No matter what the farmers market offers, I always tend to gravitate to the corn dogs. When you’ve been connected to this town since the day you were born like I have, you remember the days when the farmers market was all about corn dogs and honey sticks. You also remember your parents finding a place to park on the square.
Sonoma has changed, as towns do; loads of people have massively benefitted while others of us have been left behind. While the community seeks to maintain a balance between small town charm, rural landscape, and economic progress, those of us making less than 200k a year have been left in the lurch.
In college I pursued a degree in English Education. I wanted to be an English Educator, a field where culture, science, politics, and history come together. I wanted to talk to students about philosophy, to help them synthesize the world they were observing and understand it, to encourage them to engage in politics and to encourage students to think and reason critically. I wanted to teach in the community I was raised in, to share experiences and connect with students that grew up with a similar experience to the one I had.
Cue reality. There’s no way I’d be able to teach in Sonoma if things don’t change in this town. Currently, according to the SVUSD, the starting salary for a teacher with a masters degree is $44,500 in Sonoma. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment here is between $1,500 and $2,000 a month. This means that nearly 50 percent of a teacher’s income pays the rent, leaving them surviving on fumes to pay for food, general expenses, school supplies, taxes and (god forbid) to save money.
Teachers’ salaries aren’t the fault of the City Council or the Sonoma School District; it’s a problem that has plagued the United States for years. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, as a society we don’t respect the work that teachers do, or pay them an appropriate wage for doing it. The underlying problem of housing cost and availability, however, does fall on our local shoulders.
Sonomans are an interesting bunch. We want to preserve the urban growth boundary, we want to keep natural spaces natural, we respect minority groups, we want a diverse community made up of people from different economic and ethnic backgrounds, oh, and, we’d like to make sure that there aren’t any buildings near us that are taller than three stories, please. Oh, and we’d like to allow large commercial development, like hotels, without requiring that they include housing and to make sure that make the focal point of housing development be single family homes, not apartment buildings.
These ideas collide, but we don’t want to admit it. We cannot provide housing in Sonoma if we pretend that things are the same as they were 30 years ago. Right now no winery workers, restaurant workers, hotel workers, newly minted teachers, elder care providers, nurses, phlebotomists, taxi drivers, bartenders, EMTs, or firefighters can afford to live here. They are priced out. They are forced to commute from Vallejo, Fairfield, and other locations, spewing greenhouse gasses the entire way. This, in part, is why Sonoma is currently the second worst polluter in the county.
Now, considering how much higher their salaries are, I understand that a stock market trader or a tech worker is viewed by society as a more valuable human being than I am. I understand the value they bring to society earns them the right to own a house here in Sonoma, another one in SF, and perhaps one more in their home town. However, if we really want to have a diverse community in Sonoma, if we want people that were born here to be able to live here, we have to build more housing, all kinds of housing: market rate, workforce, and affordable.
This community is too special to allow it to become just a wine country playground for the wealthy and retired. There is only one answer to the problem we face: it’s the housing, stupid.