Sonoma Hostile to Working Middle Class
A bittersweet goodbye
by: Amy Amormino Woods
"The enormity of my life situation truly hit home yesterday, when they came to take my car. No, I am not talking about the “repo” man from the bank; rather, it was an 85-foot long tractor-trailer and a sign on the side of the cab reading “Mother of all Haulers.”'
"My car was, in fact, being loaded and shipped off to the East Coast. In 11 days, my family and I will also be loaded onto a plane and shipped back East as well. But unlike our recent visit there, we won’t be coming back."
"After months of debating and bantering back and forth, my husband and I came to the conclusion that we simply cannot, for economic reasons, chose to stay in Sonoma and raise our family. Simply put, it is financially impossible. Well, I shouldn’t make such absolute statements. It’s not impossible, if we believe that an acceptable standard of living for our children is renting an apartment. For us, that’s not okay. "
"So here I am, writing my last column and saying goodbye to the town in which I was born and raised.It is a bittersweet goodbye, because as much as I love Sonoma, as much as I love her people, her mountains and her weather, she has become a hostile and unfriendly environment for people like me: the working, middle class."
"She has become a town that is now somewhat foreign to me. While I used to find Sonoma friendly and laid-back, now I find her exclusive and somewhat snobby. While she used to be the slow, sleepy, one-stoplight town with no fast food, now she is the over-populated, traffic-congested, high-density development town of the future."
"It saddens me deeply, for not only am I saying goodbye to my hometown, but I am also saying goodbye to my grandparents, my father, my three siblings and their children, my best friend since first grade and my countless other wonderful friends and acquaintances. I’m not the only local leaving either. My friends, Dean and Suzy Shouse, who both grew up here, are saying goodbye to family and friends and moving with their two small boys to Fernley, Nev., a town they described to me as “the way Sonoma was 20 years ago.” And they aren’t the only ones."
"Both my sisters now live far north in the more affordable town of Redding. Another friend and her family moved to Middletown, an affordable place to buy a home and still close enough to drive into Sonoma every few weeks. Countless others whom I know have migrated to Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Washington — even Idaho and Montana — just so they could buy homes for their families."
"There is a common denominator among all of us locals who are choosing to get out: We are all regular, working middle-class families who hold down good jobs but nonetheless cannot get ahead because we are not pulling in high-end salaries like so many who live here now. We want more for our children than apartments and condominiums with no yard. We want more than the shoddy schooling that this state tries to pass off as public education."
"We want our children to grow up feeling they are not at the bottom of the barrel because mommy doesn’t drive a Land Rover or a BMW SUV. We want what’s best for our children and their future, as well as for ourselves. Unfortunately for so many of us that means getting out of Sonoma."
"It’s sad, really it is, that so many of us local kids can’t stay and raise our children in the same town in which we were born and raised. I might go so far as to call it socially unjust, but then that sounds like discrimination and pointing the finger. But the sadness of having to leave remains, the bittersweet goodbye remains in the knowledge that this town is no longer playing friendly hostess to those of us who grew up here. Oh, she’s friendly all right, but it’s to the almighty dollar. As money and development increasingly roll into this community, the locals increasingly roll out. So I guess I’ll be rolling out too, in 11 days."
"We will be moving to the south of Boston, where my husband is from and where he will be working at a local Trader Joe’s. We see the move as the right thing to do; if we can afford to buy a house somewhere and live by one of our families, then that is where we should go. Of course, the weather is less than thrilling and culturally I feel they are about 20 years behind the times. (Example: When I lived there four years ago, I went into a Dunkin’ Donuts, which I absolutely hate, and asked them if they had soy milk with which to make me a soy latte. The teenage girl behind the counter looked at me blankly and then asked me if that was baby formula (TRUE STORY)."
"So it’s safe to say that my heart will always be for Sonoma, but not the Sonoma of today. I will remember the Sonoma of my childhood, the late ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. I will remember my grandpa’s shop, Les’ Auto Parts, on First Street West."
"I will remember the Happy Dog and Moosetta’s Piroshkis. I will remember swimming at the Golf Course and Aqua Caliente swimming pools. I will remember the Dragon’s Pit, the eucalyptus trees on Broadway and the minestrone soup at the old El Dorado restaurant. I will remember the old French Bakery, movies at Sebastiani Theatre and Valley Mart. I will remember the old duck pond, drinking beer in Mission Highlands, and the Old Sonoma Creamery. I will remember, more than anything else, my family and I will miss them like no other."
"I wish I could stay in Sonoma, I really do, but we just can’t hack it anymore. We’ve been beaten down and discouraged by the inflated economy and housing prices for long enough that I am anxious to say goodbye and get to a better place for my quickly expanding family. I’m a dying breed; a bona fide, born and raised Sonoma local."
"We are a disappearing group, and once we’ve gone the way of the dodo, I’m afraid that Sonoma, the small, European-esque town that has always charmed visitors with its local color and character, will be gone, too. I guess I’ll just have to come back from time to time to test whether or not my theory is actually correct. As the strains of “Another one bites the dust” play in the background, this is Amy Amormino Woods signing off. Goodbye California. Goodbye Sonoma. Goodbye."