What do we appreciate in Healdsburg?

“What’s in the way, IS the way,” our beloved longtime Healdsburg yoga teacher, Deb Karish, shared this with our Zoom yoga class in July 2020. As I leaned toward my leg Straight strong and tense, I took this deep and all-important inhale and an even longer exhale. With each yoga class, my ability to bend from my hips, lean on my leg, slowly but surely, has become less strenuous. This concept can be applied figuratively to our town of Healdsburg.

Being an active and engaged citizen, on Democracy Zoom, in the affluent town of Healdsburg makes me think.

What’s in the way, Healdsburg? Why don’t we prioritize habitability over profitability? Why do we continue to see the results of the climate crisis, experiencing extreme floods, wildfires and annual droughts, but miss the message?

Climate action is long overdue. Social inequalities are on the rise.

Losing our local small businesses, declining public school enrollment and the disappearance of middle-class housing, to rent or buy, while insidious, monocultural luxury tourism thrives in a city of fewer than 12,000 people with a thousand, and more to come, hotel rooms: a six thousand dollar hotel room? Five hundred dollars for a single dinner? Hundred dollar bottles of wine?

Sonoma County knows that sales of luxury fractional homes, such as Pacaso, are just one outcome of “successful” luxury marketing. Ironically, the people of our town actually fund this cause! The Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce is awarded an annual contract funded by taxpayer dollars. This year, our city’s taxpayers will award more than $100,000 to create advertisements and attract travel writers to showcase our “small town with world-class charm” to affluent tourists from around the world. They once wrote about Healdsburg as a nice little town to live in, now it’s being advertised as a nice town to visit. Healdsburg often feels like a more inviting place for a wealthy visitor than a full-time resident.

Healdsburg is the result of a myopic view of economic growth. A long-time real estate broker, landowner and “successful” explained it to me: there are three characteristics of economic vitality: 1) scarcity 2) exclusivity and 3) density of construction. The first two are crystal clear, but the last describes the “masterminds” that continue to market superfluous and over-the-top wine “experiments” rooted, not in soil, but in greed and gluttony.

Healdsburg initiated a Housing Element process, again required by the State of California, in January 2022, and is required to “identify and analyze existing and projected housing needs in order to preserve, d ‘improve and develop housing for all economic segments of the community.’ It makes no sense to treat or consider all buildings as equal or even necessary.

As the City of Healdsburg achieves its housing construction goals, the myth persists that we must build McMansions and luxury hotel rooms and cater to the ultra-rich to be prosperous. Absurd. What our city needs is economic diversification, not more low-paying hotel jobs. With our severe water insecurity, the Healdsburg Urban Water Management Plan, another state-mandated plan, was submitted during the restrictive and scary, long, dry summer of last summer. But the plan does not sufficiently take into account the impacts of climate change. Why are we building non-essential housing when we are unsure of our water source from the Upper Russian River?

Healdsburg encourages ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units), but we find that these “grandmother units” are used for pool houses or wine guest weekends, not as rental units for our main -of vital local work. Middle-income workers cannot find rental accommodation or properties for sale in this extreme market of luxury tourism. Unbridled capitalism favors these extremes. Healdsburg is an escalating and expensive real estate market.

The word ecology comes from the Greek etymology: “house of study”. Healdsburg is my home. As much as I encounter obstacles and tremendous opposition in my quest to keep our city livable and inclusive, I see that it is easier to earn money, but it is much more interesting, more engaging to manifest a more Claire.

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