Report on disparities in Sonoma County expected next month

A report out early next month will examine health, education and income data to gauge the well-being of different Sonoma County census tracts and demographic groups.|

When comparing health, education and income, the gap between the highest- and lowest-ranked neighborhoods in Sonoma County has narrowed over the past decade.

Still, white residents earn upwards of $15,000 more than their Latino, Native American and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander counterparts. And, while the general well-being of local Latino, Asian and white residents has improved in that same time frame, the quality of life for Sonoma County’s Black residents has declined.

These preliminary findings, which were compiled by the New York-based social science research nonprofit Measure of America, were initially presented last month to Sonoma County Department of Human Services officials.

The presentation offered a preview of the group’s overall findings, which will be included in the forthcoming 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, which is now set for release Dec. 1.

The report is a condensed and updated version of a 107-page Measure of America analysis that was previously commissioned by Sonoma County in 2014. The new findings will offer a closer look at disparities among the county’s neighborhoods, as well as any inequities that are present along gender, ethnic and racial lines.

To create the report, Measure of America researchers gather government data related to health, education and income to calculate the American Human Development Index of specific census tracts and demographic groups. The index then gauges a population’s well-being and ranks the various elements using a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest.

County leaders use the data to set goals for improvement in order to meet needs and erase discrepancies within the region.

The 2021 report will also include information about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the effects of recent issues and occurrences such as mental health, homelessness and wildfires, Sonoma County Department of Human Services Assistant Director Oscar Chavez said.

The goal of the report is for local governments, nonprofits, philanthropic groups and other institutions to better understand the disparities that exist in Sonoma County, and use that information to guide their priorities and the allocation of resources to those most in need, Chavez said.

“The portrait provides the opportunity to ask the right kind of questions,” Chavez said. “Part of the work moving forward is really to dig deep into the census tracts and ask ourselves, ‘What has happened here that has resulted in more opportunity for these residents?’”

According to its 2014 findings for Sonoma County, the report showed that white and Asian residents, the two groups with the highest median personal earnings, had the highest well-being scores among ethnic groups.

The census tract with the lowest Human Development Index score was Roseland Creek (2.79), located between West Avenue and Stony Point Road south of Sebastopol Road. Residents here had a median household income of $65,781 and were 66% Latino and 30% white, Measure of America found.

East Bennett Valley, which is 5 miles east of Roseland Creek, had the county's top index at 8.47. Its residents had a median household income of $125,922 and were 93% white, according to the 2014 report.

While females in Sonoma County lived four years longer on average and were better educated then their male counterparts, they earned about $8,600 less per year, the 2014 report also showed.

The newest version of the Sonoma County report cost $65,000 and is being funded by several local nonprofits, foundations and businesses — among them the Community Foundation Sonoma County, the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund, Kaiser Permanente Northern California and the Sonoma County Office of Education, county officials say.

The Sonoma County Office of Equity and the Sonoma County Departments of Health Services and Human Services also are supporting Measure of America’s report. They’re doing it through community outreach with local stakeholders, translation services and other resources, Chavez said.

Sonoma County’s Equity Office Director Alegría De La Cruz, who is part of a team of county and community leaders who helped Measure of America develop the report, said the 2021 version will include important qualitative data, or first person accounts, that will help fill in the blanks for communities deemed too small to statistically analyze.

To get that information, the team sent Measure of America names of residents to interview. Those who agreed to participate were paid a stipend, she said.

“We do not want to contribute to the erasure of people who experience institutional marginalization,” De La Cruz added. “What we’ve said is ‘You should make sure you’re talking to people and people’s stories aren’t dismissed as anecdotal.’”

Both Chavez and De La Cruz agreed that one of the report’s strengths will be its ability to turn large amounts of data into digestible pieces of information about Sonoma County.

So far, initial findings from the 2021 information from Measure of America shows East Bennett Valley continues to be the highest-ranking census tract in the county, according to a virtual Oct. 13 county presentation before more than 80 community groups.

The Roseland census tract replaced nearby Roseland Creek, which was the fourth-most improved tract in Sonoma County, as the lowest scoring, county officials said.

The 2021 highest- and lowest-ranked census tracts are separated by 5.27 points in the report, which relies on 2019 American Community Survey data. That number is lightly lower than the 5.68-point gap that previously separated the two, the initial findings showed.

Of goals laid out in the 2014 report’s agenda for action, the county has been able to move the needle on anti-smoking efforts, on-time high school graduation rates and raising earnings, among others, county officials said.

Measure of America could not measure progress on other goals set in 2014, such as improving neighborhood conditions or encouraging residents to adopt healthier behaviors or mending the holes in the safety net for undocumented immigrants, Human Services Department spokeswoman Kristen Font said.

There was also uneven progress on a goal related to making universal preschool a reality.

This issue was identified as a priority in after the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma County report determined that only about half of Sonoma County’s 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschool, with even lower rates existing in the Latino population.

To help boost local preschool enrollment, a mix of public and private organizations contributed more than $1.2 million for the creation of a grant program. The grant, which took effect in 2015, could be used to repair and build preschool facilities serving low-income students at nearly 12 locations, First 5 Sonoma County Executive Director Angie Dillon-Shore said.

First 5 Sonoma County, an organization that funds programs to support the well-being of children from the prenatal period to 5 years of age and one of the groups that helped commission the newest Measure of America report, contributed nearly $600,000 to the effort. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors contributed about half that amount, data provided by Dillon-Shore showed.

Among the projects that were funded by the program was an outdoor playground at the Two Rock Union School District, a new state subsidized preschool. Those funds also paid for the relocation of the Apples and Bananas Preschool to a newly constructed site on the Roseland Elementary campus.

Though the goal of universal preschool in Sonoma County has been further complicated by the Tubbs fire and the coronavirus pandemic, the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma County still made officials aware that there was a problem accessing early childhood education locally, Dillon-Shore said.

“It was a direct catalyst for sure,” Dillon-Shore said. “The Portrait (of Sonoma County) happening really provided that public focus, and political will to be able to bring everybody together.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or On Twitter @nashellytweets.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect publication date for the Portrait of Sonoma County based on outdated information provided by county officials. This story has been updated with the revised date.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   


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