What's Up With That? ~ Katy Byrne

Katy Byrne Katy Byrne, MFT is a Psychotherapist in Sonoma, editor and animal lover. Her private practice specializes in: life transitions, couples communication, eating issues, moving forward, conflict resolution and the kitchen sink.


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Small town Sonoma

Posted on May 26, 2016 by Katy Byrne

A lot of us moved to Sonoma to find peace and a place for reflection. It’s so soothing to live here with nature and town all around, after being in big cities.

I hoped to learn here how to be in a true community, after moving up from San Francisco. And I now know that different people have a range of purposes. Some love to cook and others tell good jokes. Some know about Carl Jung and others about the news. Allowing differences is a great lesson in community and creates a rich soil to build from.

So, what’s the shadow side of Sonoma? It’s not easy to make a living or to be single. It’s wealthy and white downtown. Sonoma is like an éclair. It’s pretty, but there’s nothing in the middle (middle class). And if you’re not skinny and white, you’re in the minority – at least on the east side. Some say Sonoma’s a bit uppity.

The parking isn’t perfect. But, for me, having lived in big cities, this town is still pretty easy to drive through. I get most places around here in five minutes. It’s whimsical here the way people grin and say “hello,” but still there’s judgment and gossip in our midst.

What’s the dark side of sunny side up? We’re not unlike these crazy elections at some deep level. We disagree, or are greedy. We have a division of classes that’s soul sucking. And after a while everyone knows a lot about everyone else, even if you hide. As Kant said, “The nice part about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does.”

I don’t mean to be a sourpuss but we know there’s pressure to grow and sometimes it can go sideways. We’re full of Airbnb’s with travelers buzzing around, which is sweet, but we’re scared of losing our safe small town to big buildings. Are we losing the heart of Sonoma with big money taking over? It’s a fear.

We hope Sonoma will give us housing, lift wages and stay happy, but it’s also full of anxiety about change. What to do?

We gotta’ have heart. The heart of a town is like the heart of a person’s body — it’s central to our wellbeing. I sometimes joke about community being like “a bunch of nuts in a bowl” because we are all different and still evolving as a species; Imperfect but well intended most of the time.

I hope we continue to try to build a town that cares for the common good. We could get really creative here if we work together. Maybe build a magical mystery village on
Eighth Street that’s affordable for all? And trolleys with big flowers on them, and musicians? More farmers markets? Pet friendly rentals? Tiny houses everywhere? Brainstorming and ideas are the start. “In the beginning was the word.”

I talked to a friend the other day who shared that while she was losing her husband and her house to job loss and his passing, this community showed up and made sure she was fed and helped with phone calls and stayed in touch with her until the matters were resolved. This is the great possibility of a town that cares. As Albert Einstein wrote to his daughter: “When we learn to give and receive this universal energy [love]…we will have affirmed – there is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to.” It exists here and I hope we keep the common good always in our vision.

And from Scott Peck: “It is clearly no longer enough to be simply social animals, babbling together at cocktail parties and brawling with each other in business and over boundaries. It is our task – our essential, central, crucial task – to transform ourselves from mere social creatures into community creatures.”

Ya’ gotta have heart.

5 thoughts on “Small town Sonoma

  1. The problem with small towns like Sonoma is that they get discovered and then overwhelmed by people who want to escape the massive congestion of not only the Bay Area but of other places around the United States. I first discovered Sonoma around 45 years ago while living in San Francisco. Sonoma seemed so far away as I would come up on a weekend with a loaf of sour dough bread and do some “free” wine tasting. I moved away from the Bay Area but returned for conferences and other personal reasons over the years. I rediscovered Sonoma about 15 years ago while still working. Later when the Great Recession hit I was able to buy a condo for retirement. I found there were and are many baby boomers who have retired to Sonoma to fully realize their dream of small town friendly slower paced living. Many are from other states and countries. I like Sonoma because it is a working community with families and a variety of ages. It is not a retirement ghetto like so much of Arizona and Florida. The challenge is to remain engaged and seek to continue to keep Sonoma a desirable place to live for all.

  2. I moved to Sonoma after getting married in 1980 My husband was from Novato and I Petaluma. We ended up in Sonoma because we couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. My husband commuted to San Francisco for a number of years till he got a job in Novato. We couldn’t stand it as a young married couple new to the town. We found it hard to make new friends as so many had been born and raised there. However after we had children we grew to love it. It was a great place for young families. THe parades were full of local children and non profits, same with the booths on the plaza. There were orchards and cows everywhere. There was only one street light and I parked on West Napa. We could walk everywhere just about and the kids had plenty to do. Then Sonoma got discovered by Sunset magazine and more. The wine industry grew, the Bowling alley closed. The theatre in town struggled and the people moving here were more affluent and it showed. The cost of living went up as did traffic. Our kids grew up and couldnt wait to get out of town as there was nothing to do. Now the public schools are in sad shape so our kids moved where schools are excellent and housing is affordable. I moved from Sonoma 3 weeks ago to Maryland and to be honest I was really ready. The charm of Sonoma is gone for me. WHen I return to the West Coast in 7 years it will not be Sonoma but I may come and visit some of the great people that have hung in there longer than me.

  3. Well, then move to a real small town rather than a touristy one. I don’t know what else you could expect out of somewhere like Sonoma, Healdsburg, Yountville, etc.

  4. I don’t intend for this comment to be snarky, but… moving to Sonoma from San Francisco and then complaining about the lack of a middle class is an example of cognitive dissonance. It’s people from SF (and elsewhere) moving here (or buying second homes) that is the precise reason the middle class residents, many of them long-time locals who were born here, can no longer afford a place to live.

    My wife and I – both born here and current residents after several years away – are fortunate enough to make enough money to live in Sonoma, but many of the people we grew up with who wanted to stay or return after their college years simply couldn’t afford it.

    1. I fully agree with you Jay. I was born right here in Sonoma as were both my children. This used to be a nice town with a small town feel. I remember being able to go down to the Plaza on July 3rd and claim my spot for the next days parade and day full of home town fun, but now… There are so many tourists and people who have moved here for the experience that it’s just chaos. No room to move, no room to breath. It’s just too much. For goodness sakes since when does Steiners need velvet rope waiting? I miss my small town.

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