I grew up in Sebastopol in the 80s and 90s. Sebastopol was, and continues to be, like many idyllic small towns in America, a safe place with a strong sense of community. Neighbors participated in block parties, Ace Hardware was always a sure bet for a league sponsorship, and our ”hippy, nuclear-free zone” politics, much to our amusement, could only be understood and appreciated by those who lived here.
The heart of this town, and the heart of my Sebastopol experience, was my time at Analy High School. Analy was, and continues to be, well-known for its academic excellence, sports and outstanding electives. I participated in the school’s 200+ member marching band and took home long-lasting friendships and a sense of community.
I know my experience at Analy is shared by others. We have an active 4,000-plus member alumni association. At football games alumni can be seen filling the stands. The greatest display of Analy and hometown pride can be seen every spring at our town’s Apple Blossom Parade. This annual tradition brings reunions among friends who seek a dose of nostalgia, as we watch our memories parade in front of us.
We take it for granted, though, that our wonderful hometown will always be here for us and for our children. Sebastopol is as small now as it was then. While new tourist areas like the Barlow have been added, the town has remained remarkably the same. This is one of the main reasons why I moved back here to raise my children alongside my husband, Brian (Analy, Class of ‘94). We have two sons who now attend Analy but not many alumni are as fortunate. Living here is a luxury due to housing costs and other economic factors that have made it nearly impossible for young families to return.
Aging population and the decline of small towns
Like many small towns across America, Sebastopol’s population has remained stagnant and even decreased at times over the last 30 years. This trend is not likely to improve. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that California’s population growth is the slowest in recorded history, due in large part to declining birth rates and economic strains that make it hard to afford to live here.
In Sebastopol, the changing demographics of our population are as important as our population size. In Sonoma County, nearly 25% of the population is over 65 years old, with Sebastopol surely exceeding the county’s average. The yearly drop in enrollment in all schools across west county demonstrates Sebastopol’s changing landscape. While some may welcome a decline in population, economists across America agree that such declines often lead to the demise of a small town all together. Like other communities, Sebastopol cannot thrive without young families. Families bring workers who run our grocery stores, deliver our mail and change our oil. They bring consumers who eat at our restaurants, shop in our stores and buy our produce. Young families play a vital role in the health of our community.
Sebastopol’s solution is strong schools
Other small towns facing the same issues have learned to compensate for the loss by boosting civic energy and engagement. For Sebastopol, our solution is to focus on the success of our schools. Analy’s long-standing history of academic excellence and superior electives have brought alumni, like our family, back to raise their kids here, despite the high cost of living. Thus, if we want our town to survive, we need to capitalize on this well-established resource and focus our civic engagement on our schools.
Measure B is a contribution to your community
For those who cannot be actively involved, supporting a parcel tax measure such as Measure B can be your way to participate in the solution. Measure B is $79 per year parcel tax for the West Sonoma County Union High School District, which includes Analy and El Molino high schools. The proposed parcel tax will be replacing an existing parcel tax set to expire next year.
By voting yes on Measure B, you will be providing vital funding for the high schools’ award-winning art, music, agriculture and drama programming, as well as helping maintain its reputation for academic excellence.
Your return on investment; our alumni give back
By supporting our schools, you are helping to secure the future of our community. Alumni will continue to return to our hometown, like our family did, specifically because of our excellent schools and close community connections.
We are already enjoying the benefits of returning alumni families. These successful alumni are our doctors, our small business owners, and our leaders in the community. Both high schools have several alumni on their faculty, a fact that undoubtedly helps develop a sense of community and hometown pride in the next generation.
Moreover, young alumni families, like mine, are more likely to participate in youth sports, fundraisers, pancake breakfasts and do all the things that make our little town thrive. It is this invested group of parents who you can count on to fill our beloved Apple Blossom Parade.
Without vital funding to our schools, we can expect the reputation of our high schools to decline. With it, families will choose to settle elsewhere, especially when given the option to settle in less expensive towns with better schools. By voting yes on Measure B, you can leave a lasting legacy that will help preserve our small town when it would otherwise be lost to the changing landscape of small town America.
Carmen Sinigiani (Analy, Class of ‘97) is a partner with the law firm of Spaulding McCullough & Tansil. While serving on the boards of Analy’s Boosters and Band Wagon (music boosters), Carmen also is the co-founder and co-chair of the WSCS Community Action Coalition, a group comprised of the area’s supporting parent organizations and foundations, established to save essential electives in our high schools.