Thursday, November 09, 2006

Keep Sonoma a Small Town

Beauty gardens hollyhock
Photo: Richard Dale

I was pleased with the results of the recent election, and much to my surprise, I found the election of Aug Sebastiani a bracing delight. I wrote him a congratulatory letter extolling his willingness to say, "I don't know," and the parallel willingness to go find out new information and ideas; praising his eagerness to meet as many people as possible; and lauding his passion about keeping Sonoma a real small town.

To me, this last was a more effective presentation of the Slow Sonoma campaign I was running two years ago, and the strong response I got when I brought this up. One of the nice things about blogs, is you have a record, and in a posting of September 6, 2004 at, here's what I had to say: (For the whole thing, try 4 Campaign Pillars, or for amusement the whole month of September 2004, via Sept 04 Archives.)

"Happiness comes from being in the present and being aware of the world. It also comes from learning how to get out of habits that are producing unhappiness, whether it be an uncomfortable movement, or a harsh time in a relationship, or a life that is too busy. If we are in a rush, we miss happiness.

"Slow down traffic, slow down our minds, let’s pause, breathe, enjoy, live a good life!

"Slow down building. We are putting up too much new housing, too fast, too crammed in tight. Human beings are not meant to live like sardines. Make sure there is some open space around all building projects and lower the allowed rate from 100 units a year to 40-50 units per year.


And I had the all caps thing back then. I think most of us feel that if we keep pushing Sonoma too hard it's going to end up Marin or Carmel, and I think Aug's success is a reminder of how strong and deep that feeling is.

I want to begin to raise a concept that I think can be extremely useful. I'll articulate it more in the future, because I think it's a crucial idea in the whole density debate, and was hinted at in the third paragraph from my September 2004 posting. The concept is this: HALF HIGH DENSITY.

This has been called other places "cluster housing," and what it means is this. You have 3 acres to build on. You don't do A: put 12 really swank places, each with their own little semi-kingdom. You don't do B: cram in 40 units so you've gotten the most use of the land ( and here in Sonoma a bonus of ten so-called "affordable" unit).

Instead you build on half the land, and that includes the parking. So you make however many units you are going to make, 12, or 20, that's the density decision. BUT you leave and landscape the other acre and a half to be gardens and wild, so that there is open space not just out at the edge of town, but right there as part of every development so children can play in a place with trees and mud, and people can go out and putter in a garden or read a book or roll in the grass and it's part of their direct housing experience, not some park way down the way with swings and everything too tidy.

So, this is an idea that could have made every development of the last 10 years far more appealing, and kept Sonoma a small town instead of a suburb, as some of the developments created, or, as a recent letter suggested, a crammed tight city, as the egregious across from the post office place has done.

Think about it and talk to your council people if you agree: half high density, and half: open space, land, trees, freedom to breathe and move and be a real human being.

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