(By Susan Gorin). Welcome to my new monthly column in the Sonoma Valley Sun. I’m calling it “Board Walk” because I think it is important that I “walk the talk” as your Supervisor. I am launching this column because I found that many people have the same questions. This forum is an ideal avenue to provide updates.
I look forward to writing about issues in the Sonoma Valley you care about the most. I also want to hear from you about issues in your lives and hear your stories. Please let me know if you want an issue or policy highlighted in this column in the future.
The most common question right now is “What is going on in the Springs?” It is such an exciting time, and I am thrilled to report to you on several issues.
Our two-year plan for Phase II of Highway 12 is on target for completion by Winter of 2015. Utility relocations will begin this Fall, thus paving the way for the County to complete roadwork and sidewalk construction during the building season next summer. Tom O’Kane and the staff at the Department of Transportation and Public Works have done a wonderful job navigating a complicated process with CalTrans. I am looking forward to watching families walk their children to school safely on sidewalks and seeing cyclists in the bike lanes.
While Phase II of Highway 12 is a monumental event, it is not the only development coming to the Springs community; indeed, it is entirely possible that in the not too distant future, we will be spending our summer weekends walking (on sidewalks!) to cafes for outdoor dining, parklets to rest and people watch, and even appreciating public art installations that celebrate the diversity of our community and bridge the bifurcation that exists in the valley.
How do we achieve this vision? The most simple answer is together. Revitalizing this community will take the talent, ideas, labor, and love of many, many people working collaboratively. Based upon my work with the people and organizations already working together in The Springs, this future is not only possible, but probable, given the right tools. My role is to provide tools for people to improve their lives and then support their actions.
One important and exciting tool is the $450,000 planning grant I helped obtain this year for the Springs corridor. The Springs is an organic community that developed over time without a cohesive planning process. This element is both wonderful and difficult, because there is no cohesive system for looking at the future of the Springs. This planning grant enables the community to help create a land use model that promotes mixed-use development with a variety of affordable housing opportunities; increase access to alternative transportation modes, including safe pedestrian and bicycle routes; address automobile and bicycle parking needs for residents and area visitors, and enhance the community identity of the Springs area. Critical to the success of the Springs is community input and public engagement. You will hear more about this aspect in upcoming columns.
Another exciting tool is the Façade Improvement Loan Program. Through this program, businesses in the former Springs Redevelopment Area receive forgivable loans of up to $15,000 for exterior improvements. I have worked closely with Juan Hernandez from La Luz, John Haig from the Community Development Commission, and Tennis Wick, Director of PRMD to help designer Rico Martin navigate the process to transform eight businesses along the Highway 12 corridor. To be sure, Martin’s colorful approach is a departure from the current sea of beige exteriors and everyone will notice the paradigm shift.
As a continuation of the County’s Façade Improvement Program and to embrace the Economic Development Board’s (EDB) recent call for increased arts in Sonoma County, in the coming months I will be gathering together groups of artists, art lovers and community organizers to discuss the possibility of forming an Arts District in the Springs.
In the meantime, I am working with PRMD to review the current Vacation Rental Ordinance in order to consider potential modifications. Nearly every day, my office receives calls from residents who are watching as their neighborhoods transition into commercial enterprises. I am concerned by the influx of investors who have purchased properties not as second homes, but instead solely as income-generating vacation rentals in areas that traditionally provide housing for our workforce in the valley. I am hearing how difficult it has become for both employees and employers to stay in the valley. The Springs is a very popular place to invest in vacation rental properties, forcing long-term residents to coexist with people who are here to vacation and all that entails: partying, noise, and late nights. I am concerned about the change in our neighborhood character and effect on community cohesion when several homes in a neighborhood house different occupants every few days. The Board of Supervisors will be considering policy changes in the coming months
Collaborative Partnerships are critical in building community. I enjoy working with the various organizations in the Springs – The Springs Community Alliance, Sonoma Valley Citizen’s Advisory Commission, La Luz Center, the Sonoma Valley Grange, our schools and many County departments to improve the lives of those who live and work here. As we move forward, these relationships will prove invaluable to the success of the Springs. It is also wonderful to work with the Boys & Girls Club, Sonoma Splash, and Nuestra Voz on programs and facilities benefitting valley residents. I look forward to working with many more businesses and nonprofit organizations in the future.
In closing, I love my job because it affords me the opportunity to work alongside the talented hearts and minds in the Sonoma Valley. We must work together – all of us – to improve access to health, education, and affordable housing in the Springs. Let’s focus on a future that celebrates the diverse population while encouraging community pride and cohesion. Envision a Springs that is bright and beautiful, perfect in its imperfections, and showcases the multifaceted personalities who make the Springs a vital and exciting area in the Sonoma Valley.
I am so pleased to announce the appointment of Ryan Lely to the Sonoma Valley Citizen’s Advisory Commission, representing Springs East, the seat vacated by Mark Bramfitt when he became LAFCO Executive Director this spring. Mark will be missed at SVCAC, but I am very confident Ryan will be an excellent commissioner. Congratulations and thank you for serving!
Contact the First District Team with your comments, questions, and ideas:
Supervisor Susan Gorin: Susan.Gorin@sonoma-county.org
District Director, Pat Gilardi: Pat.Gilardi@sonoma-county.org
District Aide, Jennifer Gray: Jennifer.Gray@sonoma-county.org
Website: Susan Gorin 1st District
Upcoming Community Forums:
Driver’s License AB60 Forum
September 11, 2014. Please call 565-2989 for the date and location. Effective January 1, 2015, a new law (AB60) allows drivers licenses, regardless of your resident status, Please join Supervisor Gorin and representatives from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to learn more about the new driver’s license and the application process. Translation services will be provided.
Portrait of Sonoma: A Tale of Two Communities
Wednesday, September 24, 5 to 7 p.m. Sonoma Valley Grange, 18627 Sonoma Highway. Please join Supervisor Gorin and community leaders from Sonoma County for a presentation of the recent “Portrait of Sonoma” report commissioned by the Department of Health Services. Panelists: Jen Lewis, Health Action Program Manager, Sonoma County Department of Health Services; Louann Caromagno, Superintendent of Schools; Juan Hernandez, Executive Director, La Luz Center; and Elizabeth Brown, President and CEO, Community Foundation Sonoma County.