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News: 02/01/2016

SVCAC: A forum for listening, planning

Local representatives look back – and ahead – at the work of a unique group that addresses local iss

Gini and Margaret
Gini Dunlap (left) and Margaret Spaulding (right) represent the North Sonoma Valley on the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission.

Gini Dunlap and Margaret Spaulding are the designated North Valley representatives on the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC), which provides a unique forum for open discussion of development proposals before they are formally launched into the county’s regulatory agencies charged with overseeing the very complex and expensive design and permitting process.

Both Commissioners were appointed last year by Supervisor Susan Gorin and will serve until 2019.

Margaret Spaulding is a retired marketing consultant, a 10-year resident of Glen Ellen, and a former board member of the Greenbelt Alliance and the Sonoma Land Trust. She is active in the California Native Plant Society and loves her dogs and cats.

Virginia “Gini” Dunlap is a retired food service purchaser and art teacher, a board member of the Valley of the Moon Alliance, a volunteer for Edible Schoolyard, an equestrian, and a 20-year resident of Kenwood.

Both of them are committed to addressing the issues that face Sonoma Valley today and are deeply interested in the public process that serves the community. They are aware of the unique position the SVCAC holds in the process of county development. There are almost no equivalent bodies anywhere in California that bring interested parties together to discuss proposed development before getting deeply involved in the process.

It’s not always easy to know just what the job is supposed to be.

Spaulding finds that the discussions about projects are as important, if not more important, than the vote up or down afterwards.

“The SVCAC said ‘yes’ to a project last year, but the discussion was more important,” she said. “The developer actually decided to pull it and came back with a modified plan that was based on what they heard at the meeting.”

A shared concern is how the county looks at development.

“Going project by project, you don’t see the big picture,” Spaulding said. She would like to see the Commission hold a retreat to work out some of the larger issues that are circulating in the Valley, issues like winery events, redevelopment in the Springs area, community separators, and other items that may not be aimed at a specific project, but inherent in a string of them.

Lack of administrative support is a problem for the SVCAC, they noted. Minutes of past meetings are not complete, and there is almost no staff available to try new ideas, like holding regular meetings in other venues, such as at the Springs area or even further west, in Glen Ellen or Kenwood.

Dunlap would like to see the minutes provided in Spanish as well, since many projects brought before the Commission impact heavily Hispanic areas of the Valley.

“We need more outreach to the Springs area,” she said.

Spaulding is a great believer in the county’s General Plan.

“It’s like our bible, our constitution,” she said, “but very few people understand it. You even mention ‘land use issue’ and people go to sleep.” She suggested holding workshops to provide a better understanding of the General Plan, noting that the county will soon start planning for the next General Plan revision in a year or two.

One of the main services of the SVCAC is communicating with our local supervisor, currently Susan Gorin.

“If we take advantage of it, it’s a way to get our supervisor to hear us, whether she wants to come to the meetings or not,” Spaulding said. “This is a forum where we are talking to her. One of the ways Susan has been responsive is that she is at least heeding and concerned with what an organization like SVCAC is doing.”

“In this time of much anger and frustration across the country regarding big government,” Spaulding said, “the SVCAC stands as a forum for civilized debate and discussion and for education in both directions, to and from the public.”

Spaulding and Dunlap voted for the SVCAC’s 2016 officers at the Jan. 27 regular meeting, following a sparsely attended public workshop on winery events (see story on page 1). City of Sonoma representative and real estate agent Angela White was elected chair, Sean Bellach, representing El Verano West, will be co-chair, and Spring East representative Ryan Lely will be the new secretary.

Both commissioners feel that the chair is critical to the smooth working of the group, and both had high prise for outgoing chairman Jack Ding.

“We feel strongly that what Jack brought to the commission this last year was this openness, a sense that this is a forum for the people,” Spaulding said. “He might have his own opinion, and a strong one, but he said over and over again that this was a place where people could come and talk, and speak their minds. You go over three minutes, but it’s OK, it’s important. You represent a community and it’s important to hear you.”

“He was a very fair voice, measured,” Dunlap said. “He really didn’t take sides.”

Dunlap and Spaulding are both pleased that the county Permit Resource and Management Department (PRMD) has been listening to input from the SVCAC and responding to the larger issues that keep cropping up, like winery events, traffic and tasting room concentration. “Now, PRMD is starting to acknowledge those concerns,” Spaulding noted.


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