With a long black ponytail swaying behind her as she walked, a waitress at La Fondita moved through the crowded Roseland restaurant and set two piping hot bowls of seafood soup in front of a pair of hungry patrons. Mariachi music played in the background as diners ate their lunch, sharing conversation and the occasional laugh.
Store manager Ivan Reyes' parents began working in the area more than two decades ago, upgrading from a taco truck to their brick-and-mortar restaurant on Sebastopol Road in 2003. After years of working alongside his parents, Reyes, 25, of northeast Santa Rosa, said the business and neighborhood have become a second home.
“Since we started, we've been in the heart of Roseland,” he said. “This community has given us so much.”
His family's business is one of dozens lining Sebastopol Road, a popular stretch known for its wide selection of late-night Mexican food. During the day, droves of cars and pedestrians travel the artery as families make their way to and from schools and shops.
Despite all the activity, the fast-growing, predominantly Latino neighborhood has long been considered an overlooked area, a former minority-majority county island that has lacked political representation and good roads.
Roseland residents also have complained for years about a lack of transparency, response and accountability by law enforcement - a sentiment underscored by the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy in the nearby Moorland neighborhood in 2013.
They had reason to think change was imminent in November 2017, when Santa Rosa folded the remainder of Roseland into its city limits. It brought in 620 acres - more than double the 300 acres it annexed from Roseland in 1997. With the latest addition came Sonoma County's pledge to pay the city nearly $15 million over 10 years, plus a smaller ongoing “revenue-sharing payment” after that. The money and annexation amounted to promises of more robust public services and heightened community development for the nearly 7,400 Roseland residents adopted into the city.
After joining the city more than a year ago, Roseland's residents and businesses can see some signs of change: Police officers are patrolling the streets instead of sheriff's deputies. New efforts are underway to engage businesses. Road-paving projects are planned for this summer, and new electoral districts have been drawn up to boost Roseland's representation on the Santa Rosa school board and City Council.
But with most neighborhood improvements years out, residents remain skeptical, questioning how substantial planned upgrades will be and how long they will take to be realized.
Annexation took effect as Santa Rosa was in emergency response mode in the wake of the devastating Tubbs fire that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 22 people in October 2017. The fire sucked the air out of efforts in Roseland as the city rushed to aid Coffey Park and Fountaingrove neighborhoods.
Though the city has made some strides in Roseland since late 2017, Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said it's been frustrating to watch the neighborhood slip from the city's focus. He said the city has not been as welcoming to Roseland as he would have liked.
“I'm pretty sure we're not quite there yet,” Schwedhelm said of the city's outreach to Roseland. “Whether it was a promise or not, that's what our plan was: ‘Whatever the rest of the city has, you're going to have that.'”
Among the most immediate changes following the Nov. 1, 2017, annexation was a shift in who fielded 911 calls from Roseland residents, moving the responsibility away from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and CHP to the Santa Rosa Police Department.
“The sheriff's department was dealing with criminal issues, and the CHP was doing traffic issues,” Santa Rosa police Capt. Rainer Navarro said. “We're doing it all.”