Business owners optimistic about future of Santa Rosa’s colorful Roseland district

There is a new buzz in Roseland, which joined the city of Santa Rosa last fall. It comes at a time when large numbers of Latino entrepreneurs are opening businesses in Roseland and around Sonoma County.|

Jordan Velasco and Jorge Alcazar both expect to draw a large array of customers to Roseland to sample their unique? products.

Velasco operates four stores and a delivery service around California, importing such products as mole, chocolates and chapulines, or red-tinted grasshoppers - delicacies from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. With offices in Seaside and Tijuana, Velasco is preparing to open a fifth store of Oaxacan products in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood.

He sees opportunity in Sonoma County, where more than 10 percent of his nearly 5,000 delivery customers reside.

“Every Saturday we deliver in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and San Francisco,” he said via text message.

Alcazar, meanwhile, says his Frozen Art gourmet ice cream shop on Sebastopol Road attracts “tons of tourists” to try such one-of-a-kind flavors as whiskey vanilla bean, maple bacon, Lagunitas beer and merlot chocolate chip. Each summer roughly half his business comes from first-time customers, he said, based on credit and debit card data.

There is a new buzz in Roseland, which officially joined the city of Santa Rosa last fall following years of discussions between city and county officials, merchants and neighbors. Many business people view the annexation to the city as a step forward for their mostly Latino neighborhood of ?7,400 residents. While the community’s needs remain significant, it comes at a time when large numbers of Latino entrepreneurs are opening businesses in Roseland and around the county.

The southwest neighborhood is gaining a reputation as a place to go for good food at affordable prices, Alcazar said. He and other business people now look forward to a major redevelopment project that could give Roseland new housing, a library, food stalls and a public plaza.

“I think it’s really going to make Roseland a spot to go to in Santa Rosa,” he said.

Roseland has long been known as a residential area with a high rate of poverty. The neighborhood’s Roseland School District last year served a student body that was 92 percent Latino and 89 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged. Those rates were double the county’s in both categories.

The Roseland area scored lowest of any county neighborhood on a human development index considering residents’ health, income and education, according to the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma County.

Roseland has “the most vulnerable ZIP code in the county,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the area.

“This community deserves to be invested in,” Hopkins said, noting the need to increase child care and youth programs, among other services.

‘It’s just been very busy lately’

Nonetheless, business activity along the Roseland commercial strip has grown in ways similar to the rest of the county.

Alcazar recalled plenty of vacancies along Sebastopol Road when he opened his ice cream store in 2011 in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Today, he said, most of those spaces are filled with businesses.

Alcazar, a business member of the county’s Economic Development Board, and others pointed to the increased resources available in Spanish during the last few years for those who want to start their own businesses. The Economic Development Board, the Napa and Sonoma Small Business Development Centers and Santa Rosa Junior College’s adult education program now offer an array of free or low-cost classes, workshops and counseling.

“It’s just been very busy lately,” Marcos Suarez, a program manager with the Economic Development Board, said of interest by prospective Latino business owners.

Suarez noted the number of Latino-owned businesses has been steadily rising for years. By 2012, the county had more than 5,000 such businesses, a 24 percent increase in five years. In Roseland, not much has outwardly changed since the fall annexation. City officials said they intend to make millions of dollars of investments in the coming years in roads, parks and other improvements. But last fall’s devastating wildfires may lengthen the time needed to undertake such work.

A center on the horizon

Those upbeat on the area’s future typically point to the largest development planned in the district: the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center, to be located on the Sebastopol Road site of a former shopping center.

The proposal has been envisioned for more than a decade and was purchased in 2011 by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission. It would include an acre of public plaza, up to 175 market-rate and subsidized housing units, a “mercado” market hall featuring small food vendors and a civic building, possibly housing a public library.

Nonprofit developer MidPen Housing of Foster City is planning to seek approvals for the project this spring before the city planning commission. MidPen, which last year opened the 60-unit Fetters Apartments along Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley, may take until late 2019 to design and begin the considerable underground improvements needed for such a project. The plaza might be ready by 2020.

