Cheese factory remodel; the shrinking planning commission; and Ken Brown’s new crusade

Posted on July 6, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

A remodel of the Sonoma Cheese Factory approved in 2015 was then described by the developer as “modest” – but the latest plans for the iconic Plaza building seem to be anything but. Coming soon to the Planning Commission is a plan to save the Spain Street façade, but gut the rest of the building, more than doubling – from the current 11.5k sq ft to 25k – the floor space in the process. The idea, with expanded dining (152 seats) and vendor space by means of a new basement level, is to recreate the foodie mecca that is the Ox Bow Market in Napa. Indeed, the development team includes those behind that very hip, successful marketplace. Can they again capture artisanal lightning in a hand-thrown glass bottle? First, they’ll need the Commission’s approval to “modify” the old plan. Hard cheese, anyone?


  • Not part of that discussion will be Bill Willers, who resigned his longtime post on the Sonoma Planning Commission. Willers move was a protest against the City Council’s idea – proposed in concept – to change the way all City commissioners are chosen. The new idea would give each Councilperson the ability to choose one member one each of the City’s seven panels. That choice would be final, done without vetting or ratification by the rest of the Council. “I believe this is a very unhealthy direction for our City government to take, and I believe it will lead to the interests of individuals rather than those of the community being served,” reads his resignation letter. “I will not support the politicization of the Planning Commission’s decision-making process. Our community’s future should be shaped by the citizens of Sonoma, not by a few individuals who can afford to guarantee that their interests are served through the political process.” It was a privilege to serve, he said, but “the current deliberation and directions taken by the City Council regarding the future appointment of Commissioners is not something I can support or wish to be a part of.”… Chip Roberson also resigned recently from the Planning Commission. The panel, usually numbering seven, now has four members. What sort of rebuild will be approved?


  • Last year, when resident Chris Petlock raised the issues of Sonoma’s high water rates and possible illegal transfers from the water fund to the general fund, the City sloughed off his concerns. Now, it appears, Petlock was on to something. The City Council recently took two actions: one directed staff to order a new water rate study, and the other immediately suspended fund transfers from the water fund to the general fund. Anybody smell smoke?


  • Former Sonoma City Councilmember Ken Brown is on the march – you may have seen him in the Fourth of July Parade – for a medicinal cannabis facility within the City limits. “The Council took up this issue in May 20 of 2009 when I was Sonoma’s Mayor,” Brown recalls. “Unfortunately I took the advice of (then) City Attorney Tom Curry and recused myself. The result was a 2-2 vote and the matter was unresolved.” He blames bad legal advice, but, “time, the council and voters have changed. The voters of Sonoma passed by a large majority the concept of medical cannabis. It is time to place a Sonoma medicinal dispensary on this Council’s agenda… Skipping the 2009 vote was a big mistake, Brown admits. His wife was involved with a cannabis facility in Santa Rosa. “I slept at the radio station for a while.”

— Val Robichaud

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