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The future of Bennett Valley Golf Course raises issues about inequality

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SANTA ROSA, CA – After a tremendous amount of opposition from the surrounding community, The City of Santa Rosa has decided to put a pause on their evaluation of the Bennett Valley Golf Course. Last month, the city made the decision to assess the status of the course in hopes of replacing it with either more recreational space or affordable housing.

After the decision was made, community members from all over Santa Rosa and Sonoma County rallied together to show support for the club, which inevitably led to the project being put on hold.

Mayor of Santa Rosa, Chris Rogers, announced the decision in a Facebook post on March 2nd, stating that he will be putting together a case by case committee of councilmembers, who will review both logistics and public comments, and ultimately make the final decision

On their website, savebennettvalleygolfcourse.com, a statement on the matter says, “This is where the rally cry must be heard. As stewards of this peaceful and happy place, it is now up to us to keep and protect it! It is up to the people of Sonoma County to hold space for the BVGC, not only for the ‘NOW’, but for generations to come.”

However, not everyone in the community is excited about the new decision. Salvador “Pocho” Sanchez, a photographer and self-proclaimed revolutionary, feels like there are much bigger issues in the city that need to be addressed.

“If we’re speaking honestly, f**k golf,” Sanchez said, “I don’t care about the golf course at all. It’s not about the golf course. It’s about the idea of saving material over people.”

Sanchez, who was very vocal about his opposition to the “Save Bennett Valley” movement, took to Facebook to bring awareness to the issues, he said, his community has been struggling with for decades.

“If you would like a history lesson in white privilege look at the two different Santa Rosa’s. West side; we are trying to stop police from killing us, so we are saving ourselves, but in Bennett Valley, they don’t even know who Andy Lopez is. Think about that,” said Sanchez

Andy Lopez was a 13 year old from Santa Rosa who was fatally shot by police in 2013 while holding a toy rifle. He is just one of many people in the area that Sanchez says are victims of this divide.

“These people are more into saving some old golf course that makes no money, than helping families live by nature,” Sanchez said, “Thousands of people would love to live in Bennett Valley and enjoy the schools there, but it’s not about that. It’s about keeping us on our side of the freeway.”

Above all, one of the most important obstacles Santa Rosa is facing is income inequality, which Sanchez says affects not only the physical well-being of the people, but the emotional too. Sanchez’s daughter and her mother live in Sebastopol with other family because it is a more comfortable living situation, and Sanchez claims this is a huge blow to him as a father.

“There’s an extreme intimacy problem going on, with fathers not being able to be with their children because they can’t afford to live in the space that they deserve… I got two damn master degrees and I can’t even afford to live in a home here. It’s just not right.”

According to Data USA, the median household income in Sonoma County is just over $80,000 while the median home value is $655,000. The site also reports that Sonoma has a 10.8% poverty rate.

For now, it looks like the decision to reevaluate the space is on hold, and those who use it are more than ecstatic about the verdict.

“I am excited for what can happen with the community coming together with our leaders to make the BVGC/Galvin Park and the event center a success for years to come,” shared Santa Rosa native and Sonoma State Alumn, Cathy Slack in a Facebook post.

While the wealthier community celebrates the saving of the golf course, Sanchez is looking further ahead, in an attempt to influence the future of the city.

“I’m going to teach my daughter and my friends who will teach their children, through all of my art,” Sanchez said, “We’re going to raise a generation in Santa Rosa that’s going to transform the paradigm, and this place will never be the same.”

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