A special meeting of the city council will be held Thursday, 5/18, 9:AM – 4:PM, at 175 First Street West, the Police Station Emergency Operations Room. Continental breakfast at 8:30 AM.
Public comment will be at the beginning of the meeting.
A few thoughts for the erstwhile council goals session
The title change to strategic planning is good. This simple change allows the activity to be framed as something that addresses larger issues than simply what individual council members happen to be interested in. And to have it last 2 or three years is good as well.
Account for adaptive management
With the long-term aspect, I suggest leaving room for being able to address issues that may come up in those two or three years. Too often staff will say, “we can’t do that now because it is not a council goal”, even though what needs to be done is salient and necessary. It would not be good planning to get locked into an arbitrary definition of issues and then not be able to do any adaptive management.
Goals are good, but they cannot be artificially constraining in our ability as a collective entity to address real issues as they come up.
Align plans with the most salient issues
Given that there is a great new Sonoma Valley Fund study, Hidden in Plain Sight, backed up by an updated, Sonoma Valley–specific Economic Development Board study (EDB study), that outlines what the most serious problems here are, Sonoma’s strategic plan should dovetail almost exactly with addressing these identified problems.
Issues at stake in SVF study: growing poverty even as full employment is reached in a luxury economy, high cost of living, low wages, extreme high rents, and an aging demographic.
Each council member should read and internalize the linked studies before the strategic planning session. The SVF study is aimed at philanthropy and non-profit efficiencies. The switch for city strategic planning will be to ask the question: how can government use its resources and clout to address the growing disconnects in the city and valley? How can the city cooperate with the county, and have priorities to effectively address our most serious problems? How can government be more efficient in addressing problems.
Aside from the SVF study, there is a direct correlation of wealth, and increasing wealth, with higher greenhouse gas (GHG) and negative environmental impacts. An economy based on gratuitous consumption has built-in troubles.
Make triple bottom line sustainability a planning parameter
In conjunction with the SVF study, the Sonoma Ecology Center is rolling out its Sustainable Sonoma initiative, with partners of La Luz, the Health Roundtable, and the Chamber among others. Sustainable Sonoma specifically uses the triple bottom line in defining its metrics, goals and methods.
What this means, essentially, is that business as usual, (BAU), is not addressing our most serious problems. The last council goals session came up with finding a nexus with tourism and residents, before that it was “balancing city character”, as a result of trying to heal the fallout from Measure B. The council acknowledged problems, but was not comprehensive in defining solutions and making plans to achieve them. The council has done nothing of any note to address the systemic costs of luxury tourism. This is a long-term deer in the headlights problem.
How can the city reckon a demographically imbalanced, economically unfair, high resource consumption, high transportation GHG impact lifestyle with actual sustainability? This is going to take the articulation of expansive and necessary principles, above and beyond mere fiscal frugality and managing an artificially small sphere of city influence.
Current luxury economy and no-holes-barred tourism is unsustainable
In order to address the Valley’s most serious problems, which Sonoma has in common with Sonoma County, and the 9-county Bay Area, wages, housing, and cost of living must be addressed. While a growing hospitality tourism sector, and trickle down monies from taxes from it are touted as benefits, they are not benefiting those who truly need it. The SVF study shows this, the EDB report shows this. The luxury economy is more of a cost than a benefit for the working class. Service sector wages are too low, and there are no mid-range jobs paying $18 -$30 an hour, that would allow workers to rent here.
The news advertises how much the tourism economy brings in, but all that money does not benefit those who need it most. There is a serious disconnect happening here in Sonoma and Sonoma Valley.
The council’s job is to address and solve problems, not sit back and watch the tourism money come in and think the city is doing fine.
Council needs to study sustainability, and triple bottom line metrics
There is no substitute for internalizing these concepts yourself. Sustainability started as a UN concept in the 1980s, and has now come to a UN platform of sustainable development.
Sonoma is a fractal of the world. Resources are mal-distributed and disproportionately controlled by the wealthy. The poor have an outsize systemic impact, and create more social and environmental problems through desperation and necessity. If given fair access to enough wealth, the social and environmental impacts of the poor are drastically lessened. If educated, the wealthy can reduce their negative impacts as well.
Sustainability is a call for structural remedies to address systemically imbalanced problems. Systemic imbalance is what may cause humanity to not be able to endure. The writing on the wall is that resource conservation and wealth redistribution both need to happen. The old model of “growth” as economic lifeblood is outdated, even “smart growth” and “green economy” have the potential to be BAU wolves in sheep’s clothing. If “smart” and “green” are not firmly contextualized in triple bottom line metrics, then they can be assumed to be greenwashing and economic bottom line only PR spin.
Government can make structural change by, for example, mandating a fair wage floor, encouraging hospitality and the TID to allow union organizing, soliciting business that will pay missing middle wages, by limiting market rate housing and encouraging more non-profit AMI-level affordable housing, by passing retroactive rent control laws to protect poor tenants, by choosing maximum impact fees to support affordable housing, by raising the inclusionary housing proportion to 40%, by collaborating on the creation of a community fund for AMI affordable housing, and by not enabling the wealthy to continue to run the show on demonstrably maladaptive BAU inertia.
Government needs to find wealthy actors who will change the channel and work for more public than private benefit. The public needs more than trickle down crumbs; projects with substantial, equitable public benefit will immediately be obvious and widely embraced.
As a matter of principle, the city has to disengage itself from BAU that exacerbates our most serious problems. This is to say, enabling a luxury economy but not insisting on environmental mitigations and shared benefits, makes the city complicit with being unsustainable.
Recalibrate the TID and SVVB to address systemic issues
Regionally, economic development entities need to start talking the same sustainability language. Proposing TOT and tax trickle down is not close to enough here, as supply side economics has been shown to be more ideology than fact, and to be entirely ineffectual.
If hotels and high-end development projects simply accounted for a bold number of built affordable housing units, and paid a strong, union-scale living wage in construction and regular employment, they would be heroes. These are people who already have it made and can afford to address systemic issues themselves. Ten or more built AMI affordable units each for FSE and Hotel Project Sonoma. C’mon, do the right thing!
If the obvious wealth generated by the wine-hospitality-tourism combine were simply shared in a more equitable way, that would be sustainable. The workers could live and shop here and not need to drive and make unsustainable GHG emissions. If tourists could be more bused in with electric buses, then the high transportation GHG impact of getting to the isolated Sonoma Valley would start to be mitigated. These are avenues to work towards in strategic planning.
Top-level LEED certification in all building is hopefully assumed at this point.
Make the 21 local climate protection measures a priority. Address the SVF-identified socio-economic disconnects head on. Show the citizenry you are serious and make a solid strategic plan that is squarely in sync with necessary issues needing to be addressed.
Have strategic plan in a graphic format similar to the community grants graphic
A triple bottom line Venn diagram graphic, to frame the new strategic plan would be great. Make some creative visuals to show the city is addressing an integrated set of issues.