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The hole in the Glen Ellen donut


Is it Glen Ellen or Eldridge?

By Tracy Salcedo

“We, the undersigned, wish to convey that we are Glen Ellen residents … For all purposes, we want it understood and acknowledged that we live in Glen Ellen and that ‘Eldridge’ has historically been the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC).”— Excerpt from a petition submitted to Sonoma County officials, planners, and consultants signed by more than 70 people who live in Glen Ellen south of the SDC campus.

Shortly after George Floyd was killed, I began a serious, ongoing reconciliation of my ethnic heritage and how it has shaped me. To start, I wrote a list of labels I have acquired over time, some applied by myself and some by other people. Mexican-Indian and English. Cisgender. Writer, editor, librarian. Creative. Wife. Ex. Independent. Californian. Mother. Human.

I forgot Glen Ellenite.

Labels, for better or worse, help define who we are. They aren’t the only things, of course, and they change over time, some added and some dropping off. I’ve worn the Glen Ellen label long enough now I can’t imagine shedding it. It’s integral.

We moved into our little house on Martin Street, on the south side of the SDC campus, more than 20 years ago. We moved a mile north, to a cottage just above “downtown,” a few years later. Did my hometown change with that move? Some people would argue it did. I moved from Eldridge to Glen Ellen.

Nope. I was a Glen Ellenite all along.

I didn’t realize the neighborhoods on the south side of the SDC campus were sometimes labeled Eldridge until I became active in community work focused on redevelopment of SDC. The almighty Google Maps labels south-side Glen Ellen as Eldridge. The U.S. Census labels it Eldridge. And some of the people defining the future of the former SDC — planners, government officials, consultants — label it Eldridge.

It’s not. Glen Ellen doesn’t have formal boundaries, so being definitive is impossible. But everyone who lives here knows that, despite the campus between, folks on the south side are as much Glen Ellenites as folks on the north side.

As a one-time south-side resident, I raise my voice with the 70-plus south-side residents who set the record straight with their petition. If you live on Martin Street, or Marty, or Madrone, or Sonoma Circle, or even on Glenwood in Rancho Madrone, you live in Glen Ellen. Your children go to Glen Ellen’s Dunbar School. Your mailing address is Glen Ellen, and even if it’s not, you use the Glen Ellen post office, not Eldridge’s or Sonoma’s. Your downtown is the village. You are a Glen Ellenite.

Why is it important to get this question of identity right? Well, first off, it’s just annoying to live in Glen Ellen and be told by someone who isn’t local enough to know better that you don’t. Like somehow you don’t know where you live.

It also diminishes the long-understood and self-determined identities of both Glen Ellen and Eldridge. Eldridge has, for decades, been the institution most lately known as SDC. Eldridge is the hole in the Glen Ellen donut. That’s not to say Glen Ellen isn’t entwined with Eldridge; for more than a century the two have been hitched. This question of who is a Glen Ellenite wouldn’t be an issue if not for the existence of Eldridge as a place with its own identity and its own residents.

More significantly, mislabeling disenfranchises residents of south-side Glen Ellen, who have found themselves in the unenviable position of having to petition the powers-that-be to establish they are Glen Ellenites, no matter the all-powerful Google or other entities. The power of their voice, and our collective voice, is confounded because every conversation must start with the clarification: “No, I’m not from Eldridge. I live in Glen Ellen.” As we, the donut, work to shape the future of Eldridge, the hole, being a Glen Ellenite is important. North and south are unified not only by the label, but also by our interest in making sure SDC’s redevelopment benefits Glen Ellen as much as it does developers and politicians.

Trying to get this right, I’ve engaged in several debates with different groups — county officials, local historians and writers, developers, and other stakeholders active in deciding the ultimate disposition of the SDC campus. My position, having been a homeowner both north and south, carries some clout. Glen Ellen can’t be defined, or divided, by Google, or the census, or the post office, or realtors. The residents decide, and their identity — their self-label — should be honored and codified, not questioned.

My personal connection to south-side and north-side Glen Ellen has become entwined with my reckoning as a person of color who is also white. When I consider what I would want to fill the hole in the Glen Ellen donut— housing, jobs, connections to the wildlands— I consider how I moved from one place to the other. The south side was my gateway. The south side is where young families (Latino and white), and poorer families (Latino and white), might be able to find a home they can afford. People like me. It’s both a springboard and a destination. My move to the north side was not motivated by ambition, or a lack of comfort on the south side. It was born of my inclination to surround myself with as much greenery as possible. The little house I live in now is in a forest that feeds my soul.

That said, I can’t deny that north-side Glen Ellen is whiter and wealthier than south-side Glen Ellen. That’s why the hole — Eldridge — holds so much promise. What happens there can help mend social, economic and ethnic differences, at least on a local level, by incorporating what both north-side and south-side Glen Ellenites cherish: the natural beauty that surrounds us, our willingness to welcome the other, and the passion we feel for the place we call home. That mending, and melding, begins by embracing our variety and honoring who we are, not just how we are labeled.

Tracy Salcedo is an award-winning author who lives in Glen Ellen and writes occasional columns for her hometown newspaper, the Kenwood Press.