After the fire
By Rick Hill, for the Valley of the Moon Alliance
Recent fires have severely altered Sonoma Valley. Their aftermath prompts profound humility and reflection. Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA) extends heartfelt appreciation to emergency responders: the thousands from near and far who joined forces to protect so much of what we hold dear. Thank you! To those who suffered loss from the fire, we offer our sympathy and hopes for a successful recovery.
Since its inception in 2002, VOTMA has advocated for the preservation of Sonoma Valley’s rural character, scenic beauty, and sustainable resources. That mission will continue, yet it is clear that we now confront new challenges. Our surrounding environs have been transformed in unimaginable ways. What has not changed is that volunteer groups like ours continue to be among the strongest voices local residents have.
We will continue to address pre-fire concerns about controversial projects in the valley, including The Resort (formerly Sonoma Country Inn), VJB, Kenwood Vineyards’ proposed new tasting room, and Elnoka. We also will be attentive to new challenges that are likely to arise in this post-fire world. We do not intend to obstruct recovery or compliant development or businesses, but projects still require proper oversight and compliance.
Residents need to be able to rebuild their homes and their lives. Businesses need to provide jobs, as well as tax revenues to our county. But there is no reason to sacrifice the beauty and character of this valley. What we seek is a balance that will preserve resources, both natural and scenic. As scars begin to heal, the splendor of our treasured vistas will, too. This healing will energize us to resume our efforts to protect Sonoma Valley from becoming the next Napa.
We routinely hear locals proclaim that we do not want Highway 12 to resemble Highway 29. Ironically, since Napa began scrutinizing events permissions, Sonoma County has emerged as the place for winery events. This will continue to present challenges for many local residents.
Most people lack time or knowledge required to investigate development proposals, attend hearings or file complaints. Projects should not be green-lighted with insufficient review of traffic, water, noise and other environmental impacts. Effective enforcement by the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) is also important. After the 2008 recession, development slowed. The economy has since recovered. Now, the fires’ broad swath of destruction presents new and unexpected hurdles. The county’s planning apparatus will need to keep pace, and it will not be easy.
With respect to traffic, residents of the valley can expect increased congestion on Highway 12 as recovery and rebuilding efforts proceed. That increased congestion is unlikely to be a short-term issue, so it is more important than ever that the county’s traffic studies and project review methodology be updated.
Currently, traffic studies obtained by applicants tend to localize findings, while minimizing the cumulative impacts of developments already in the pipeline. Wine tourism generates an unusual traffic footprint. We’d like to see the Sonoma County Transit Authority refresh its “travel model” by analyzing traffic on Fridays and weekends, instead of limiting itself to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) standard, which is Tuesday through Thursday. VOTMA believes that a clear overview of traffic realities in Sonoma Valley is necessary to prevent daily miles-long backups.
We are striving to maintain balance between commercial prosperity and rural character. To that end, we seek your support, help and input.
Thanks to all who attended VOTMA’s “Preserving Sonoma Valley” event at the Kenwood Plaza Park on Sept. 23, a couple of weeks before the fire. On Nov. 12, a community potluck at the park paid tribute to our firefighters and responders. Both gatherings demonstrated what a terrific community we are privileged to live in, as well as the gratitude we feel for this incredible place we call home.
Please keep in touch via our website VOTMA.org, which provides background information and status of current projects.