The real Issue is community power, not a plaza

Posted on December 1, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun

As residents of the Boyes Hot Springs, we attended both public meetings last week– one in English and the other in Spanish– addressing the question of establishing a plaza in the parking lot next to the Boyes Hot Springs post office building (18092 Sonoma Highway). We welcomed the opportunity to participate in these public assemblies, led by Supervisor Gorin, and to engage in dialogue with fellow Springs residents. The meetings, after all, were supposed to be a hearing that would draw out public opinion about specifically, whether a plaza was desired, and if so, what it should look like. We appreciated Supervisor Gorin’s commitment to facilitating this process.

Yet it was odd that the Ken Mattson’s company were financing the meeting and shared the occasion as “host.” It is even more concerning that the space in question for a plaza is actually a tiny parking lot exactly adjacent to a building owned by the Mattsons, the developer. We were also told, with a strong pitch by Supervisor Gorin, that underground parking would be needed and that $2M taxpayer funds should be spent to excavate it. Apparently, the County is already paying a $65,000 annual maintenance fee for the existing lot. The Mattsons did not disclose their intention for the post office building, after much behest. We share concerns with others over the threat of gentrification and more traffic on a vital corridor if and when this space is further “developed” by them. 

Let us be clear: we would love for our community to have a real plaza. We dream of a place with benches and trees, with taquizas and music, the healing springs, maybe public murals, and a true sense of community. As a community, we deserve that and many people have long been advocates for building such a space. 

But what is ultimately revealed through this process is that the community has practically no public ownership over its own vital resources. The entire adjacent block, with extensive aboveground and underground parking, belongs to the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn which, in reality, is owned by Brookfield Asset Management, one of the largest investor corporations in the world. Our community is effectively priced out of access to the Fairmont, including the mineral waters that were once shared in common by Indigenous peoples prior to settler colonial genocide in the Sonoma Valley. The other two blocks are now effectively owned by the Mattsons.

In the second meeting, held in Spanish with far fewer people in attendance, transparency became the main theme. Those present raised concerns over backroom meetings and arrangements that are assumed to benefit the community. The problem is that we have no real local control over the most basic issues affecting our lives. An astonishing fact is that in 1943 a public plaza existed at precisely the site in question. So why is it that now, after it has since been privatized and sold, we find ourselves relegated to a small sliver of a parking lot? 

Certainly, other options were raised, like putting the $2M into Larson Park, to expand the space for a plaza at the existing site, or to establish an alternate site across the street. If we had a community-controlled local government, we could build on this momentum to recuperate more space for public use. Absent the existence of such a government, the county could declare eminent domain based on the recent expansion of these laws, which would allow communities to take back buildings left fallow. 

While this issue is certainly not over, the takeaway is that only when we organize ourselves to establish grassroots, community power can we truly make decisions for the greater good. 

— Angela and Seth Marino Donnelly, Boyes Hot Springs 




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