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Sonoma County Gazette
Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller

The Fate of the
Sonoma Development Center

Sep 27, 2017
by Stephanie Hiller


Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, asking why progress on climate change is so slow, concluded that the difficulty lies with the threat to the present economic system. “Put simply, if the science is true, then the whole economic project that has dominated American power structures since Ronald Reagan was president is out the window, and the deniers know it.”

Here in the Valley, and throughout the county really, the same reflexive action is in play. Those who benefit most handsomely from wine and tourism – mostly corporations based out of town – talk about “being sustainable” but you won’t often hear them mention the dreaded culprit, “climate change.”

The result is that most of the time, we hear talk of the great split in our community between those who favor tourism and those who complain about the traffic. But it’s not about the traffic really; it’s the greenhouse gases emitted by all those cars traveling up and down Highway 12.

And the wine industry is not only about the proliferation of tasting rooms around the Plaza. It also has to do with the effects of industrial agriculture, particularly monoculture, on the soil’s ability to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.

As for development, it not only drives up real estate prices, but it replaces green plants with cement.

Take the case of the Sonoma Developmental Center. A sophisticated design team from San Francisco, Wallace, Roberts and Todd, has been retained by the state to assess the facilities in the main part of the campus; and on a guess, WRT probably hopes to present a project that they might be hired to design.

No surprise then that there has been little communication from the state to the county about the progress of their work. An article in the current issue of Valley of the Moonnotes that Supervisor Gorin’s “confidence in WRT is growing but she’s a little troubled that WRT’s final work product will be delivered as a confidential report to the state Department of Governmental Services.”

According to the article, at a May 15 meeting between WRT and “area stakeholders, "Bob McKinnon of DGS asserted, “The state will absolutely not be dictating to Sonoma County what happens.”

Well, that’s reassuring. But by the way, who are the stakeholders? We don’t know. Who represents the community there? And what is the county’s interest?

Might the county select a profitable showpiece that caters to tourists but does little to address our real needs here, least of all climate change.

The Sonoma Land Trust has been advocating that the undeveloped, 600-acre part of the property to become a public park, thus preserving the significant wildlife corridor from the Mayacamas Mountains to the Coast. Whether that much land will be kept for open space, we do not yet know.

It’s the other, developed section of the property that is in question. We have other needs in the Valley that this property could help solve. The most obvious is the need for affordable housing. Dave Ransom, of the Sonoma Valley Housing Group, has sent out a call for a people’s Town Hall to voice our ideas. The SDC could become what Supe rvisor Gorin has called “a complete community,” to include housing, some small businesses and jobs.

If we were to focus on climate change, we might take that concept a step further, into an energy-independent, low-waste eco-village with a farm.

Few people realize how little land is left for farming. Nationwide, developers and investors wait for older farmers to retire so they can buy their farms. And while now we enjoy an abundance of foods, most of them are brought in from out of town. Think Safeway.

Those foods travel hundreds of miles to get here, contributing GHGs as they go. Less that 5 percent of our food is actually grown in this agricultural county. Meanwhile young farmers seeking affordable land to farm organically, using methods that regenerate soil and draw carbon out of the atmosphere, are finding it harder and harder to obtain it.

Safeway doesn’t want to think about climate change any more than Exxon does. But the situation grows more urgent daily, and growing our own healthy food wherever we can is a step toward independence from the damaging practices of agribusiness.

The SDC is public land. The state bought the property, then 1640 acres, for $170,000. We have the right to make our wishes known. Gorin has scheduled a meeting at Altamira School on Saturday,October 21 at 9 o’clock. If you care, be there!


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