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Editorial: CSEC Plaza policy is misguided

SONOMAWOOD

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The Sonoma Plaza is considered by many to be hallowed ground, consecrated in the minds of many citizens by the generations of residents and visitors who have found peace and pleasure in its leafy eight acres, never mind that no one is known to be buried there and no ecclesiastical authority has ever, to anyone’s knowledge, bestowed an official blessing.

Nonetheless, it represents the heart and communal soul of the city and its social sanctity is guarded carefully by both official and unofficial caretakers.

Chief among the official caretakers are the nine members of the city’s Community Services and Environment Commission, who are charged with the responsibility to advise the City Council “on matters related to the preservation and enhancement of parks, recreational facilities, open space and the natural environment” and to “review major Plaza use applications,” according to the city website.

The commission is composed of uniformly capable, thoughtful and intelligent people who have the best interests of the Plaza in mind, and we generally respect the fine work they do. Recently, however, the CSEC seems to have taken a left turn down a dubious path of public policy, the logic of which defies our understanding, and the consequences of which, we believe, could be either dangerous or disastrous to the success of two iconic and profoundly important Plaza-related events.

The proposed policy would, among other things, prohibit any kind of sign or banner on the Plaza horseshoe in order to preserve “at all times” an unobstructed view of City Hall, “which is a National Historic Landmark.”

The policy would also prohibit “freestanding finish line delineations for races,” and would ban “event structures” in the Plaza during weekday hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The impetus for the last policy, according to a CSEC memo, “stems from the observation that event structures in the Plaza Park during the week interfere with City Hall business, ”and also to encourage weekday events to use Depot Park instead.

We hope we’re wrong, but the logical interpretation of these policy changes leads to the following conclusions:

The Sonoma International Film Festival, entering its 18th year, would no longer be able to erect a tent on the parking lot behind City Hall to offer festival goers a centralized place to pick up tickets and information, as well as a place to meet, congregate and share the experience during the day between film showings. Instead, the tent would have to be relocated to Depot Park, a move that would dictate either an overly long walk from many film venues, or a significant and environmentally troubling increase in vehicular traffic.

Second, the whimsical, charming and attention-getting “SONOMAWOOD” sign, positioned by high school students on the Plaza horseshoe for just five days, would be banished, depriving the town of a noteworthy announcement of the festival and the opportunity for some fun public art.

Third, the Napa-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon – now one of the most popular foot races in the nation – would not be allowed to erect a free-standing finish line at the mouth of the horseshoe to welcome and record race finishers. That installation is in place less than eight hours.

The race itself has become one of the most popular half-marathons in the country, and literally sells out within minutes of being announced. The event brings 3,500 runners from coast to coast, and thousands of their friends and family members, generating much revenue and good will for Sonoma. A Chicago runner called it, “Probably the best half-marathon in the country.”

But that’s not all the CSEC is proposing. The commission wants to carry the rules a step further by changing city ordinance to “not allow for provisions in the policy for banners or signs on the horseshoe lawn to be considered by the City Council.”

That sounds suspiciously like an unwarranted power grab, diminishing the reach and authority of the elected representatives of the people.

The rationale for all this eludes us. We find the suggestion that erection of the SONOMAWOOD sign, for less than a week, somehow obscures public view of the historic City Hall, weak at best.

And are city employees truly inconvenienced if they can’t park behind City Hall three days a year?

And how does a temporary finish line on the Plaza horseshoe diminish appreciation of the historic Plaza?

With all due respect, we think the CSEC got it badly wrong and the City Council should reject the proposed policy.

  • Chris Scott

    PLEASE, Lord have mercy!!! The time has come for all good men and women to come to the aid of sanity in Sonoma.

    A counter strategy needed given the demonstrated excesses of the CSEC. Proposal; An ordinance, which specifically authorizes, in perpetuity, specific temporary signage used for specific events. etc. (insert appropriate description), etc., I.e., SONOMAWOOD, Marathon Finish Line, etc. The ordinance includes a description (as technical as required to keep the CSEC at bay) of each signage, banner, flag, etc. authorized. The ordinance also includes both the opportunity and means of amending the list of approved signage, either to add or remove as the case may be.

    Such an ordinance would also be advantageous in that it would reduce the CSEC’s workload[sic].

    Without knowing the specifics of the CSEC I also suggest; First; term limits for the CSEC members both on the committee and between terms. Second; a list of those representatives/positions for the composition of the CSEC, i.e., A business owner, sitting city council member, etc.

