Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller — March 2020
I finally got to see the Call of the Valley, the film by Julie Morrison about Sonoma’s history. What fun to go to Sebastiani Theater (look for the next special showing) and see your friends up on the big screen.
Stories of the town’s founding fathers’ were told, from Vallejo, and Sebastiani grand-pere, and renowned authors, Jack London and M.F.K. Fisher, and many more vintners and farmers whose names I cannot remember.
What luck they all had, those pioneers, to find a spot here in the Valley back in the 19th century when land was cheap.
Not that it was always easy. There was a long drought. Later, prohibition shuttered the early wineries. Some left, but those who stayed were resilient. They switched from grapes to prunes and apples. They opened stores. They made it through. Their descendants are in the film. Some of them own this town.
So, it goes, the perennial question, why are the rich, rich, and the poor, poor? The rich like to say they worked hard and went to church on Sunday, while the poor made “poor choices,” got drunk, and generally screwed up. And there may be some truth to that. But for many, it’s bad luck, a tough landlord or boss, or a history of trauma.
Homelessness is now a global problem, and Sonoma is no longer immune. On February 1, a teenage girl was accosted by a homeless man along the trail near the ballpark, the Police Department, and the Haven, our small homeless shelter. She fought him off, but the incident caused an uproar. It seems that anger at the presence of the homeless near the town’s youth athletic field has been simmering ever since overnight parking for homeless has been allowed.
Mayor Logan called a special community meeting. Some 300 locals attended – the most I’ve ever seen at the Sonoma City Council – many of whom spoke. A tall white-haired man warned that if they provided too many services – with more taxpayer money – more homeless would come to our town.
At a regular meeting of Sonoma City Council was held on Wednesday, February 19th at 6:00 pm. The Field of Dreams, Input and Process for Updates to the Safe Parking Program and the City’s Memorandum of Understanding with Sonoma Overnight Support, and to Initiate Planning for Location Search for Alternative Homeless Facilities and Services was discussed.
Video description: A regular meeting of Sonoma City Council was held on Wednesday, February 19th at 6:00 pm. On the agenda was The Field of Dreams, Input and Process for Updates to the Safe Parking Program and the City’s Memorandum of Understanding with Sonoma Overnight Support, and to Initiate Planning for Location Search for Alternative Homeless Facilities and Services. Agenda and Video of discussion: https://sonomacity.civicweb.net/document/33277?splitscreen=true&media=true
And the Field of Dreams presumably would become the Field of Nightmares.
The speaker made another point. Referring to the mess that seems to follow the homeless, he warned the council to remember the importance of “self-respect.”
‘Course I wonder, if you “ain’t got a pot to piss in,” what’s a self-respecting person to do? Life on the streets withholds the most ordinary of comforts.
Needles, condoms, trash, and some heckling of passers-by were cited more than once and can’t be ignored, but how many needles and how much trash?
Shall we sweep these people aside, never mind the real causes of homelessness: the cost of housing, low wages, and inadequate mental health services?
Despite their frustration, the community seemed to be trying to handle the problem in a balanced way. At the regular City Council meeting Feb. 20, the Council agreed to form a new sub-committee, enhance security, and begin the search for a better location for the shelter.
But a new discovery by planning director Dave Storer threw a wrench into the discussion. The Haven has been exceeding the limits of its 2003 use permit limiting its hours from 4 PM until 9 AM. Councilmember Madolyn Agrimonti was “disgusted”, according to the IT, that regulations were ignored, and councilmember Amy Harrington was similarly concerned, but suggested the possibility of writing a new use permit, potentially a long, entangled process, obstructed by those who just want the homeless “to just go somewhere else.”
But where? Building a bigger shelter will take time. Haven director Kathy King refused to reduce daytime services meanwhile.
Rousting the shelter over a dated use permit is not the way to go, as Fred Allebach pointed out.