional effort, utilizing the amazingly profitable TOT, rumored to have socked away some $750,000 in the past year, and it was just raised to two percent. Is it possible that our city leaders in their wisdom have overshot their mark, bringing in more visitors than the town can absorb?

Sadly, no one but dedicated environmentalists (who are just regular humanoids, by the way, not a separate class of being with green ears and insect-like antennas) makes the connection between tourism and traffic, much less between tourism and climate change.

But more cars mean more greenhouse gases, don’t you know? And even if we’re “moving toward” electric vehicles, we’re not doing it at the breakneck speed of a Nascar race. While officials dally, the air outside my door is laden with all those chemicals seeping out of combustion engines day and night.

Nevertheless, the City Council tabled its discussion of the Climate Action Plan 2020 because there’s a lawsuit against the EIR by Riverwatch.

Jerry Bernhaut, attorney for Riverwatch, said in a private email discussion, “There is nothing in our lawsuit per se that precludes the Cities and County from pursuing the GHG reduction measures in the CAP.”

The problem is, Sonoma’s proposed reductions appear to be minimal at best, if not actually illusory. According to Tom Conlon of Transition Sonoma Valley, “Sonoma County’s claim that baseline GHG emissions were somehow 9% higher in 1990 when our population was 16% lower is unsupported by the data provided in the CA 2020 Final Report.”

See the complete analysis at

Well I’m running out of space, but I think you can fill in the gaps here. I do want to thank readers for writing in. Julia from Santa Rosa thanked me for my July column: “My youngest son is gay and I was horrified to see such hatred [in Orlando]. There is still rampant homophobia in this country but as your article showed there are great people working for justice and inclusion. Your article encouraged me to start working for change.” Happy to hear! Steve Brown in Cotati was interested in knowing more about the mobile home park issue and we put him in touch with Karilee Shames. What’s a community newspaper for?

Speaking of community, there are still openings for Praxis Peace tours of Cuba and Mondragon where alternatives to capitalism are working, and an upcoming conference in Dubrovnik; see for details!