We have much to celebrate around here — a temperate climate, a beautiful landscape, stylish neighborhoods, first-class colleges, the cachet of living in a world-class wine region. People come from all over the world to visit — and we get to live here all the time.
Still, a new profile of life in the Sonoma Valley reminds us that not everyone is enjoying the current prosperity. The report produced by the Sonoma Valley Fund — “Hidden in Plain Sight” — offers a summary that should compel community leaders to think long and hard about the future.
“Stresses are intensifying in several areas — the lack of adequate and affordable housing, increasing poverty, the rapid rise of our senior population and the environmental pressures created by population growth,” the report says.
“Though the charitable sector as a whole is surprisingly large and growing, most nonprofits are relatively small and largely offer programs that were never designed to address this growing complexity,” it continues. “The growing disconnect is amplified by fragmented government responsibilities, since no government entity exists to focus solely on the Valley as a whole, connecting needs with forward-looking solutions.”
This 34-page profile focuses on the 40,000 people who live in the Sonoma Valley, but it also serves to shine a bright light on changes occurring all over Sonoma County.
What we know is that housing is scarce and expensive, and we are creating more jobs that don’t pay a salary commensurate with the cost of living. When you look beyond the fancy homes and the idyllic setting, you find nearly one in five families with children in the Sonoma Valley lives in poverty.
Despite what amounts to full employment, poverty persists because jobs for women and Latinos don’t pay enough to keep pace with the cost of living. Latinos now represents 28 percent of the Sonoma Valley’s population — and 57 percent of the school enrollment.
We’re getting older, too. In the Sonoma Valley, the report says, almost one in four residents is past the age of 65, an increase of 20 percent in just six years.
Meanwhile, despite good intentions, government agencies and nonprofits remain fragmented, leaving them ill-prepared to develop a unified response to shared problems — housing, jobs, the growing rate of poverty, an aging population.
In many ways, the Sonoma Valley findings mirror the 2014 “Portrait of Sonoma County,” which also mapped the growing disparities between rich and poor.
In the Bennett Valley neighborhood of Santa Rosa, for example, the 2014 study found, only 1.2 percent of the residents had incomes below the poverty level. But five miles away in the Roseland neighborhood, 16.5 percent of the residents were living in poverty. One result: A resident of Bennett Valley could expect to live five years longer than a resident of Roseland.
The Sonoma Valley Fund study includes data gathered by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board as well as SVF’s own detailed analysis of the area’s nonprofit community. (Full disclosure: SVF is an affiliate of Community Foundation Sonoma County, where I’ve served on the board of directors.)
The report becomes a blueprint for what’s near and dear to the Sonoma Valley Fund — building the effective capacity of the valley’s nonprofit agencies.