Commentary: The Green Checkmate that blocks housing

“If we face some risks to include essential workers, so be it.”|

The Green Checkmate is a dynamic that supports what I call the Sleepy Hollow Stasis, that nothing should ever change here in Sonoma Valley, that every development project is more appropriate somewhere else. This all to protect self-proclaimed colonial rights to rural and small-town suburban character. Nothing is allowed to push the edge of the city UGB, nothing in any neighborhood, nothing on Donald Street, nothing on Napa Road and Fifth Street East, nothing in Glen Ellen or at Sonoma Developmental Center.

The only places development can go is where the locals are too poor and disorganized to resist, i.e the Springs, which is why the Springs is also an economic Opportunity Zone, otherwise known as a Displacement Zone.

What I am describing here is an entrenched NIMBY pattern that has resulted in serious Valley segregation, which is then all blamed on anything but NIMBYism. Local liberals are equally vulnerable to not being able to see their own hypocrisy.

The Green part of the checkmate is a set of environmental and climate rationales that are cast as absolute truths to which there can be no dispute. Character protection is linked as a logical contingency to this self-asserted truth. Now, vehement fire evacuation and drought rationales have been added to the NIMBY quiver of arrows. Even though Sleepy Hollow Stasis defenders profess support for social equity, the poor and disadvantaged end up getting thrown under the bus.

The end result is segregation and exclusion. Look at the facts on the ground. The county’s redistricting process, Census maps, DAC maps, and Portrait of Sonoma County maps say it all. The wealthy have ensconced themselves in rural, foothills and elite neighborhood areas that are effectively immune from integration on the basis of environmental protection. Protecting the status quo here is the highest value, and done almost exclusively by property owners, not renters.

Property owners have a built-in conflict of interest, by maintaining the Green Checkmate they not only protect character but also their skyrocketing property values. The more elite it gets, the more any property owner can hit the jackpot and cash out. The disease of “speculation” seems to have infiltrated the ranks of local, liberal property owners.

What this all adds up to is to take one of the wealthiest areas in the Bay Area, in an era of great wealth inequality, of national and international migrants and refugees and postulate that any inclusion of these people in Sonoma Valley is just not really possible. “Sorry, we’d like to include more essential workers, people of color and working-class people, but just not in our area of the Valley, put them all in Sonoma.”

Guess what? Sonoma’s sixth cycle Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), reduced to 311 units after the city objected to 440, is all set to not take any extra RHNA, and to not even pursue the goal set out by its own 2019 Housing Our Community series, to produce 750 new units in the sixth cycle city Housing Element, half of these units deed restricted. Sonoma will be no salvation or pressure relief valve to SDC and to the Valley’s housing needs because Sonoma itself is the core of Valley character protectionism.

A current line promulgated by a Glen Ellen-centered cohort asserts that no density at all is appropriate in “rural” areas, that no housing at all should go at SDC. This even if SDC is in an urban service area, one of only 12 in the county. Urban service areas are where development and infill is supposed to go, right? Well, vehicle miles traveled and fire arguments, etc., all say no, in order to properly save the wildlife corridor and save the world from imminent destruction, all development has to go right on Highway 12, on West Napa Street, anything else amounts to “sprawl.”

The Springs will continue to get dumped on with increasing density because there is no government or democracy there to resist. The city will continue to protect Mayberry-like neighborhoods and force all dense infill onto the western Highway 12 corridor. The city’s Broadway Corridor piece of Highway 12 is already off limits as a character — and historic — protected area.

One possible salvation for renters and essential workers is Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing law and a firm hand by Attorney General Rob Bonta to fight various Sleepy Hollow stasises in the state. If Greens and NIMBYs dominate Sonoma Valley land use, those who pay the cost, the poor and the renters, as with climate justice, need help from the adults in the room to force the big kids to share the wealth, opportunities and benefits. This means the most fundamental of rights, to even be able to live somewhere, and not be forced into pockets of poverty on the fringes of Bay Area wealth.

In Sonoma Valley, low-income renters and even renters up to 120-140% average median income need help from Permit Sonoma and Board of Supervisors, to resist NIMBY pressure, break up the Green Checkmate, and force an exclusive area to include the very people who work to make the place livable. The whole Valley needs to be on the table, even SDC. And if we face some risks to include essential workers, so be it.

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