LeBARON: Tourists motor by as Santa Rosa ponders its identity issue

  • PC: The memorial garden at Luther Burbank Home and Gardens one of three places designated for small weddings, ceremonies and memorial services.

Is Santa Rosa on the brink of an identity crisis?

That's the question before us today.

Is the image of the North Coast's largest and most important city being submerged in vats of Wine Country mystique?

Is the success of Sonoma County tourism, based largely on the beauty of the vineyards and the enticement to taste their bounty, pushing Santa Rosa toward urban oblivion?

I don't like these conundrums. I don't like writing about them. I don't even like thinking too much about them. As one who has watched this town grow up, the conversation makes me a little sad.

STILL THE QUESTION does arise, as visitors speed past us on the freeway, rushing from one to another of our smaller, more compact, more single-minded neighbors that are currently enjoying more tourist cachet.

It comes up in several contexts — when we talk about the general health of our downtown, about Railroad Square, about the possible (or impossible?) decision to reunite Old Courthouse Square, about the chances of a passage through the Santa Rosa Plaza.

It comes up when friends who live in the hills and valleys around us complain about the parking, the traffic (some of them drive in and out every day for their work, but that, of course, doesn't count); the growth (which is an old, dead issue that lingers, even though Santa Rosa hasn't grown even 2percent in recent years).

It's part of any discussion about Santa Rosa's role in Sonoma County's success as a tourist destination. This is no small matter. Within the city limits we have the Schulz Museum and Burbank Gardens, both of which can draw up to 70,000 visitors a year, and the Sonoma County Museum, which adds another 25,000 to the mix.

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