Page 3 ~ Val Robichaud


School site closures; What’s up with Mattson; Staying stout; and more

Posted on March 1, 2023 by Val Robichaud

Over its seven campus locations – five elementary schools, two middle schools, and the high school – the Sonoma Valley Unified School District has seen a loss of approximately 1,000 students since 2015-2016. That’s a 25% drop. Some per-school examples: Dunbar went from 213 to 81; Prestwood 405 to 265; Altamira 552-352. (Flowery was the only campus to show an increase, from 330 to 367). The demographic shifts in the Valley are conclusive, and the District is committed to taking action by “changing school configuration” – read that as closing two schools – over the next two school years. The debate will be contentious, no doubt. But input is welcomed. There are explanatory reports, a video, and a survey (in English and Spanish) at It’s a lot of homework – don’t wait until late Sunday night to finish… Parent/caretaker meetings are planned at each elementary and middle school in March and April. Preschool families are invited to attend any meeting. A drop-in community meeting is scheduled for March 28… Also in discussion is making the Dual Immersion model, now used only at Flowery, district-wide. And creating a K-2 school and a grade 3-5 school. But what to do with the empty campuses? The District will take a long look at the options of charter schools, pre-school, adult and special education, and even workforce/teacher housing. 

Wake Up Sonoma, the group mobilizing around the concern that the secretive Ken Mattson and entities controlled by Mattson/Lefever own 100+ Sonoma Valley properties worth some $235 million, held its first public meeting. It drew a capacity crowd of about 90 people. Curiosity (why does he overpay for everything?), speculation (what’s his master plan?) and suspicion (does he want to influence the planning commission?) were aired. More concrete: a chart, based on a deep dive into public records, that Mattson’s MO is frequently that one of his companies will overpay for a property ($6 million for two westside bungalows, for example) and, as soon as two weeks later, another of his holdings will buy it for the true, appraised value ($2 million, say). On paper, a big loss. Then again, his lawyers are better than yours. So however sketchy, it’s legal… It was pointed out that Mattson should be referred to as a real estate investor, not a developer, since he never seems to develop anything. Exhibit A is the empty Springs lot that had a retail/housing project approved more than six years ago, and the only thing built so far is a cyclone fence. “His company logo should be a plastic green tarp,” came the quip.


The meeting was in the wake of the newest Mattson acquisition: the El Verano property on Railroad Avenue, home of Harvey’s Donuts. Harvey is just and still a tenant, so the sale was news to him. Despite that he did catch some unfair anti-Mattson flack, says his daughter, Maryn Cohen, despite simply being a victim of circumstance. “Harvey did not have a say in the private sale,” she posted. “The sweat equity Harvey has put into our Railroad location over the past eight-plus years with his own money, time, and materials with broken promises of reimbursement, just to be blindsided and then accused by the community, has left us suffering in ways you don’t even know. The negative comments are heartbreaking,” she said. “Even our staff is being harassed now at school and in public spaces.” (The Harvey’s on Sonoma Plaza is a different landlord).

A pilot program has begun distributing $500 in monthly guaranteed income to 305 families in Sonoma County – including 10 in the unincorporated area of Sonoma Valley. Recipients, picked at random from 2,383 eligible applicants, will receive the unrestricted payments for 24 months. Supervisor Susan Gorin was among those who felt the Springs was underrepresented. But the criteria mandated that only families living in a qualified census tract could qualify for the funding. A census tract is a government designation. Once that was to be the core metric for the monthly income program, it skewed the odds. “The census tracts in the Springs extend up the hill capturing wealthier neighbors, ignoring the needs of those living in the center core.”

The Sonoma Valley Newcomers Club sounds super friendly, right? On March 11, the club will host its first Art Fair – works from 20 talented artists, ceramicists, mixed media artists, jewelry makers, designers, and creatives within the organization. “Creativity abounds in Sonoma,” said Sophia Coyle, club president. ”This is a great opportunity to chat directly  with the artists and discover what makes their creative juices flow.” Open to the public, 10am-4pm, at Krug Event Center, 550 Second St W.


March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day and as you’d expect, Murphy’s Irish Pub will be Ground O’Zero for the occasion. Its alleyway – off the Plaza, First Street East side – will be a sea of green and Guinness, starting at 11:30am. Music from Jon S. Williams and Driven; Shane Beirne; Kerry Daly Band; Lynn O! and friends. It’s a long day, and a Friday to boot. Stay stout!   



One thought on “School site closures; What’s up with Mattson; Staying stout; and more

  1. It’s interesting that a distinction is being made between developer and investor; these seem to be iessentially the same, and both have been roundly vilified in Sonoma for many years… All are “speculators”, right; anyone hoping to gamble and get a windfall is on the same moral ground… it’s just a matter of scale. Since when are developers the good guys in Sonoma?

Comments are closed.

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA