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Survey says: Sonomans name their priorities

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Sustainable water, opportunities for youth, affordable housing, relations with the Latino community and the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center are the five issues that Sonoma residents care most about, according to a survey conducted this spring by the Sonoma Valley Fund.

“While the survey results do not constitute a fully representative view of Valley residents,” said Sonoma Valley Fund president Joshua Rymer in releasing the findings, “they are valuable nonetheless in understanding the concerns and interests of our community.”

Approximately 250 people responded to the survey, which was distributed to those who attended the SVF’s Community Conversation on April 27 at Andrews Hall, and publicized to readers of the Sonoma Index-Tribune and members of the Chamber of Commerce.

The survey was open for respon-ses, and comments throughout the month of May and into early June. The leading concern expressed – rated by over 95 percent of responses as either “most important” or “important” – was creating a sustainable water resource. Concerns about the drought’s impact on groundwater, city and county restrictions on consumer water use, were at high public visibility during that period, which could be a factor in its ranking.

Rymer said the Sonoma Valley Fund plans to use the results of the survey to invite community participation on the top rated issue, sustainable water, which may be the subject of the next Community Conversation to be held later this year.

In addition to ranking concerns from “Most Important” to “Not Very Important” in four stages, respondents were also encouraged to leave open-ended comments about other issues not included in the survey’s 15 categories. Over 100 respondents did provide comments, a significant percentage of the total.

“I’m not sure I know how to summarize the comments,” added Rymer, “beyond saying that they were deep, passionate and represented a lot of caring about the Valley.”

The top “quality of life” issue seemed to be limiting growth, and preserving Sonoma’s small town character, with 10 comments on the topic. “Some large owner of buildings edited a little store of 38 years to put in a Petco!” wrote one respondent. “Honestly it is a loss for everyone to displace that which is truly unique to our community. I still miss that place.”

Multiple comments were also filed on the issues of traffic congestion, vacation rentals and affordable housing. Social issues, too, drew attention from a number of commenters.

“How about addressing the proverbial us and them, the haves and have nots,” asked one. “Take a real look around. I look around and see a ballooning surge of all sorts of building taking place everywhere and yet, most local people can NOT afford to live or even rent here, let alone live and work here.”

At the bottom of respondents’ concerns, with the majority finding them “less important” or “not very important,” were turning Highway 12 into a driver of economic development (55 percent), and creating a place for dogs in Montini Preserve (89 percent).

Yet Rymer was cautious to note that the survey and its results were non-scientific, and weighted toward the responding demographic – largely older (almost 80 percent were age 46 and above), female (62 percent), and well-educated (over 75 percent college graduates or above).

Accordingly, Rymer made it clear that expanding the audience for Sonoma Valley Fund’s community conversations is a priority going forward. “The Fund will continue to gather additional viewpoints on all of the critical issues of the Valley,” he said, “taking the survey to communities and groups that were under-represented at the April meeting or through the online survey.”