The Challenge


How do we preserve what’s great about Sonoma while adapting to new pressures and solving the chronic problems facing us?


Sonoma Valley faces an uncertain future. Whether we thrive or stagnate depends on our ability to solve complex challenges in our community, economy, and environment. We see an urgent need to align the different parts of the Sonoma Valley community around a shared set of goals and progress indicators. Unless such tools become used at all levels of decision-making, we risk losing the best elements of life in this special place, and we fail to address long-standing systemic problems in our community.

Today’s hot-button issues—the affordability crisis, our rural community character, the wealth and education divide, groundwater depletion, the future of Sonoma Developmental Center, economic diversification, and vacation rentals—are examples of big challenges that threaten our community’s people, environment, and economy

There is a growing disconnect between the scale, interdependence, and complexity of the challenges facing the Valley on the one hand and the current capacities and capabilities of our charitable sector on the other.
— Hidden in Plain Sight, 2017

affordability and community

Housing in Sonoma Valley is unaffordable for most people. Nearly 40% of households in Sonoma Valley spend > 40% of their income on rent. 1 More people who work here are migrant laborers of a new sort, commuting on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis from more affordable locations. Housing availability and affordability is the #1 concern of surveyed local businesses. 2  

The Valley’s population is growing and aging faster than the state as a whole, putting stress on infrastructure and challenging what it means to be a small community. Access to housing is a huge problem that is tied to poverty, the future of jobs, the economy, transportation and the community’s character. So far, this problem is defying solutions. 3

Water, land, and wild places

Local groundwater, our largest source of water, is being depleted rapidly in parts of the valley. 4 Viticulture and wine tourism depend on groundwater, and are the increasingly narrow basis for the economy, making it vulnerable. As water becomes more scarce, there is also an increased fire risk.

About 1,000 new parcels were created since 2005, most with development rights. 5 This means we are at risk of losing the rural character of Sonoma Valley that is so beloved by locals and tourists alike.

As wild places and habitats are threatened, so is biodiversity. Already, 43+ kinds of animals and plants are listed as rare, threatened or endangered in our valley.

poverty, equity, and health

Economic disparity in our small valley is extreme. People in our poorest neighborhoods have, on average, a lower Human Development Index than the state of Mississippi, while people in our richest neighborhoods have a higher Human Development Index than the state of Connecticut. 7 Households in our poorest neighborhoods have median earnings less than $20,000—far less than the poverty threshold in this high-cost region. Poverty is a root cause of physical and mental health problems. 8 

About 5-10% of the people living in the 95476 zip code are undocumented, and at risk of deportation.Currently, the County serves about 20,000 undocumented immigrants, but families have started to withdraw from programs out of fear of deportation. 9

1. Sonoma County Economic Development Board, Community Foundation Sonoma County.
2. Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, 2016 Sonoma Valley Business Survey Summary. Read the full report here
3. Hidden in Plain Sight, 2017
4. Sonoma County Water Agency report to Sonoma Valley Groundwater Management Basin Advisory Panel, 2014.
5. Sonoma Ecology Center analysis of Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department data. 2015. 
6. Portrait of Sonoma County. Sonoma County Department of Health Services. 2014.
7. The California Poverty Measure. PPIC and Stanford. 2013. Learn more here.
8.  Public Policy Institute of California, 2013 estimates. Read the full report here.  
9. The Press Democrat, February 7, 2017 article