Money, it seems it is all people are talking about. Gas is over $6 a gallon, food prices are up, and most homes in Sonoma Valley are selling for $1,000,000 or more. But, how much money makes one rich today?
There has been a lot of talk about those opposing the overdevelopment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) being old, rich, white racists. In reality these people are not rich, nor are they racists. They are simply older, ecologically minded, middle class folks.
I know of what I speak, because I am one too.
I grew up incredibly poor. After working low-wage jobs and feeling hopeless, I finally went to college. I swore I would not be like my father, who never planned ahead and spent money with no thought for the future. Over time, the homes I bought and investments I made kept me ahead of the ever-increasing cost of living, but in no way does this make me or many other people in similar circumstances rich.
Now let’s talk about real wealth and who has it. Here in the Valley we have movers and shakers with immense wealth. As a wedding florist, I often do events at homes that are 4, 5, 10 million dollars. This is wealth. This is what being rich is, not someone living in a small home they bought 40 years ago in Glen Ellen and fighting for the environmental preservation of SDC.
One only has to view the Mattsons’ massive property acquisitions in the City of Sonoma and the Valley to see what rich really is.
I also hear over and over that our Valley is catering only to wealthy tourists, with no concern for those of us who live here. I hear lamentations of how the Plaza once had local serving businesses and now it is just a wine drinkers Disneyland. I have only been here 20 years, but even in my short time, I have seen big changes. Retail businesses have closed. Favorite restaurants do not make it. Owners of businesses want to retire, and only the very wealthy can buy their businesses.
It is only once in a while now that new businesses are started by local small entrepreneurs who are not rolling in money, like the Mill restaurant in Glen Ellen. I see our Valley and town becoming more like Healdsburg every day.
While showing my sister around the Plaza a couple of weeks ago, I went into a new clothing store. A cute little sweater was $395. A new restaurant is opening off the Plaza, with $250 per person pre-fixe dining. Wine clubs we joined 20 years ago are now charging members for club events or bringing guests for tastings. It is not uncommon to see $50 per person for wine tasting.
But, Sonoma Valley is not alone in “progress”. Yes older middle class people do have an advantage, having bought homes and seen huge increases in value. But, do not think for a minute this equates to being rich. None of us will be buying $395 sweaters or having $250 meals anytime soon. So, the question is: who is, and why is our town and Valley going there?