The poor Springs. Borrowing a famous dictum about Mexico – “so far from God, so close to the United States”– we might say of this large unincorporated area where over 60 percent of the Valley resides, “so far from Santa Rosa, so close to Sonoma.” In the fall of 2014 the county health department released a major report, “Portrait of Sonoma,” detailing a poverty and hopelessness that the working class in the Springs had been living for years. It was not news to them. But for some “haves” the scales came off their eyes.
The recent report by the Sonoma Valley Fund, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” underscores the reality of that metaphor. The report highlights the inadequacy of philanthropic efforts to meet the challenges presented by the endemic poverty concentrated in the Springs. It concludes, in part, “the way forward… requires community leaders to collaborate more so that solutions can be connected for greater impact.”
But who will be these “community leaders”? And the report doesn’t acknowledge the fact that having no governmental status is probably the major contributing factor to present-day misery in the blighted Springs.
In September of last year, Mario Castillo posed the plaintive question about leadership from his community in a Voices column in The Sun, “Where are you, César Chávez?” He echoed an earlier column by Alejandro Águilar asking where are the leaders who will raise their voices for fair wages and affordable, habitable living conditions?
Since 1986, there has been a succession of organizations bubbling up in the Springs to be a voice for the needs of this large unincorporated and underrepresented area comprising El Verano, Boyes and Fetters Hot Springs and Agua Caliente. The area is frequently depicted by its residents as an orphan or step child.
Some of the organizations have been “grass roots,” while others were created by governmental or bureaucratic initiative. They include the earliest, business-sponsored Springs Up; grass-roots Verano Springs Association, Stiff Kick and Springs Community Alliance; Redevelopment Advisory Commission; and the appointed but very representative Community Action Team for Highway 12 corridor growth. The energy of Sonoma Valley Action Coalition, formed to address immigration issues, witnesses the essential ingredient for effectiveness: a cause, a call to action.
Surely the findings of Portrait and In Plain Sight identify a cause. How will this area answer it? A viable solution requires that many threads be joined: grassroots, official, haves, have-nots and those in-between. We know that elected representation per se is not a guarantee. Just witness Sonoma City Council’s own troubles in addressing the critical issue of housing, despite the legislated mandate and their own city code requiring them to provide such.
Leaders, whether elected or appointed, must act from conscience, committed to improving the everyday reality of the working class on whom the economy of the whole Valley depends.
We support the creation of a Municipal Advisory Council in the Springs. The traditional role of MACs is “to advise county decision makers on local planning and management decisions, to provide a regular forum for citizen participation, and to provide a bridge for communication between the County, local residents and businesses…on local decisions”. We would add to that, “To initiate programs that address local needs.”
We understand that Supervisor Gorin, a tireless advocate for the Springs, is working to create a MAC. We heartily support this initiative, if the Council is grassroots, representative and empowered to propose.