Santa Rosa, city of great depression

I moved to Santa Rosa around 1990. I was a bit young to notice the specifics of what was happening or why moving there was going to be a problem.

Santa Rosa is an odd result of what happens when a fairly rural area (Sonoma County) acquires an imbalance of trade and political influence. It's a city that worries about everything without ever fixing anything (e.g. sprawl). It has 50,000 or so people and the normal urban problems that entails, without being willing to admit that it's that large or has those problems. It spends a lot of its money subsidizing the construction of golf courses, bluesky law enforcement (there's a good oxymoron) policies, and expensive fountains which then get turned off because someone notices that they violate water-conservation laws.

SR has a particular problem with tension between its age groups (it's ethnically so stratified that racial conflict ought to happen but does not) -- particularly the young, who are subjected to a lot of police and other sorts of harassment for no particularly good reason other than that the older age groups, particularly the 50-65 and 65-death groups, don't like to see them around. Most of the youngest class doesn't vote, and hardly any wield significant monetary influence, so they go largely unrepresented. A good way to get arrested in downtown Santa Rosa is to wear somewhat shabby clothes, have a 2" piece of galvanized pipe in your pocket, and act confused when a cop shows up to give you a hard time.

The Santa Rosa Police Department is probably fairly human as police departments go, but never ceases to annoy with its arrogance and unwarranted aggression. One of the many problems with living in a police state is that the police agencies are utterly unwilling to be shamed or subborned, save possibly to the military. Thus it's almost a political inevitability that their every transgression over civil and personal rights will be swiftly forgiven, first vocally, then politically, then legally. SRPD killed some six people in 1998 -- each time claiming the suspect posed a fatal threat to officers, despite a general lack of evidentiary support for those claims. The district attorney, who has the questionable authority to oversee such matters, exonerated the officers involved ever time. A request for a citizen review board to oversee police conduct was denied.

For a long time, the county seat was located in the town of Sonoma, 15 or so miles east. One day a group of people from SR took some horses, guns and a wagon to Sonoma, made off with the official records (which fit in the wagon -- now they wouldn't fit in a dozen semi trucks), lugged them back here, and announced that SR was now the county seat. This is more or less the same tactic employed today in regional politics.

Santa Rosa has a long history of selling out to corporate developers at the slightest provocation. Most of the periphery of the earlier developed regions are now spattered with indescribably ugly and poorly built prefab houses selling for upwards of $350k, and with comically inept names ("skyhawk," "thunder ridge" and "shade tree grove" spring to mind).

More recently, Santa Rosa has become a sort of broad-scale experiment in bad traffic designs. It has far fewer commuters relative to its quantity of roads -- but they're Santa Rosa commuters, whose idea of "defensive driving" is to drive an SUV, and drive it like someone with a disorder of the inner ear, a hyperactive id, fifteen brain cells and a 40-ounce bottle of something that causes heartburn. SR's planning council, if either of those words may be said to apply, has ideas for efficiency and simplicity that would impress the guys who built Trumpet Winsock. One of their crowning achievements was to approve the construction (by a couple of very wealthy developers) of two huge subdivisions to be accessible entirely by a road intersecting with one of the few nonfreeway roads entering the city. The result is a one-lane three-mile millipede of commuters with a soccer mom yammering into her cellphone at the front, trying to turn her SUV left across a herd of her subdivision-living compatriots.