Sonoma, CA- The Site of the Bear Flag Rebellion

The historic core of Sonoma is what I used for its evaluation. This includes the area half a block north of Spain St., 5th St to the east, Napa/Leveroni to the south, and 5th to the west.

Sonoma was founded originally as a mission in 1823. This was actually the only mission built by Mexico and not Spain. But the mission also served a secular purpose, to fortify Mexican presence north of San Francisco Bay and deter Russian encroachment into the region. Sonoma continues this role for the Mexican government until the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, when American filibusters overthrew the local Mexican government and declared the California Republic, helping to usher in the American Conquest of California. Sonoma was originally the county seat for Sonoma County. But this did not last long as  Santa Rosa quickly took over as the county seat. Sonoma remained small and grew to only 2,000 souls by 1950. Post WW II development picked up and now the City has 11K residents.

The City’s core is still built around the original Sonoma Plaza lined with many restaurants, bars, and local shops housed in attractive historic buildings. Surrounding streets hold many attractive turn of the 20th century homes. Unfortunately due to development restrictions even central Sonoma is low density, in line with a suburb. Open fields and suburban development are located even in the Sonoma core breaking the urban fabric. Sonoma is also very expensive with limited rentals available. Fortunately there are several hundred dedicated affordable units with many of them located in the core.  However, Sonoma relaxes its very restrictive development regulations allowing the community to improve its urban fabric but also help reduce the Bay Area’s overall housing shortage.

Click here to view my Sonoma album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Decent diversity especially generational diversity with around 50% of households as families.
* Good array of walkable schools within or near the historic Sonoma core.
* Several 100 affordable units located in town.
* This appears by all measures to be a very safe community.
* Solid historic housing.
* Very nice historic plaza in the center of town. Several other smaller parks spread through central Sonoma but not a ton.
* Culturally Sonoma does well with many restaurants, bars, cafes, and art galleries. There are also a couple local theaters, several local museums, and a local music venue.
* Retail wise Central Sonoma has a Whole Foods, drug store, Safeway, plenty of boutiques and local stores around the square, plenty of banks antique stores, and home good stores, a couple bookstores, a post office, and a couple of dessert spots. This is also a major hospital and small department store located in town.
* Excellent tree canopy, especially SE of the square. 

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Very low density. Lots of undeveloped plots even in the historic part of Dwtn.
* Generally sidewalks in Sonoma but 1/2 the time not ADA compliment curbs.
* Poor access to Bay area Dwtns. 1 hr. drive to Dwtn San Fran & Oakland with no traffic but not transit access.
* Some bike lanes but not connected to the largest bike system.
* Rentals are pretty limited here but at least a bit more affordable than most California Cities. 1-beds start in the high $1,000s. 2-beds in the low $2,000s, and 3-beds generally in the 3Ks.
* Some “moderate” condos selling btwn 400K-700K. 2-beds sell anywhere btwn 600K-2M depending on size & finish. 3&4 bed anywhere btwn 800K-3.5M.
* Modern in-fill is a very mixed bag. Lots of auto centric commercial and suburban houses mixed in.
* Good urban massing and streetscape around the historic Sonoma Plaza but plenty of surface parking and auto centric businesses along the arterials coming out of dwtn. Lots of vacant lots within the historic core due to restrictive development laws.

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