Jan Lindenthal, a MidPen vice president, said the development will transform an underutilized property into a place to live, eat and hold community celebrations.

“Instead of having Cinco de Mayo in a parking lot, it’s going to take place in a beautifully designed plaza,” Lindenthal said.

The development has caught the interest of many Roseland residents, including those curious about opening a food business in the market hall, said Carmen Garcia, vice president and manager at the Exchange Bank’s Dutton Avenue branch. Garcia maintained the project will provide the area’s businesses a shot in the arm.

“That’s going to bring people and that’s what we want,” she said.

Some merchants and residents hope the proposed development also will force the movement of a homeless encampment that has been located in the back of the Roseland Village property for about two years. The fenced encampment, which grew markedly last fall after the city prohibited camping under the Highway 101 underpasses downtown, sits near a playground, which one community leader said now gets little use.

“Personally I don’t feel safe to go there with my kids,” said Elsa Tapia, president of the Community Club of Roseland.

Her 4-year-old group runs exercise classes and last fall took part in fire relief assistance in cooperation with the Mexican consulate, St. Joseph’s Health and the Red Cross.

Tapia said the club is waiting to see whether Roseland Village will simply add traffic to area streets or become a place that current residents regularly enjoy. Neighbors want a plaza, she said, but also the chance to hold gatherings or classes in the future civic building. The library and a children’s program may be housed there, but “will other groups be able to use it?”

Finding the right balance

Finding balance has been one of the aims of city officials who listened to residents during years of community meetings. Jessica Jones, a supervising planner with the city, said residents told her they want to improve Roseland but also keep its existing culture and character.

“They didn’t want to lose that coming into the city of Santa Rosa,” Jones said.

One way the city responded was to change its rules so the food trucks that have long operated in Roseland would continue to be allowed there.

Raissa de la Rosa, Santa Rosa’s economic development manager, said annexation allows the city to partner with a part of town with a clear identity. She called the effort fitting for a city that is the fifth-largest in the Bay Area.

“Any great city has distinct neighborhoods. This is ours,” she said of Roseland, along with downtown, Railroad Square and others.

Roseland merchants said they want to receive the same level of service as other parts of Santa Rosa. But some expect that will take time to happen.

“Whatever help they want to give us, it’s welcome,” said José Navarro, the owner of Sazón Peruvian restaurant on Sebastopol Road.

Navarro recently offered his own touch to liven things up by changing his building’s gray paint to bright yellow, accented with royal blue outdoor table umbrellas. “Let’s get a little happier,” he said of the new colors. “We’re the Latin side of town.”

Looking toward expansion

Even longtime Roseland business people speak of expanding their businesses.

Ignacio Álvarez has long owned Joyería María, a Sebastopol Road fixture where he established not only a jewelry trade business but also a packaging service and a place where people can get a bus ticket to destinations in Mexico.

Álvarez, known in the neighborhood as “Don Nacho,” now has proposed to develop a taco truck park, similar to The Block food truck park in Petaluma. If approved by the city, the site on Sebastopol near Stony Point Road would feature space for a half-dozen taco trucks, plus tables, restrooms and a playground. Álvarez said he’s looking to the future.

“There will be more people here and, when hunger kicks in, people need to eat,” he said. “And if some can’t afford to go to a restaurant in downtown, they can still bring their family, eat a taco or a burrito and be happy.”

Another merchant, Juana Cortes, owner of Chula’s Party Supplies, said she has been growing her business ever since she started selling goods at a Sebastopol flea market 25 years ago.

About 14 years ago Cortes opened Chula’s in a storefront on Sebastopol Road, then three years ago added a nearby store to triple her total space to 6,000 square feet. The two locations sell such goods as clothing for baptisms, first communions and quinceañeras, plus party supplies and flowers. She also rents out tablecloths, tables and chairs.

Cortes said she located in Roseland because it had a good volume of foot and vehicle traffic and a large concentration of Latino-owned businesses.

“I saw a future here,” she said.

Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González and La Prensa Sonoma Community Editor Ricardo Ibarra contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or On Twitter @rdigit.

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