Gentrification is a trend in urban neighborhoods, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses.
The Springs Specific Plan (SSP) process has come out strongly in favor of limiting gentrification as much as possible. Supervisor Gorin has publicly echoed this SSP sentiment. This means consciously endeavoring to not allow the Springs to turn into an extension of Sonoma Plaza over-priced tourist fluff. The SSP however, does not put restrictions on private property, and will not take effect for a good while, the door is apparently wide open for what we see happening now, Springs gentrification.
The role of zoning ordinances is well known in maintaining suburban social inequity (by excluding minorities); the question for the SSP, can zoning actually be used to support social equity? Can the county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) and its planning consultant actually mold socio-econ outcomes through planning? Or will the influence of money always seek to trump comprehensive community planning, and always cry too much regulation if limits to free market immoral excess are laid down?
It has been well documented by the Spiritual Action housing group that Springs rents have risen unconscionably in the last few years, for the very people who can least afford it. It is likely only a matter of time before commercial rents rise as well, as existing stores are bought up and gentrified.
You can see it happening bit by bit in the Springs, a BBQ place where lunch for two can cost $75. A “Mexican restaurant” where you never see any Mexicans except the servants. More and more upscale boutique stores and restaurants. A recent purchase of the Boyes Springs Food Market building by Ken and Stacy Mattson comes with the express purpose of “turning it up a notch.”
Investors and developers et al, in seeking to justify the “change” they are bringing, pay a requisite lip service to community and to character. Gentrification is hereby asserted to be an improvement and a benefit. But to who? Run all the Latinos and servant class out of the Springs and Valley and community character will become a façade, just as in Sonoma and other gentrified tourist traps like the Greek Islands, Woodstock, VT, Aspen CO, Carmel, CA and Asheville, NC. Character for the wealthy is in how many fancy chefs there are, how many status symbols; all the value is measured in money; it’s a commodity, an object, something for sale. Actual integrative, sustainable community values, people’s lives, evaporate in the face of gentrification.
Gentrified places become islands of wealth surrounded by rings of progressively poorer communities who then commute from far away to serve the rich. In Sonoma County buildable land is locked up by a green checkmate. So much for addressing the resulting transportation GHG emissions, the #1 source of local climate change.
The Springs has Mississippi-level poverty and to address that we need more boutique stores and fancy restaurants? Who and what does that serve? C’mon. When money rules, intentional social policy falls right by the wayside. The people who already have it made, who have means to create game changing equitable housing and work situations, they pursue needless self-aggrandizement instead. And so actual community dissolves and the money becomes the prime directive.
Let’s see one of these people of great means step up and do something bold and benevolent for the people! Lets’ see a game changing three pointer to counter the trend of gross self-enrichment.
In Sonoma, city government appears part-ways complicit, eager to take the money, happy to stoke the fire of increased tax income. The social costs of an unfettered hospitality economy that serves rich strangers before residents seems acceptable. On the other hand, NGOs, concerned citizens, city commissions, and city staff work to incrementally address hard issues and try to find ways to actually plan for more equity and less gentrification. No matter how hard folks of conscience try to steer policy towards equitable, sustainable plans and outcomes (Climate Action 2020, Health Action, Food Action Plan etc.), the municipality of Sonoma seems to become more and more an entity allowing for the concentration of wealth and the exclusion of workers. This pattern is bleeding over into the Springs.
Government officials for the most-part have steadfastly avoided talking in terms of the only frame that makes sense: actual, full cost, triple bottom line sustainability. The economic gods hold sway and must be placated, even as the social fabric for the majority of people is torpedoed by an insidious allegiance to hospitality above all. Hospitality to wealthy strangers before any crumbs for the locals. Government, national or local, seems near powerless in front of a 1% private equity, corporate, LLC, financialized tidal wave. Money is ruling too much.
And so we see the default outcome of not being able to effectively plan and limit the excesses of wealth. Lower income families and small businesses are being displaced by the gentry. “Gentry: people of good social position, specifically the class of people next below the nobility in position and birth. A member of the landed gentry.” In the US we have a new gentry, a new aristocracy, the 1%. We were born as a nation rejecting aristocracy and now it is creeping back again in spades, right here in our own town. This is not normal economics; this is the exact same monopoly pattern we rejected as captive colonists.
Limiting gentrification in today’s age amounts to modern peasants trying to breach the castle moat and influence the Lord’s behavior. Modern serfs and peasants try to represent community values, but words and showing up at meetings somehow don’t stand up to millions of dollars. And so we have gentrification, a trend in urban neighborhoods, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses.