Ben Boyce


We can create the Sonoma community consensus

Posted on November 8, 2013 by Ben Boyce

The mission of this monthly column from Day One has been to answer the question: What is the Progressive agenda?  This month marks the one-year anniversary of this column in The Sonoma Sun.  I am thankful to Editor Val Robichaud and The Sun for this great opportunity to share my passion for social justice and good public policy.

The title of this column is “Progressive Majority Coalition,” so I have not been shy about stating the premise and making the case for a coherent and politically viable progressive agenda.  As much ink as I’ve poured into this project, I must admit that my grand vision has not yet had the impact I had hoped.  As fellow Sun columnist Larry Barnett noted recently, nobody remembers a newspaper column after 24 hours.

Through this column and as a regular guest on the local radio station KSVY, my views are matters of public record.  Until I started writing on the topic of the Sonoma Hotel and Measure B, all my local progressive allies thought my work was a good addition to the local political dialog.  In reviewing the year’s columns, the hotel issue has been the #1 topic.

Taking the ‘No on B’ stance has been hard on long-standing political alliances and personal friendships.  The ‘Sonoma Brouhaha’ is a contact sport, and I have skinned up a few knuckles along the way.  I must be doing this out of conviction, because I don’t get a dime for taking the grief.

I do appreciate the concerns of the local activists promoting the Preserve Sonoma referendum.  Larry Barnett requested a meeting with me early on and as fellow practitioners of contemplative meditation, we agreed that we will still be on speaking terms at the end of this campaign. One of my best personal friends, Georgia Kelly, executive director of Praxis Peace Institute, is on the steering committee for Measure B! We finally decided to simply avoid the topic so that we can stay friendly.  My old pal Will Shonbrun and I were on the verge of an internet flame war, so we had to agree to talk after the election, when the heat of battle has cooled. So I am very familiar with the respectable part of the hotel opposition.

The bulk of the negative campaign for Measure B locally has been driven by a blogger on Sonoma Patch (which fortunately almost no one reads), who is leading the pack for the 2013 Sonoma County Cyber-Troll of the Year award.

I have no idea which way the election will go, but there are important stakes for the city of Sonoma, whatever the outcome.  When the dust settles, we’ll all still be here.

We come by our perspectives based on our experience.  My previous work as a progressive policy advocate for the Accountable Development Coalition (ADC) in regional networks like TransForm, Greenbelt Alliance, and the Great Communities Collaborative focused on land-use, energy and water policy, transit connectivity, environmental sustainability, job quality and labor rights, urban planning and Smart Growth.

The ADC platform was the product of years of collaboration among the environmental, land-use, transit, housing and labor advocates that make up the membership. The ADC, chaired by the skilled, patient and wise former Assemblyman and long-time leader of the North Bay Labor Council, Michael Allen, came to a set of core principles and policies that define the progressive agenda.  That being said, these axioms are subject to interpretation, so the issue of the Sonoma Hotel could not reach the level of consensus in the ADC and after a vigorous but civil discussion, no official position was taken.

There are now two main schools of environmentalism: “Environmentalism 1.0” (conservationism of natural spaces) and “Environmentalism 2.0” (enlightened public policy to shape development at a regional level). It’s time to evolve beyond the site-fight perspective of 70’s land-use activism to the 21st-century holistic-systems approach. Our regional problems cannot be solved one city or one parcel at a time. The old clichéd political battle of “slow growth vs. business-friendly” has lead to a political dead-end.  We need a new paradigm.

I have faith in my fellow citizens that we can co-create the ‘Sonoma Grand Bargain’, which unites business, environmentalists, and labor on a set of common community standards.  My experience negotiating with developers and business leaders is that most of them are well-meaning folks who want to add value to the community through their companies.  Of course, some business types are ideologues who reflexively oppose any kind of regulation. Most business owners just want predictability on public policy so they can plan and budget accordingly.

Frankly, the public mechanism is already in place.  I’ve seen the Sonoma Design Review Board, the Planning Commission, and the City Council deliberate on development approvals, and they are quite thorough in maintaining high community standards.  Let’s put our heads together and create a city that is both environmentally sustainable and business-friendly.  We can do this, folks!