Two town halls, Springs and vets
Two important meetings of major public importance are on the community agenda this week. The first, scheduled for Wednesday, April 13, is the quarterly Springs town hall meeting, to be held at 6:30 p.m. at El Verano Elementary School, 18606 Riverside Drive, preceded by a 6 p.m. reception and tour of the school's garden.
Town Hall meetings are opportunities for citizens to learn more about key resources, activities, issues and events. In a broader sense, they are also an invitation to build a broader, more participatory community.
Numerous representatives of public and private agencies will be on hand Wednesday, including El Verano Principal Maite Iturri, Index-Tribune Food and Wine editor Kathleen Hill with the school's garden project, a representative from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, Steve Cox, chair of the Springs Redevelopment Advisory Committee, FISH Executive Director Rich Hacker, Sonoma Charter School director Paula Hunter and Sonoma Mayor Laurie Gallian.
Then on Friday, April 15, a second town hall meeting will be held at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building, 126 First St. W., at 3:30 p.m. to discuss proposed changes in what the Regional Parks department has referred to as "hours, fees and management."
In truth, the subject matter is a bit more far-reaching and politically-charged than that, at least if the tone of repressed panic voiced by some non-profit groups is any guide.
As we have reported earlier, the Sonoma Valley Veterans building loses, on average, about $100,000 each year. That's an operating deficit the county, which owns the building, can't sustain. To address the red ink flowing from every veterans building in the county, Regional Parks is exploring a variety of strategies for expanding revenues and reducing losses, without compromising the essential community uses the buildings serve.
First District Supervisor Valerie Brown, in conjunction with Regional Parks director Caryl Hart, has kicked in motion an RFP process to solicit proposals for expanded uses and upgrades to the Sonoma vets building. That very fact seems to have ignited fears in Sonoma's extensive nonprofit community that the 20 free-meeting days the city has rights to may evaporate in the process of rethinking uses for the building. Those free days figure importantly in nonprofit budgets for both meetings and fundraisers since there are few alternative spaces available and virtually none that are free.
Friday's meeting will give nonprofits, and others with an interest in uses for the vets building, an opportunity to express concerns and ideas.
The city currently has an agreement with the county extending through 2013 for use of those free days (at an annual cost to the city of $10,000) and there is no indication at this point the RFP would abrogate that commitment. Both Brown and Hart have already made assurances that veterans will not lose their current, free access to the facility.
That concern aside, we hope the public will turn out for the Friday meeting to share more ideas for future uses of the city's largest public meeting space.