Editorial: The parable of the importunate Sonoman
“Each man is afraid of his neighbor’s disapproval,” wrote Mark Twain. “A thing which, to the general run of the human race, is more dreaded than wolves and death.”
Out of that trio, the “Huck Finn” author would have found the wolf pack runs a distant third when it comes to fears in Sonoma, where neighborly disapproval is as common as $16 merlot and polo shirts on Sundays.
While all towns have their share of change-averse residents, Sonoma’s can seem a particularly committed coterie when it comes to holding status quo on their beloved backyards.
Take, for instance, just last month, when Watmaugh Road neighbors threatened legal action against the Sonoma Alliance Church’s nighttime winter homeless shelter. Residents stressed they’re not opposed to the homeless, just the inappropriateness of a shelter at that location. That is, in their neighborhood.
In turn, Sonoma’s neighborhood homeless are no doubt in disapproval of the unsatisfactory conditions provided by their secondary option for sanctuary: the embankment beneath the Watmaugh Bridge, where the natural outdoor plumbing flows freely, but proper insolation is sorely lacking.
Last week’s temporary closing and liquidation sale at the iconic Sonoma Cheese Factory can also be credited to neighborhood disapproval – and we don’t mean over the $9 price tag for a 6-ounce jar of “creamy horseradish dip.” The Cheese Factory’s city-approved proposal last year to stimulate sluggish returns by expanding into a multi-vendor marketplace was appealed by neighboring building owners who, along with other skeptics in the community, argue that a new-and-improved Cheese Factory would be too popular for the already-popular downtown business district. Sonoma resident, and eventual City Council member, Logan Harvey at the time summed the local sentiment up best by saying he, too, would love to patronize such a marketplace, and therefore opposed it.
But Sonoma neighbors don’t merely object to seemingly well-regarded business-development proposals.
Some reject the color wheel, as well.
First, there were vehement protests against hot-pastel paint at ice-cream store entrances – the pink-door-at-Grandma’s Ice Cream shop imbroglio of 2014 – in which the hue “cerise delight” eventually won the day.
And then in 2015 there were the jazzy paint designs of the late-artist Rico Martin, whose vibrant exteriors of a handful of Springs storefronts brought not only life to the drab stucco lining the corridor, but no shortage of wrath from Highway 12 neighbors who blasted the décor for not being properly vetted by, well, Highway 12 neighbors.
And who can forget the blower blowback of 2016, when leaf-blower averse city residents literally fumed over their leaf-blower enamored counterparts -- when in a better world neighbors would have bonded together over their shared disapproval of all untethered leaves neither blown nor raked.
Of course, the Mother of All Neighborhood Disapprovals reared her head just last week – a lawsuit calling for an environmental impact report under guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
That’s what happened when, on Jan. 2, Broadway-area neighbors filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court over their disapproval of a proposal, dubbed the Gateway Project, to build housing and commercial space at the long-suffering eyesore that is the vacant Sonoma Truck & Auto lot at Broadway and MacArthur. The neighbors, who brought legal action under the collective name Friends of the Broadway Corridor, object to the City of Sonoma’s approval of the project without requiring environmental review under CEQA guidelines.