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Letters

To the Editor,

I would like to thank Jay Gamel for his work and contributions to our community. I have lived in Kenwood for 25 years. Jay’s commitment to our community has been tireless. He worked behind the scene doing things that people never saw or took for granted. The following is a brief account of how he helped me personally.

Eighteen years ago, I was preparing to speak at the Sonoma County Planning Commission meeting against the giant development that is now underway on Hood Mountain. I was full of emotion and fired up. Jay coached me on how to be heard by the commission. He said, “I love your spirit but you need real talking points.” Jay’s input helped me be far more effective with my presentation.

When Kenwood held a ‘town hall meeting’ during the supervisors’ race some years ago, I was invited to be the moderator. Jay was behind the scenes developing the questions regarding all the important issues impacting Sonoma Valley. Typically, the candidates would get the questions in advance … but not in Kenwood. We wanted to know exactly what they knew about us and how much they cared. Jay was the impetus behind this incredibly successful format and event. He was “the man behind the curtain.”

Finally, exactly at the commencement of one of our famous Kenwood “small town parades,” the public address system failed. As the fire trucks approached the judging stage, without hesitation, Jay jumped up, reconfigured the wires and off we went for another successful event.

Jay, l am so grateful for the value you’ve given to me personally, to my family, and to the community at large, over the decades. Thank you!

Enjoy the next chapter of your life.

Raymond Willmers Kenwood

To the Editor,

The Press Democrat published an excellent editorial on Jan. 21, “Developers Can’t Just Brush Aside Fire Risk Anymore,” concerning a proposed resort in Lake County that was blocked by a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, also joined by the state attorney general.

The decision by the superior court judge stated that the developers had failed to provide a safe evacuation route for the 10,000 existing residents plus the additional 4,070 proposed by the resort. The sole evacuation route was a dead-end road that also did not meet the state’s fire-safe regulations, and the location was in a very high fire zone, an area that burned in 2020. This decision highlights the importance of fire safety in land use planning. Fire breaks, defensible space, structure hardening, and shelter-in-place provisions are important, but they do not replace the need for safe evacuation.

Sonoma County has had three devastating wildfires in the past four years. Yet county officials, including our Board of Supervisors, fail to adhere to basic fire safety in permitting large commercial operations on unsafe roads in high fire risk areas.

Recent project approvals were in remote mountainous areas on narrow roads with only one way out, where evacuation for residents is already unsafe. Many of these areas have recently burned, and roads don’t meet state minimum fire-safe regulations. Why do our county officials not only allow, but encourage, commercial development in unsafe areas?

Sonoma County’s voice was prominent in urging the state to reduce regulations to allow such unsafe development, and such deregulation is now proposed by the state. Wildfire professionals and the state insurance commissioner oppose such deregulation. Meanwhile, the County approves commercial development in violation of State regulations.

The county appears desperate to seek economic expansion at the expense of safety. Why? The cost of wildfires far outweighs any short-term economic gain. Good governance should result from making/ following good laws, not by lawsuits, as was required in Lake County.

Deborah Eppstein Santa Rosa

To the Editor,

I am a resident of Diamond A and a property owner in Glen Ellen, and would like to provide feedback on the various alternatives presented so far for redevelopment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). I find the arguments made by La Luz (https://sonomavalleycollaborative.org/s/La-Luz-Center-SDC-Specific-Plan.pdf) and by the Sonoma Valley Housing Group (https://sonomavalleycollaborative.org/s/SVHG-on-SDC-11-28-21.pdf) to be the most compelling.

It’s certainly clear that there is no consensus on this issue. I do disagree strongly with the notion put forward by the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council (NSVMAC) that the SDC is not suitable as an “urban infill site.” The campus itself, with more than one million square feet of buildings, previously housed “a farm, a dairy and a cannery, a store, restaurant, post office and many other features one would find in a small town.” (www.sonomanews.com/article/opinion/musings-the-once-and-future-eldridge/) It’s revisionist history to deny this activity on the campus. The Arnold Drive corridor in the SDC is in an existing urban service area according to the Census Bureau. Its previous use (public institutional) is a qualified urban use under state law. It has significant utility services, like water, sewer, electricity, and telecommunications, which served a resident population of more than 3,500 and staff of 1,300. I can’t help but interpret the demands by NSVMAC to keep the site intensity at 450 dwelling units an attempt to maintain an exclusionary buffer between the white enclave of central Glen Ellen and the denser and browner areas along Madrone Road and the Springs.

Dense, affordable, multifamily development along the Arnold Drive corridor strikes me as the most reasonable and environmentally sound approach for handling the needs of Sonoma Valley. Many of those who work in Sonoma Valley cannot live here, both because of housing prices and housing availability. As the developer of a dense urban infill, adaptive reuse project in central Glen Ellen, I know it’s feasible to build aesthetically appealing inclusionary affordable housing.

As a call to action, it’s important to understand the impact of the self-imposed constraint on development in Sonoma Valley. In the 1996–97 school year, there were 5,270 students in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD). This has steadily dropped, and was down to 3,950 this past academic year. Families have been priced out of Sonoma Valley, and it’s hard to imagine this not having a follow-on effect on the vibrancy of our community.

Achieving 1,000 dwelling units does not require unnatural density. Maintaining the same million square feet under Sonoma County’s LC zoning would allow for 800,000 residential square feet. At 800 square feet per unit, which is ideal for affordable-by-design construction, these 1,000 units could be created. I believe that this should be the floor, rather than the ceiling, given the dire need for housing in Sonoma Valley and the overcrowding that exists in The Springs.

Stephen Sorkin Sonoma

To the Editor,

#thebearsgottago

Paul Goguen ate this horrible project up hook, line, and sinker. Wow. This a fine example of offensive “artistic” bullying masquerading as something substantial.

It’s only substantial in its size and the ego(s) who moved forward with this silliness. The assumptions we (the public/community) find mediocre “art” palatable is mind-blowing.

“Tedrick’s sculptures are meant to work in harmony with their environments.” Really?

Totally delusional.

Did this go through design review via the county? Was the local community being informed that such a disturbing project was about to be rudely thrust into their realities?

Kenwood: The catch basin of mediocrity.

I’ve heard that phrase more than once and it rings truer every day the longer I live here.

Jeff Covey Kenwood Dear Jeff,

Hooks, lines, or sinkers are rarely ever eaten but rather swallowed, mostly by fish, which grizzly bears love.

I do like the installation. I like the fact that a local business commissioned a local artist to make a piece that we all get to look at, swear at, or write a letter to the newspaper to complain about.

Let’s revisit some of the descriptors in your rant: “horrible, offensive, bullying, silliness, mediocre, mind-blowing, delusional, disturbing, rudely; Kenwood: The catch basin of mediocrity; I’ve heard that phrase more than once and it rings truer every day the longer I live here.”

Wow, I thought Kenwood was a catch-basin of alluvial materials or an alluvial plain, not a “catch basin of mediocrity.” It is an awesome place and I wish that I grew up here.

Paul Goguen

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