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Editorial: A rose, by any other name...

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“What’s in a name?” pondered the titular heroine in “Romeo and Juliet.”

“That which we call rose,” continued Shakespeare’s doomed tween, “by any other name would smell as sweet.”

The maiden Capulet wouldn’t have done well on the Sonoma City Council. Not only did she fail to understand the entangled vagaries of politics – she longed to breed with a Montague for crissakes; it would be like if Sonoma started price-fixing wine with Napa – but she also lacked the proper respect for the preferred naming of inanimate abstractions.

Fortunately, Sonoma’s city leaders aren’t as naïve in the advanced study of onomastics. Or, as they refer to it in linguistic circles, “the naming of stuff.”

That’s been evident this month in multiple city council meetings when the council, at the behest of Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti, has voted to rename both the council position of Mayor Pro Tempore and the erstwhile Community Meeting Room. Agrimonti had suggested that Mayor Pro Tem should instead be titled “Vice Mayor.” And that the Community Meeting Room – that well-trodden space where various civic boards hold regularly scheduled open meetings with the community – should be renamed “Council Chambers.”

Her two arguments rest largely on similar grounds – both alternate terms are more typically used by other cities, and it’s potentially odd or confusing when Sonoma doesn’t follow suit.

To that, she’s spot on. “Vice Mayor” is the more common term for the council member who leads meetings and cuts ribbons in the event the Mayor is indisposed. Of course, Pro Tempore is still the more accurate title, as in Latin it literally means “in place of” – so if city officials favor conformity over accuracy, so be it.

But the more intriguing council nomenclature move, of course, is from the egalitarian “Community Meeting Room” to the Orwellian “COUNCIL CHAMBERS” (caps intended for dramatic effect).

It should be noted that the council meets in this room far less often than the “community,” as members of the public are invited to the space at 177 First St. W. to meet with various commissions and boards far more often than merely the council’s twice- monthly get-togethers. That said, Community Meeting Room is less a name than a description; it’s admittedly a bit uninspired. But there’s a bigger issue going on here.

And it has to do with the fact that I’ve just spent 422 words of a column on the pros and cons of how city leaders wish to refer to a room.

It’s been expected the Council would have a busy 2018, formalizing policies on several issues that had been kicked over from last year – multiple expiring moratoriums and an update of the city general plan, not the least among them.

But it’s two months into a new year and, aside from a pair of Planning Commission appeals that were coming their way no matter what, the council and city staff have spent too much valuable time on, how shall we say… unexpected items: renaming some stuff, reseating commissions that had already been seated, and voting to chop down – and then voting not to chop down – a smelly tree.

Some residents are frustrated; and some on the council are growing frustrated as well. As I wrote to one of those irked council members recently: The 2018 legislation isn’t exactly on par with the Civil Rights Act of ’64. (Though it is comparable to the Ginkgo Rights Act of ’82.)

Meanwhile, the city awaits direction on where the council stands on downtown wine tourism. And cannabis users – some imbibing for pain relief, some simply for enjoyment – await direction on where the council stands on giving adults access to a legal inebriant. (Er, the non-alcoholic one, that is.)

Re-naming rooms and empty titles is fine when the city’s genuine priorities are being tended to – but they shouldn’t be the priorities themselves. There’s too much to do, other non-room-naming crises to curtail. There are longtime residents who can no longer afford to rent a home; there are longtime residents who no longer have a home at all.

On the front page of our Feb. 27 issue, which highlighted the County’s recent single-day head count of Sonoma’s homeless, we featured a photo of a homeless encampment beneath a local bridge – a refuse-bespotted den littered with garbage, makeshift fire pit, camping mat and blanket. While its occupant was astray, his presence lingered, seeping with the stale scent of unwashed human indignity.

Based on their findings, the homeless count researchers determined that only a single person occupied the rank habitat beneath the bridge.

They tallied the unidentified transient simply as “one,” name unknown.

But, then again… what’s in a name?

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.