Report outlines disparities among Sonoma County's neighborhoods
A shiny black Acura pulled to the side of West Avenue on a recent morning as the driver bought some $1.50 tamales from a vendor who sets up her portable shop on the sidewalk every day.
"You don't see beat-up cars or junkers in yards," said David Rosas, a Roseland activist and school board member.
Traffic was picking up as students in buses and on foot headed for Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School.
"Kids walk down the street," Rosas said, suggesting that Roseland is much like other Santa Rosa neighborhoods and not a haven for gang members. "The only difference is they're brown."
But there's a social and economic gulf between the Roseland area where Rosas lives and the upscale neighborhood 5 miles to the east, situated between Summerfield Road and Annadel State Park.
The real-world disparity is sharply illustrated in a new report by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, which recently ranked the county's 99 census tracts according to a human development index — a measure of well-being that includes health, education and income factors. The index is expressed on a scale of 0 to 10.
Roseland Creek, located between West Avenue and Stony Point Road south of Sebastopol Road, had the lowest index at 2.79, well below that of Mississippi, the lowest ranked of the 50 states at 3.81.
East Bennett Valley, an affluent, nearly all-white census tract, had the county's top index at 8.47, far above Connecticut, the top-ranked state at 6.17.
Henry Slatoff, a retiree who moved from San Jose to Bennett Valley five years ago, acknowledged the stark differences between this manicured corner of Santa Rosa and neighborhoods across town.
"It's disturbing, but it doesn't surprise me," said Slatoff, 69, who regularly walks his dog from his home to nearby Spring Lake and Howarth parks. "It just illustrates the gap that's around the whole country between the haves and have-nots."
The report, issued two weeks ago and titled "A Portrait of Sonoma County," emerges as the county and the country grapple with what some community and political leaders contend are increasing signs of income inequality and widening disparities in the health and opportunities of U.S. residents.
But quantitative data that could shed light on the issues here and nationwide have been hard to come by.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose district ranges from Roseland Creek to Fetters Springs, with the fourth-lowest index, said the new report was "a long time coming."
"I painfully recognize there are incredible disparities in our community," Gorin said at the May 20 Board of Supervisors meeting. Her district also includes three areas in the top 20 scores.
Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who represents Roseland — which had the three lowest-ranking census tracts — said the county's inequities aren't surprising, but the report "puts it in print."
Noting that May 22 marked the 50th anniversary of former President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" speech calling for an end to poverty and injustice, Carrillo said that some county residents are well off, while others remain at a level of poverty equivalent to 30 years ago.
"Unfortunately, we've seen it grow," Carrillo said, referring to the divide between rich and poor.
Board Chairman David Rabbitt said the report will be "a tool going forward" in planning county policy and programs.