Hooray for SONOMAWOOD
A lot of the heavy lifting in local government is done by boards and commissions of appointed people who get little fanfare and recognition while devoting often-significant amounts of time to vital municipal functions such as planning, design review, public art and community services.
The decisions of these unelected bodies are most often carefully weighed and wisely reached, and when, perhaps, they’re not, they can be appealed to the City Council, which has ultimate authority over any commission recommendation.
Such was the case recently when the Community Services and Environment Commission (CSEC) went by the book in judging the application for a sign slated for the Sonoma Plaza, and a majority of commissioners turned thumbs down.
The sign in question would more appropriately be described as a work of art, albeit 50-feet-long and 10-feet-high. It was constructed by students at Creekside continuation high school, under the guidance of teacher Walt Williams, who has a special gift for connecting with kids who often need extra incentive to get the most out of their time in class.
That artwork, of course, is the SONOMAWOOD sign that stood (and almost fell) last year in the Plaza horseshoe, as a strategically-placed reminder of the Sonoma International Film Festival unfolding all around it.
The sign became so popular, some people even strayed into the Broadway intersection to take full-frame photos of it, to the occasional annoyance of passing motorists. And, in the course of an unusually high wind and rain storm, some of the letters assumed a significant list.
For those reasons, and the fact that the “sign” did not to conform to Plaza signage rules, was considered “signage/advertising, rather than an artistic statement,” and blocked views of City Hall, the CSEC recommended against approval on the Plaza, suggesting an alternative site be found instead.
The sign had previously been installed in front of the Sonoma Community Center, where it lacked the prominence, the space and the public visibility to appropriately do its job, which is to celebrate the film festival, beginning April 10. Williams offered strong assurances that, if approved this year, SONOMAWOOD will be more securely anchored to the ground. And the majority of the admittedly unscientific feedback we’ve heard from the public enthusiastically embraces the installation.
Missing in the CSEC review was any sense of humor, whimsy or appreciation for the creative ingenuity behind the work, and its positive impact in promoting one of the town’s premier public events. The festival draws thousands of visitors who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars over a five-day period, and being greeted by 10-foot-high letters at the gateway to our community strikes us as a perfect way to welcome them.
We understand that some members of the CSEC may have felt offering approval would overstep the bounds of their jurisdiction, but we would like to have seen some evidence that they appreciated the novelty and playfulness of SONOMAWOOD.
Thankfully, the City Council got it, and their unanimous approval was the right and wise decision.