Charting Sonoma’s future

Whether you’re participating in it or not, there appears to be a conversation taking place about how to best chart the course for Sonoma’s future.

Tourism, tasting rooms and hotels are part of the conversation equation, and so, perhaps, will be trees, especially if the county proceeds as expected with the elimination of numerous oaks along Highway 12 in the Springs. The elimination (some have referred to it as “destruction”) is part of the preparation for the sidewalk improvements along the northern half of the highway.

While removal of some of those trees is no doubt necessary, we think it would have been both thoughtful and wise to invite public response to the tree-cutting plan before it was implemented. At least two substantial oak trees were saved during the first phase of the project along the southern reach of Highway 12 in the Springs, where the new sidewalk was routed around them. County officials report that 31 trees of 6-inch diameter or larger were to be taken out, beginning yesterday (Monday), including 20 oaks and a 72-inch eucalyptus. Some of the oaks are substantial, including two hard up against the wall surrounding the Charter School. We find it a little hard to believe that some accommodation couldn’t be made for some of the condemned trees, now easily identified by the prominent display of a large red letter “X” on each trunk.

Were the tree removal occurring inside Sonoma city limits, there would almost certainly have been a prominent public review and probably some heated objections. We know the arboreal loss will be mitigated with oak plantings in Maxwell Farms Regional Park, but that can’t compensate for the aesthetic and emotional impact of lost trees. We think the county could have done better.

Oak eliminations aside, we’re glad to see swelling interest in the future use of the Sonoma Truck and Auto property on Broadway, a gateway site that could add a whole new dimension to both the cultural and commercial identity of downtown, if enough development creativity can be applied to the site.

Suggestions for some version of the Oxbow Public Market in Napa are particularly appealing (and a bit ironic, given the bashing Napa received from proponents of the hotel imitation measure) and while we can only speculate on the profitability of such a project (Napa’s population is almost 10 times Sonoma’s), The Barlow in Sebastopol is exponentially more ambitious in a city whose population is 25 percent smaller than ours.

And then, of course, there is Healdsburg’s innovative Shed, now receiving rave reviews for its produce, prepared food and foodie classes.

What all three have in common is an entrepreneurial leap of faith, a fresh and unique presentation of highly appealing products, exciting architecture and, apparently, enough financing to make them work.

We don’t see why a similar project couldn’t succeed in Sonoma, which desperately needs an infusion of retail creativity.

We have very few opportunities left to showcase the best qualities of Sonoma Valley in such an appealing site. We’d like to see an aggressive effort by the Sonoma Valley Economic Development Partnership and other Valley business interests to shepherd an outcome for the Truck and Auto property that ensures its highest potential use.