A pink door and a pirate flag seem to have generated more community controversy, contretemps and calumny than any issue since large hotels threatened to swallow Sonoma wholesale. At the same time, perhaps no events of such wondrous whimsy and seeming absurdity have blessed our wine-besotted village since feral chickens swarmed the Plaza and a city manager famously (or apocryphally) tackled a fleeing fowl on First Street East.
Some people are laughing at us, others are laughing with us, and many are wondering why any of the infinitely more important issues worth focusing our attention (and newspaper space) on aren’t permanently displacing cerise delight and the Jolly Roger.
Fair enough. But if there’s any real truth in the ancient homage that you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, Sonoma may be following a back-alley path to the creation of some necessary new policies and a better set of rules and regulations guiding building and planning decisions around town.
The pink door gave us, if nothing more, a better understanding of the power of color, especially in historic context, and sent us looking, perhaps, for some guidelines to better review and judge it.
The pirate flag forced into sharper focus an issue percolating just below the surface of official conversation about a permit review process many business owners feel may be overly complicated, opaque, arbitrary and obtuse.
The Jolly Roger, we’ve been told, has been flying illegally over the front door of Burgers and Vine as a kind of single-finger salute to the frustrating sequence of permit hurdles the restaurant’s owners claim delayed its opening by as much as a year. And, they claim, they’re not alone in the business community with complaints about the building permit process. We can attest to a number of similar stories, although most of those doing the complaining have refused to go on the record about their experiences. Typically, they say, they’re afraid of official reprisal. That reticence has limited our ability to explore the issue, and knowing the high caliber of city staff we also know there are two sides, or more, to this story.
But there’s no question the frustration we’ve heard expressed is deep and real, whatever the truth of its ultimate cause. And for that reason alone, it seems to us this could be a good time to publicly explore the issues behind the lengthy delays in final approvals for a number of projects about which we’ve heard. In the end, business owners might have a better understanding of the potential pitfalls in the planning process, and city officials might gain a clearer understanding of the experiences that can give rise to a pirate flag.
We may, in time, come to thank that divisive door, and that fractious flag, for forcing us to explore and refine some of our planning and permit procedures.