    It has reached the point that, if there was no flag pole within the grassy oval, a proposal to add a flag pole would be rejected by the CSEC on the grounds it obstructed the view of City Hall.

    • Phineas Worthington

      I like what both of you have written. Welcome to my side of the fence in favor of micro-economic liberty, glad you could join.

  • Jamie Waterman

    “Left turn” is right. This is what happens when liberals take over. They lock down property and keep everyone off in the name of “preservation”.
    Get rid of EVERYONE on this committee and start fresh with people who understand the concept of a town square is for people to gather, recreate, and USE!

    • Phineas Worthington

      Its intellectual elitism. Some animals are more equal than others.

    • David Eichar

      Jamie, I take offense to your saying the proposed restrictions to the Plaza are what happens when liberals take over. I am very liberal, and I agree with David Bolling’s editorial. I also agree that the Plaza is for everyone to enjoy.

      • Jamie Waterman

        David, first let me say that I don’t care if you take offense. The reality is this-liberals like to take away private property rights. That’s just a reality based on their own policies.
        On this one particular case you might agree with Bolling, and that’s fine, but that does not take away from the generality that the left passes law after law against individual private property rights. If you don’t like that about liberals then you might not be as liberal as you think.

  • Chris Petlock

    I am not sure the ordinance goes far enough,
    and I worked very hard to draft changes I thought were fair and balanced
    considering 5+ years serving with the CSEC. Lets start with the Plaza being a
    public park.
    1.20.020 Public plaza.

    The plaza in the city shall be and remain a public plaza forever. (Ord. 6 §
    2, 1884).

    Easy enough, and 1st Amendment to the US Constitution protects
    our rights to freely assemble in public forums. Seems clear to me, except the
    big tent in our park all week requires a Pass or a Ticket, which I didn’t get
    in my civics class, and I am not sure if I am VIP material. “But its just the
    Film Fest for a few days”, and “its just in the parking lot”, right? But what
    about the Red & White Ball organizers roping off the playground &
    entire quadrants of the Plaza & with 6’ cyclone fences around the dance
    floor and having private security officers escort children and families out of
    the playground because “the event is going to start” (really happened! Check
    the CSEC minutes). I am a donator, contributor, advocate & benefactor of
    the cause but did they have to have security guards kick the kids out of the
    playground? Guess they should’ve bought a ticket. It’s not about tents or a
    perfect event plan thrown asunder, it’s about preserving access. No matter
    which way you look at it, how much you minimize it, it is still a Patrons
    Only-VIP Access-Advance Purchase Only-Sold Out-Guy at the Door Checking your
    Credentials-Tent in our park and you can’t go in. How about being creative and
    inclusive? How about figuring out a way to use public resources in a way that
    includes the public? And if it is different rules for different people that’s
    fine too, but I am not smart enough to figure out who gets the exception. Maybe
    some of the armchair quarterbacks can chime in or we can let the event
    organizers decide.

    As for the SONOMAWOOD sign I am surprised CALTRANS or the Sonoma Police did
    not order its removal as a public nuisance. As cools as it is, putting anything
    that distracting, causing that many rubberneckers, and people staggering out
    into the highway (12) taking a picture is just a real concern for safety. Large
    distracting signs and banners on the Horseshoe have real potential for
    liability for our City. Plus your art is my trash or is it the other way, anyway
    its blocking mine and anyone else who care’s view. I think we should be careful
    now of whatever the next joker wants to pass as art or a sign stinking up our
    beautiful town’s pristine and historic view, even for a moment.

    Finally, the ½ Marathon, our special case event every year. 3,500 entrants
    and families all bussed back to Napa as soon as the event is finished. If
    Sonoma really wants their business we should have them run the other way. Wait!…You
    think… they stay here in a Sonoma hotel, wake up bright and early before the
    race, eat breakfast at one our lovely local restaurants, drive to Napa, run the
    ½ marathon, eat their event meal, gather their swag bag, then get on a bus at
    Noon back to Napa, then… drive back to Sonoma to spend all their tourist money; do you
    really think that? This event organizer is the worst offender of the public’s
    resource. Check the CSEC minutes for details; The CSEC Commissioners have spent
    countless volunteer hours to help this event organizer understand the rules and
    what is expected. There is always one isn’t there. This a for profit event organizer
    who consistently and systematically abuses the Plaza, profiteered from public
    resources without giving a nickel back to non-profits as required; till the
    CSEC agreed to not renew unless their was full complacence, and still their is
    not. There are many dignified ways of delineating a finish line, many of which
    do not require a 35’– 60’ blow up arch on the horseshoe creating a public
    nuisance for Highway 12. Again, be creative!

