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Quality of life



Issues in brief


Penngrove is a large unincorporated area of Sonoma County. Unincorporated areas fall under the jurisdiction of County officials who are specifically enjoined to protect these historic agricultural lands, green belts and open spaces. By law thay are also supposed to protect our water sources. Unfortunately, these are the very people who give the green light to developers and cash-strapped cities to carve up Penngrove and turn it into urban sprawl.

Unincorporated areas, anywhere in California, have traditionally been thought of as resources that incorporated cities may exploit. The problem is that the 21st century is no longer the 19th century, when this practice began. Today, unincorporated land is actually more valuable than incorporated land. People come to Sonoma County because of the unincorporated areas. They don't come for urban sprawl.

The Penngrove Specific Plan defines Penngrove as 2,700 acres of agricultural land, open spaces and green belts with varied residences. Officials are specifically required to protect these treasures under the guidelines of LAFCO. Incredibly, the voting members of LAFCO have approved urban sprawl that will further reduce the water table, create huge traffic nightmares, and destroy farms, ranches and Penngrove homes.

Two huge problems: traffic and water

The most serious problems are traffic and water; too much traffic and not enough water. These are the two most important problems in all unincorporated areas. Currently, traffic comes to a standstill in Penngrove town every rush hour---that's twice a day. When the little country lanes are not clogged at a standstill, then cars race around at dangerous speeds.

So many cars tear through Penngrove, that it can take some residents a full 15 minutes just to exit their driveways. Adding more traffic to a traffic jam is counterintuitive. Nevertheless, the Planning Department has presented 6 separate proposals that they claim will relieve traffic. But each plan assumes that some roads will be widened, or that new roads will carve up people's properties or that people's properties will be damaged with roundabouts, new freeway ramps or other constructions. Adding roads adds cars. This is a formula known to most all planners around the world. Our county planners, however, intend to bring more cars through Penngrove instead of reducing the traffic jam that's already here.

Most planners will tell you that widening roads or adding new roads to relieve traffic congestion is like buying a larger wardrobe to cure obesity. It is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Solving Penngrove's current traffic congestion, a result of a failed General Plan 20 years ago, suggests that we reduce traffic lanes, not widen them; it implies reducing the speed limit, and taking other measures to ensure that traffic is diverted to the highway where it belongs.

But County Officials have serious plans to "blast" (their word) highways through Penngrove to provide commuter routes for new developments they authorized in Santa Rosa, like Kawana Spring, as well as the proposed development Rohnert Park wants; all 4,500 houses and 5 million square feet of commercial space.

If the County is allowed to get away with this, planners will destroy vast areas of agricultural land and open space and turn it into a polluted, congested, urban sprawl. They could also destroy the irreplaceable groundwater reservoir.


Rohnert Park has reduced the water table by 150 feet in the last 20-25 years. This single city pumps 4 million gallons a day but hydrologists have determined that the maximum amount of water, on average, that can be pumped in one day for the entire area covering Penngrove, Cotati, SSU and Rohnert Park is only 1.6 million gallons a day.

Rohnert Park officials say that we should trust them because they will voluntarily reduce consumption to "only" 2 million gallons a day. Two million gallons a day still greatly exceeds the maximum amount of allowable water to be pumped for all four communities.

Why 1.6 million gallons a day? Because this is the average amount of water that goes back into the ground, per day, during our winter rainy season, a process called "recharge".

Rohnert Park is pumping more water out of the ground than goes into the ground during the recharge process. This is like writing checks when you have no income. One day you will be broke.

By comparison, Petaluma, which has a much larger population, uses 1.8 million gallons a day. Rohnert Park's massive waste of water has so depleted the water table that water under Petaluma could become brackish once again. Saltwater intrusion forced Petaluma to stop pumping ground water way back in the 1950's.

Many wells in the Penngrove-Cotati-Rohnert Park area have gone dry because of Rohnert Park's egregious mismanagement of water resources.

But despite the vanishing water supply, LAFCO approved of Rohnert Park's massive expansion scheme along Petaluma Hill Road. This irresponsible decision guarantees a future catastrophe of gigantic proportions. When Rohnert Park hits bottom, and there is no water; land and housing values will plummet.

