Tasting Rooms? How Do We Steer the Ship?
In the 1970s, when the population of Sonoma was less than 5,000, when that of Santa Rosa was about 65,000 and the entire county had a population of less than 240,000, there was a well-organized effort to limit future urban growth by blocking construction of a major water-supply dam. Stop Warm Springs Dam, the logic went, and you stop the water supply. Stop the water supply and growth comes to a screeching halt.
There were a lot of sound reasons to question the wisdom of that dam, at least as it was originally engineered, but putting a stop to growth wasn’t one of them.
That’s because the living organism that is human society tends to flow organically, like water, around, over and through obstacles, always seeking the path of least resistance. Had the dam been stopped, developers would have simply doubled withdrawals from the groundwater stored in the Santa Rosa Plain aquifer, and the population would have continued to grow.
A common part of the conversation unfolding in those days had to do with the concept of carrying capacity and how much civic, industrial, environmental, social, perhaps psychological and certainly physical stress social and biological life could stand before all systems unraveled.
How big was too big before Sonoma County ceased to be, as Luther Burbank said, “the chosen spot of all the earth as far as nature is concerned.” And if this is the chosen spot, who gets to decide when and how to shut the gate?
Some people pointed at San Jose, then the demographic horror story du jour, where the 1970 census had already passed 445,000, subdivisions gobbling pear orchards for breakfast.
Simply speaking, that city’s name was enough to send some people running to the barricades.
But I was a part of that conversation and I don’t remember anyone—me included—ever expressing the opinion that in the long run fighting might be futile if we don’t first put down the guns and explore together what corners and crevices of common ground might exist.
It’s true enough that sometimes, when the wolf is breaking down the door, you have to get out the 12 gauge and blow the beast away. But that’s a short -term solution with short legs.
Civil resistance is a noble tradition and a fundamental part of our national history. But systemic change happens most quickly and painlessly when commonly held values are identified, honored and celebrated. Just look at the outpouring of support for DACA inside the walls of a nation deeply divided. These thoughts emerge in the process of thinking about the growing tasting room debate, which is really just another version of the Warm Springs Dam fight, which led where? Sonoma has 11,000 residents, Santa Rosa has 168,000, and the whole county is now almost 490,000. Hello San Jose.
Meanwhile, threats of legal action float like Molotov cocktails back and forth across the hotel permit net. One new hotel or three won’t do a tenth as much damage to Sonoma’s future as the abject absence of any common agreement about who we are, who we want to be and how.
We may be approaching an event horizon of sorts, and few if any of us even know how to talk about steering the ship.
Perhaps that’s where the conversation should start.
Please enjoy this issue, and let us know your thoughts.
To our future,
David Bolling, Editor and Publisher, Valley of the Moon Magazine
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