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See the rankings for yourself. Check out the entire Gallup Well-Being Index here.


People like living in Sonoma County. If you doubt it, check-out a new national survey that assesses what makes people feel good about the places they live. In identifying what researchers call the Well-Being Index, the Santa Rosa-Petaluma Metro Area — Sonoma County — ranked 17th out of 189 metro areas in the country.

This is good, right? Well, mostly.

The 2016 Community Well-Being rankings are based on more than 350,000 interviews designed to determine how people respond to questions about five kinds of well-being in their community.

Sonoma County residents believe their community is healthy and has the energy to get things done every day. The county ranked 10th in that category.

Sonoma County residents like where they live, they feel safe and they have pride in their community. The county ranked 18th in that category.

Other scores were, well, OK. When residents were asked if they are able to manage their economic lives to reduce stress and increase security, Sonoma County dropped to 52nd in the rankings. When they were asked if they like what they do each day and whether they are motivated to achieve their goals, Sonoma County ranked 88th. When residents were asked if they have supportive relationships and love in their lives, the county ranked 101st.

If you’re keeping score, three California communities ranked ahead of Sonoma County in the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index: Santa Cruz (3rd), San Luis Obispo (7th) and Santa Barbara (12th).

These kinds of surveys require a certain skepticism. Each arrives with a different methodology, and so outcomes vary. In this case, what other survey asks people if they like what they do every day? Or whether they have love in their lives?

When Santa Cruz was ranked third in the nation and the Silicon Valley was ranked 39th, we can surmise that the survey focused on factors beyond total wealth. (Naples, Florida ranked first.)

For Sonoma County residents, the findings aren’t surprising. What’s not to like, after all, about a place blessed with a mild climate, a beautiful landscape, two great colleges, a philanthropic spirit, good health care and a raft of cultural and economic advantages?

Still, we know a changing world challenges our capacity to sustain the things we value.

Sonoma County, for example, needs a strategy for responding to the economic and social changes associated with an aging population. Will health care and other services be sufficient for a growing population of seniors? As seniors age in place, where will the next generation of workers live?

While we celebrate life in the Wine County, the gap between rich and poor is growing wider. Sonoma County needs to do more to promote housing for the people who live and work here. The current housing shortage is neither humane nor smart.

In Santa Rosa, the ongoing annexation of the Roseland neighborhood needs to proceed apace, expediting the kinds of community services that narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Santa Rosa is either one community, or it isn’t.

No one says it will be easy, but Sonoma County needs to find new ways to promote jobs that pay salaries commensurate with the cost-of-living. In the past, Sonoma County has benefited from its proximity to the tech industries in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. We can hope to renew that connection.

See the rankings for yourself. Check out the entire Gallup Well-Being Index here.

Sonoma County needs to focus on the well-being of its downtowns. What makes a place unique and attractive isn’t a clutter of big-box stores, strip malls and freeways that look like every other town.

Consider downtown Santa Rosa. The reunification of Old Courthouse Square — creating a needed public gathering place — will make the downtown more inviting. But so, too, would additional housing downtown and shelters (and other services) that reduce the number of homeless people.

Finally, Sonoma County needs to repair its crumbling streets and roads, the product of years of neglect and a tax system that disadvantages large, rural counties. Whether the repair work is accelerated likely depends on voters’ willingness to recognize that complaining about the past won’t fix anything. The choice comes down to paying more in taxes, or paying more for auto repairs.

Sonoma County residents can feel proud of where they live, but watch out for self-satisfaction. With changes all around us, success will belong to those communities that keep working to get better.

Now if we can just figure out why people in Santa Cruz feel more loved than we do …

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.