Rohnert Park's leaders cheerily claim that they will simply get water elsewhere. They have tried to take water from the Eel River, but the people who live near the Eel River and who use that water sued to keep it. Trying to take water from other people will run into similar resistance.

The Solution

There is only one thing to do: manage our water resources. This means we should immediately launch a Ground Water Management Plan to determine, exactly, how much water is left. We must have serious curbs on water use. We should immediately impose a moratorium on any and all development and growth, at least, until the ground water supplies are recharged and rise back to the levels they were before Rohnert Park depressed them.

Interestingly, officials are required by law to do just that. Read this letter by a Ph.D. geohydrologist warning officials that they appear to be in violation of several state laws.



We do not live in a vacuum in Sonoma County. Serious lack of water is a worldwide phenomenon. In 1995, then World Bank vice president Ismail Serageldin warned: "If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water." Unfortunately, his prediction has already come true in the major watersheds in Africa. Shooting wars have erupted over water because the people there were unable to control population growth and unable to practice water conservation.

A recent Scientific American cover story claimed that severe water shortage would be a worldwide phenomenon. The time to act is immediately. We must reign in profligate users of water. We must monitor all use. We need a plan. If we do not implement a comprehensive Ground Water Management Plan immediately, we can be certain that water rationing will be imposed on us. In other countries, these impositions have been violent.

The Little town

The little village of Penngrove is one of the oldest inhabited places in Sonoma County, California.

The first northern-European immigrant settled here in 1845 (Fredrick J. Starke). G.R. Codding, a name that became synonymous with business in near by Santa Rosa, settled in Penngrove in 1854. A large proportion of the cobblestones that paved old San Francisco and Petaluma came directly from Penngrove.

Today, many of the buildings in Penngrove are original or quite old. The town is one of the few remaining places to preserve the character of early 20th- and late 19th-century Sonoma County. Unfortunately, the town is being destroyed rapidly by urban sprawl and needs protection.

Here's a nice Web page on the history of the Penngrove School.

Penngrove is not just the little town

The last General Plan for Sonoma County contained a large subsection called The Penngrove Specific Plan. The borders of greater Penngrove in this plan describe 2,700 acres of farmland, open space and various residences. This 2,700-acre section was merely the study area that Sonoma County used to make estimates about greater Penngrove. The community north of Roberts Road and to the east of Petaluma Hill Road, known as Canon Manor, is also Penngrove and has been for decades.

The Sonoma County Community Code map will give you an idea of just how much larger than the town Greater Penngrove really is. Here's the map.

The Federal Government, by way of the Post Office, defines Penngrove by the zip code: 94951. Like all of the other definitions of Penngrove, the zip code covers an area much greater than the tiny town; all of which is considered Penngrove.

About seven years ago, to economize, the Penngrove Fire District and the Cotati Fire District combined to form the Rancho Adobe Fire District, which is what we have today. But the Penngrove Fire District is yet another way that Penngrove has been defined.

Why so many Penngroves?

The reason that there are so many different ways to describe Penngrove is that Penngrove is an unincorporated area. Towns and cities that have articles of incorporation also have very clearly defined borders. Incorporated governments are central governments. They raise taxes, pay police departments, fire departments and carry on other urban activities. We don't do any of that and we don't want to.

Penngrove is unincorporated for a very good reason. This is the country. Penngrove is farms and ranches and country houses. In other words, the very things that attract visitors to Sonoma County, the wide open spaces full of wild life and indigenous plants and echoes of the past.

Here's the Problem

Without a city council, without a city attorney, without a huge tax base, our only defenders are Sonoma County officials. The problem is that these are the very people who are allowing our destruction. County Supervisors with the Planning Department and LAFCO act in league with incorporated cities, like Rohnert Park, to treat Penngrove as an exploitable resource.

Rohnert Park, for example, was permitted by LAFCO to extend its "sphere of influence" deep into Penngrove territory. Then, the Rohnert Park City Council voted to "annex" this land. The vote was unilateral and not one person from Penngrove participated in this vote.

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