At the planning commission meeting on September 14, one thing was clear: Sonoma is in denial about the scale and scope of the housing crisis. Sure, 20-30 people showed up to protest the development of a 5000+ square foot home on the Sonoma hillside, but none of them could spare a thought, let alone a few hours, to address the reality that no one making less than 90k per year could have a prayer of living in this town if things don’t change.
Now, to be sure, the building on the docket for the planning commission meeting isn’t perfect. The majority of the build is nowhere near affordable and, in my opinion, more two-bedroom homes could be offered and made available for rent or low-income purchase. But these weren’t the complaints. The complaints were that the building wasn’t styled in the ‘Sonoma vernacular,’ and that they weren’t set back far enough from the street. One resident even worried, out loud, that the build might negatively affect their second home VRBO business that they run.
Not a word was spoken about the fact that, in a town where the economy is based on tourism and the service industry, no server, winery worker, busboy, sommelier, chef, or barista can afford to live here.
As our planning commissioners opined on the auto focused nature of the build, on how you couldn’t see front doors, or that the architectural style lacked ‘pizazz,’ I wondered if they would be willing to explain to a new high school teacher how they didn’t deserve an affordable place live near downtown because it’s ‘important to protect the gateway into Sonoma.’
Have they ever thought, even for a second, how far the person who serves their coffee ‘just so’ every morning has to commute in order to find a rent they can afford?
What’s extremely frustrating about this attitude is that many of Sonoma’s ‘problems’ would be addressed by providing housing to the people that work here. Too many employees park on the plaza you say? Well, support housing builds near the square that give them the opportunity to bike in.
Too many tasting room on the square? I bet if we had more people that actually lived near the Plaza patronizing local businesses something that served locals might actually have a chance to survive. Too much traffic? Well, much more than half of those winery workers and restaurant servers have to commute from other towns where they can afford the rent rather than just working here.
But if Sonoma is run by the short-sighted haves to the detriment of the have-nots, it’s because the have-nots make it extremely easy for them to do so. Where were the winery workers at this meeting? Where were the teachers? Where were their employers? Do they not care where their employees live? Developments that might help the poor and working class are always met with staunch opposition but when those that would stand to benefit don’t speak up, the opposition is heard as the voice of the town.
The problem of housing is huge and touches so many people that it’s shocking to me that so few community members actually stand up to support the building of higher density affordable units in town. Until this changes and a mixture of employees and employers are willing to stand up for desperately needed workforce housing, the haves can rest assured that the poor and middle class won’t “destroy their town” and the status quo of income segregation will be preserved.