Rollie Atkinson Column Photo

Rollie Atkinson

Spring is springing all over Sonoma County this week, with its official arrival set for next Monday, March 20. Someone forgot to tell the yellow daffodils, wild mustard and snow white shooting stars which have been blooming for weeks now. With the muddy vineyards and orchards now drying a bit, farmers and their workers are racing to complete pruning chores ahead of the swelling sap ready to push out green bulbs and shoots.

The spring season is supposed to be greeted as days of new growth, welcoming weather and rekindled hope. So pardon us if we offer different perspectives, a “pause for the cause,” if you will.

After all, it might be sunny and balmy here but other parts of the country, from Chicago to New England, this week are getting buried under blizzards. All to say, spring can be a very relative condition based on geography, weather patterns and even by a person’s moods, emotions and economic outlook.

It’s not usually described this way, but spring might be another one of those “glass half empty, half full” propositions. Trust us, it’s not easy to feel brightened with new hopes while you’re shoveling heavy snow, no matter what date the calendar reads.

Back here in Sonoma County we are all rejoicing in the end of our drought — unless you now live at the end of a washed-out lane or county road. Farmers are enthused by their replenished water tables, too — unless it’s still too wet to drive a tractor through the vineyard.

Economics, no matter the change of seasons can be very relative also. County housing values are stable once again and growing modestly this spring. That’s good news for homeowners, not so good news for renters or wannabe owners.

All winter here the unemployment rate stayed low and almost everyone who wanted a job should have been able to find one. But the California minimum wage is $10.50 — only $21,840 a year, which makes a working couple eligible for federal food stamps.

Springtime will bring busier and more colorful farmers’ markets, but the new season will do very little to lower Sonoma County’s startling rate of poverty where 60,000 of our neighbors get fed at local food banks and charity shelters. (At least spring offers fewer cold nights for our homeless.)

All winter, besides measuring the record rainfall, many of us also were engaged in community conversations about affordable housing. We didn’t come up with any great solutions but we did answer one basic truth about Sonoma County’s very high cost of housing. That answer is we now know it will take many more springs full of more than just hope and good intentions to make more housing more affordable to more people. And, since this is spring, isn’t it the season for new construction? And a good time for NIMBYs to go into hibernation?

Spring also brings us another Easter (April 16), a tax filing deadline, the final months of the school year, March Madness basketball and a brand new baseball season (hallelujah.)

Speaking of schools, March is also when local schools must announce teacher layoffs for the coming year. The not-so-bad news this March is that teacher pink slips are way down from recent years. But that is not to say local school budgets are blooming. Let’s just say the local budgets are both “half-full and half-empty.”

The arrival of spring has often inspired poetry and song, odes to youth, renewal and play. This may not be one of those springs, at least not for everyone. But it is just beginning, so we have time to make the very best of it.


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