A new, collaborative strategy to ‘sustain Sonoma’

Posted on June 8, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Sustainable Sonoma Image 2

Local leaders from business, health care, social justice and environmental protection have joined forces to form Sustainable Sonoma, a new initiative to address threats to the community’s people, environment, and economy.

The housing crisis, the wealth and education divide, groundwater depletion, preserving rural character, the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center, and the tourism economy are among the challenges to be faced by the coordinated, collaborative effort.

“After 25 years of working with our community to take care of this remarkable place, we realized that we cannot accomplish our mission of ecological health in Sonoma Valley without systemic change that’s supported by the whole community,” said Richard Dale, executive director of Sonoma Ecology Center, which first proposed the new initiative.

There are already hundreds of agencies, nonprofits and businesses in Sonoma Valley dedicated to tackling those challenges, Dale said. Though most share a similar vision for Sonoma Valley, these groups usually work independently of each other. And as a growing body of evidence makes clear, effort must be aligned toward common goals or Sonoma Valley may soon become overwhelmed by the problems facing the region.

“Sustainable Sonoma offers an opportunity to convene the community around important issues,” said Patricia Shults, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Big issues require a collaborative approach. If we are truly going to improve things that are important to a healthy economy – the ability to hire and retain employees, adequate housing, economic diversification – Sustainable Sonoma can serve as a hub for solutions.”

It takes everyone pushing in the same direction for change to happen, said Juan Hernandez III, executive director of La Luz Center. “This initiative is a foundation for this push.”

Underscoring the need for collaboration, a new report by Sonoma Valley Fund titled “Hidden in Plain Sight” states that despite a thriving culture of philanthropy in Sonoma Valley, the increasing scope, intensity and interconnectedness of Sonoma Valley’s challenges – “the lack of adequate and affordable housing, increasing poverty, the rapid rise of our senior population and the environmental pressures created by population growth” – could overwhelm our existing network of nonprofits.

Sustainable Sonoma was launched with this trend in mind. The initiative’s first step has been to engage our community in order to build support, and a shared vision and agenda, across the sectors of health care, economic development, social justice, housing, transportation, tourism, land use, recreation, and environmental protection.

Sustainable Sonoma partners to date include Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma Valley Health Roundtable, La Luz Center, Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, and Health Action.

As Sustainable Sonoma matures, it will take on its own identity – a standalone staff, independent funding – so that it belongs to the whole community, not any particular organization. Over time, the founding partners will become just a few of the many interests at the table. A public meeting will be held in the fall.

Sustainable Sonoma welcomes everyone who lives or works here to join the discussion to help determine the future of Sonoma Valley. Currently, Sustainable Sonoma is seeking community input through its “This is my vision” page (, an open forum for sharing ideas, needs, goals, values and concerns about the community we share.

Contact the Sustainable Sonoma coordinator, Kim Jones, at [email protected] for more information about how to get involved

Photo: Richard Dale of Sonoma Ecology Center, Patricia Shults of the Chamber of Commerce, and Juan Hernandez of La Luz are among the core partners building Sustainable Sonoma. 

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