    Make Your Voice Heard, Show Up, Get involved!
    Chris Petlock
    Sonoma Citizen 25+ Years
    Community Services & Environment Commission, Chair

  • Chris Petlock

    I am not sure the ordinance goes far enough,
    and I worked very hard to draft changes I thought were fair and balanced
    considering 5+ years serving with the CSEC. Lets start with the Plaza being a
    public park.
    1.20.020 Public plaza.

    The plaza in the city shall be and remain a public plaza forever. (Ord. 6 §
    2, 1884).

    Easy enough, and 1st Amendment to the US Constitution protects
    our rights to freely assemble in public forums. Seems clear to me, except the
    big tent in our park all week requires a Pass or a Ticket, which I didn’t get
    in my civics class, and I am not sure if I am VIP material. “But its just the
    Film Fest for a few days”, and “its just in the parking lot”, right? But what
    about the Red & White Ball organizers roping off the playground &
    entire quadrants of the Plaza & with 6’ cyclone fences around the dance
    floor and having private security officers escort children and families out of
    the playground because “the event is going to start” (really happened! Check
    the CSEC minutes). I am a donator, contributor, advocate & benefactor of
    the cause but did they have to have security guards kick the kids out of the
    playground? Guess they should’ve bought a ticket. It’s not about tents or a
    perfect event plan thrown asunder, it’s about preserving access. No matter
    which way you look at it, how much you minimize it, it is still a Patrons
    Only-VIP Access-Advance Purchase Only-Sold Out-Guy at the Door Checking your
    Credentials-Tent in our park and you can’t go in. How about being creative and
    inclusive? How about figuring out a way to use public resources in a way that
    includes the public? And if it is different rules for different people that’s
    fine too, but I am not smart enough to figure out who gets the exception. Maybe
    some of the armchair quarterbacks can chime in or we can let the event
    organizers decide.

    As for the SONOMAWOOD sign I am surprised CALTRANS or the Sonoma Police did
    not order its removal as a public nuisance. As cools as it is, putting anything
    that distracting, causing that many rubberneckers, and people staggering out
    into the highway (12) taking a picture is just a real concern for safety. Large
    distracting signs and banners on the Horseshoe have real potential for
    liability for our City. Plus your art is my trash or is it the other way, anyway
    its blocking mine and anyone else who care’s view. I think we should be careful
    now of whatever the next joker wants to pass as art or a sign stinking up our
    beautiful town’s pristine and historic view, even for a moment.

    Finally, the ½ Marathon, our special case event every year. 3,500 entrants
    and families all bussed back to Napa as soon as the event is finished. If
    Sonoma really wants their business we should have them run the other way. Wait!…You
    think… they stay here in a Sonoma hotel, wake up bright and early before the
    race, eat breakfast at one our lovely local restaurants, drive to Napa, run the
    ½ marathon, eat their event meal, gather their swag bag, then get on a bus at
    Noon back to Napa, then… drive back to Sonoma to spend all their tourist money; do you
    really think that? This event organizer is the worst offender of the public’s
    resource. Check the CSEC minutes for details; The CSEC Commissioners have spent
    countless volunteer hours to help this event organizer understand the rules and
    what is expected. There is always one isn’t there. This is a for profit event organizer
    who consistently and systematically abuses the Plaza, profiteered from public
    resources without giving a nickel back to non-profits as required; till the
    CSEC agreed to not renew unless there was full complacence, and still there is
    not. There are many dignified ways of delineating a finish line, many of which
    do not require a 35’– 60’ blow up arch on the horseshoe creating a public
    nuisance for Highway 12. Again, be creative!

    Make Your Voice Heard, Show Up, Get involved!
    Chris Petlock
    Sonoma Citizen 25+ Years
    Community Services & Environment Commission, Chair

    • Chris Petlock

      Even if you read your words a dozen times there is still room for clarity, sorry for the edits.

      If you want to give input on these policies that affect your community; I strongly encourage every one of you to show up, let the city know what you think at council meetings, commission meetings and forums. The most important thing is Sonoma is the community you want, even if it takes a few trys to get your point across.