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Against is easy – but what are we FOR?

By Sue Simon

“What I don’t want to be when I grow up.” I’ve never heard a child start a conversation like that. Have you?

The kids I spend the most time with – sisters 6- and 10-years-old – have been through at least three fantasy careers over the past year. I’ve been their customer at Sisters Tea Room, drinking mint tea from their backyard mint; at The Rose Salon, where they placed cucumber slices on my eyes so I could rest while they painted my toenails (and then debated whether it was OK to eat the cucumbers after); and, finally at The Nature Shop, where I purchased shells and other beach-collected items with money they had made from construction paper.

Budding-entrepreneurs, those girls.

As an owner of two businesses here in town – Sonoma Dog Camp, going into our 10th year, and HWY 12 Properties, entering our third year, I enjoy seeing their creativity and imagination on display.

I wish our town of Sonoma were more like those girls. Instead, those whose voices register at the highest pitch here seem to be focused doggedly on what they don’t want Sonoma to be or do. They don’t want to be Healdsburg, or Napa, or St. Helena. They don’t want to lose our small-town charm, have too many tasting rooms, have new hotels with more than 25 rooms or attract new business that will increase “pedestrian congestion.” The first time I heard that term I laughed, then choked. Too many pedestrians? What?

Not long ago, I stopped to chat with a supporter of the hotel limitation initiative. She was in charge of the petition-signing stand at the Friday’s farmers market, and was very friendly and engaged in her task.

In our conversation, I mentioned that I was very clear on what her group stands against but very unclear on what they stand for. After a string of phrases about “preserving small town character,” “keeping the scale of our town small,” and so forth, I was still at a loss to understand exactly what vision this group has for our lovely town. Lots of “against,” not much of anything “for.” And, no clear explanation of what “small town character” means to them.

Imagine if, instead, we talked about what we do want Sonoma to be. And, not just talked about it, but got together to make it so.

On my list would be: Safe neighborhoods, a strong sense of community, access to locally-grown food, a vibrant and diverse restaurant and bar scene, access to good health care, an active arts community, an openness to and support for new businesses, pedestrian friendly thoroughfares and smart local officials focused on making a great town even greater. Some of that, we already have; some, not so much.