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News: 12/01/2018

Housing affordability is top concern among valley residents, report finds

In order to tackle big issue, Sustainable Sonoma must also grow

Sustainable Sonoma listening session in Kenwood
Members of the Sonoma Valley community, including Jo-Anna Partridge, vice president of operations at Kenwood Vineyards (at left) and First District Supervisor Susan Gorin (right) discuss pressing issues at a Sustainable Sonoma listening session in Kenwood last summer.
By any measure, housing affordability was the concern most frequently voiced by hundreds of Sonoma Valley residents who were surveyed over several months through more than 20 in-person “listening sessions” and online surveys by a new coalition of stakeholders known as Sustainable Sonoma.

Concern that Sonoma Valley lacks housing of many types and prices that can be afforded by people who work in the valley, at all income levels, was expressed twice as often as the next most common concern, which was that the valley needs more and better ways of getting around, including public transit, bicycling and walking.

Sustainable Sonoma, first conceived and launched by the Sonoma Ecology Center, is composed of a diverse group of Sonoma Valley stakeholders representing commerce, infrastructure, the environment and social justice, including leaders from local nonprofits, businesses and government agencies. Sustainable Sonoma’s goal is to pool its resources to help tackle the biggest challenges facing Sonoma Valley, including affordable housing. A complete stakeholder list can be seen at

All the feedback, gathered by Sustainable Sonoma between March and October of this year from specific neighborhoods, as well as from Latinos, seniors, business owners, and youth, was analyzed and recently published in a report called Voices of the Valley. Additional priorities expressed by Sonoma Valley residents include the need to protect open space, and the importance of a fair, diverse community that provides access and opportunity for all, including young people.

The full report on the findings is available at

While the listening sessions asked the public to make comments about certain topics, like “children and youth,” “transportation,” or “a healthy community,” concerns about housing showed up across the board in all categories.

“People’s responses during the listening sessions showed that they were connecting housing issues to the other issues facing the Sonoma Valley community,” said Caitlin Cornwall, Sustainable Sonoma’s project director. “For example, half of the responses about housing affordability were made in response to questions about other topics like transportation or the economy or the environment. When people thought about what they want in Sonoma Valley’s future, such as job opportunities for today’s young people, they realized that we need a better housing situation if those young people will be able to stay here as adults.” People made the connection that if they wanted to protect open space, there was a need for additional housing construction inside already-developed areas, or if they wanted locally-owned businesses to thrive, those businesses would need employees who aren’t commuting for punishing amounts of time every day, she said.

The Sustainable Sonoma Council met on Nov. 28 to develop its position on housing affordability, assess leverage points and adopt action priorities for the next year. Those action priorities will be made available in the coming weeks. Some possible next steps include “learning about the landscape of housing initiatives in Sonoma County and the Bay Area, education based on what other, similar communities have done, and developing project criteria,” said Kim Jones, program coordinator for Sustainable Sonoma.

“Changing the affordability of housing is really difficult, so all the interest groups in the valley will need to be pulling together to make this change,” said Cornwall. “For example, many of us in Sonoma Valley hold strong preservationist values, so ‘getting housing right’ means, in some way, maintaining the look and feel of the Sonoma we love. Another example – middle-income people are priced out of Sonoma Valley too, so ‘getting housing right’ needs to avoid a single-minded focus on building –or preserving – a lot of low-income units, and instead aim at a mix of prices. ‘Getting housing right’ also means creating or protecting neighborhoods where Latino and white, young and old, poor and rich, cross paths and connect with each other – this is powerfully important to many of Sonoma Valley’s stakeholders,” said Cornwall.

As Sustainable Sonoma moves to tackle big issues, Cornwall and Jones hope the organization will grow to meet that bigger need, one day standing independently from the Sonoma Ecology Center.

“Sonoma Ecology Center houses and staffs Sustainable Sonoma, but like the problems Sustainable Sonoma is designed to address, one organization cannot succeed alone,” said Jones. “Support from across the community is needed.” Right now donations made during Sustainable Sonoma’s matching grant drive will be doubled by a generous local donor, said Jones. Donations can be made on the website, or made out to Sonoma Ecology Center, designated to Sustainable Sonoma, and mailed to P.O. Box 1486, Eldridge CA, 95431. Donations are tax-deductible.

Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.

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