As a growing, dynamic community, Sonoma County constantly evolves. Here's a quick round-up of some recent and upcoming projects.
SMART Train On The Way
Starting in 2017, green and gray two-car trains running on energy-efficient and clean diesel fuel will be smoothly navigating a 43-mile track from the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa to San Rafael in Marin County, with three-car sets operating during peak commute hours. Approved by local voters in 2008, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) trains will stop at 10 stations along the route, and bicycle and pedestrian pathways will be built along portions of the rail line. This 43-mile route is just phase one for SMART; eventually it will operate a 70-mile rail line stretching from Cloverdale in the north end of Sonoma County to the Larkspur ferry terminal in southern Marin County.
County Airport Growth
Business is taking off at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS), which has experienced six straight years of growth (with passenger counts up 20 percent from 2009 to 2015) and recently wrapped up a $55 million runway improvement project. Named for the late Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, who called Sonoma County home for more than 30 years, STS offers easy affordable parking, shorter lines than at other Bay Area airports, good ground transportation, and whimsical Peanuts artwork throughout the airport. Alaska Airlines offers nonstop flights from STS to Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, and Seattle, and the luxurious, members-only Surf Air began offering daily flights out of STS in May 2015.
More (Clean) Power to Us
After just a year of operation, the locally-controlled non-for-profit Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) provides electricity to about 90 percent of Sonoma County's residential and commercial customers, or about 204,000 of the roughly 226,000 total. Started in 2014, SCP was only the second public electricity supplier of its kind to launch in California. Run independently by its participating cities and Sonoma County, SCP supplies cleaner energy by contracting with both traditional and renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower.
Highway 101 Improvements
Originally built from 1954 to 1962, Highway 101 serves as Sonoma County's major north-south artery, carrying commuters, visitors, buses, big rigs, motorcycles, and more, with traffic on the highway just about around the clock. A 1958 traffic study counted 15,000 cars a day using the freeway at College Avenue in Santa Rosa; a 2006 count found more than 125,000 cars a day traveling on the same four-lane freeway. Construction projects aimed at widening and improving this crucial roadway began in 2002, and are predicted to continue through 2018 or 2019. In 2004 voters approved Measure M, creating a 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects; 40 percent of Measure M funding must be spent on Highway 101 improvements. As of June 2015, $136 million of Measure M money has contributed to the $687 million in Highway 101 projects that are in construction or already completed. Most of Highway 101 through Sonoma County has been widened; the main areas that still need work are near Petaluma, at Sonoma County's southern border with Marin County.
Santa Rosa Junior College Facelift
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2018, Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) is poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade existing but aging buildings, build new ones, and install the technology needed to prepare its more than 28,000 students for modern jobs. In addition to its 100+ acre campus in Santa Rosa, SRJC operates a 35-acre satellite campus in Petaluma, the Public Safety Center which trains police officers and firefighters in Windsor, and the 260-acre Shoe Farm home to the school's agriculture, wine, and food programs in Forestville. In 2014 local voters approved a $410 million bond, which will cover about half of the money needed for these modernization projects. Planning is underway, construction is expected to start in 2017, and the work will take about 15 years.
Sonoma County's hotel occupancy and room rates are rising, and a variety of new hotels are scheduled to open their doors in the next few years.
From 2011 to 2014, the average hotel occupancy rate rose from 63.3 percent to 74.3 percent, and the average price for a room increased from $110.70 to $136.64. Several properties are in the works that are expected to add to the county's lodging inventory, attracting more meetings, groups, and tours:
- Graton Casino hotel: A groundbreaking ceremony was held in September 2016 for a 200-room, six-story, $275 million hotel and conference center at the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park. Owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the casino opened in November 2014.
- h3 Guest House: Work is expected to being in late 2015 on the h3 Guest House in Healdsburg, featuring 39 rooms (including six suites), a living green roof, a creek-side swimming pool and garden park, and an upper level indoor-outdoor guest lounge. The new hotel will be next to the existing h2 hotel, owned by the Plaza Hospitality Group, which also owns Hotel Healdsburg.
- The Barlow hotel: Plans for an 80-room boutique hotel in Sebastopol are going through the approval process. Developer Barney Aldridge also developed The Barlow, the a former apple cannery that opened in 2013; it houses 53 stores and businesses in a four-block, 220,000-square foot, $23.8 million food, drink, and arts center.
- Holiday Inn Windsor: This full-service Holiday Inn is currently under construction and expected to open in 2016 with 100 guest rooms, an Italian restaurant, a full bar, and banquet facilities.
- Oxford Suites: This 163-room, eco-friendly hotel is under construction near the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, and is expected to open in late 2016. Facilities will include a conference facility, restaurant and lounge, fitness center, sauna, steam room, and outdoor pool and spa.
Health Care Provider expanding it Services
After years of planning and public hearings, the new Sutter Santa Rosa Medical Center opened in October 2014. Constructed with "green" building methods, this $284 million state-of-the-art hospital offers single-patient rooms with patient-controlled temperature and sound controls and the capability of allowing a family member to spend the night, if needed. The new facility uses electronic health records, and offers advanced imaging technology. Hospital services include intensive care, emergency services, obstetrics, nursery care, level III neonatal intensive care, medical and surgery services, comprehensive cardiac services, supporting ancillary services, and a full range of women's reproductive health services.
Sunset Magazine in Sonoma
Starting in May 2016, the 45-acre public garden, event, and retail space known as Cornerstone Sonoma now includes the test gardens and outdoor kitchens of Sunset, the iconic western lifestyle magazine and website. The move will give Sunset a highly scenic location for editorial photo shoots, advertiser gatherings, and its growing events business, while drawing more attention and visitors to the southern Sonoma Valley. In addition to shops and restaurants, Cornerstone presents an ever-changing gallery of walk-through gardens, showcasing new and innovative designs from the world's finest landscape architects and designers.
By the end of 2015, 16,000 square feet of vacant warehouse space in southern Sonoma County will become a place for local small businesses and entrepreneurs to get the room, professional-grade tools, and expert help they need. The North Bay Makerspace is the vision of the nonprofit group North Bay Made. It's a membership program open to qualified makers and retailers that manufacture, grow, produce or sell quality products in the six-county North Bay region. The goal is help them find new markets and create new jobs.