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10-15 Ways (Maps) to Look at Sonoma County

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

As of today, I’m two months into my second year as a GrizzlyCorps fellow, and second year living in Sonoma County. In my blog post last year, I explored what it means to be from a place. If you don’t grow up in a place (me in Sonoma County), what does creating a relationship with a new place look like? And what kind of relationship do you create when you work with the land? I read the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County study to get a snapshot of the place I’d just moved to.

This year, I want to use this blog post again as an opportunity to learn more about the place I’m living, this time through what I found to be the most interesting maps of Sonoma County.

1. Laguna de Santa Rosa Historical Ecology map (1942, 2013) (San Francisco Estuary Institute)

I work in the Laguna de Santa Rosa area (on the Santa Rosa/Sebastopol border) one day a week, collecting seed from wild milkweed populations and distributing fully grown plants at the Laguna Foundation Nursery to support Monarch butterfly habitat. Though the area lies within the Gold Ridge RCD’s district, the Laguna Foundation does so much restoration work and research that they basically handle projects in that area. From 1942 to 2013, you can notice the additions of the Sebastopol and Santa Rosa Golf Courses, the consolidation of the laguna into the Delta Pond, and a few channels consolidated into one main one.

2. Hoodmaps (top: Sebastopol, bottom: Santa Rosa)

Hoodmaps was created by a dude in Amsterdam who was frustrated by not being able to find the non-touristy scenes when traveling. Kind of like Wikipedia but a map, people can submit observations for various neighborhoods and businesses. Hoodmaps has been criticized for its desire to generalize everything (every tract is marked as offices, rich, hip, tourists, students, or normies) and the racialized bias that can intersect with people marking places “sketchy,” or “hip” - for example, notice Roseland is labeled as “poor Hispanic neighborhood” in Santa Rosa, the second Hoodmap. I think Hoodmaps is entertaining as long as you keep that bias in mind, and like Wikpedia, aren’t taking what you read as truth. It’s a good reminder that all maps have some sort of objective or bias.

When people that don’t live in Sonoma County hear “Sonoma County,” many think of wine. Let’s see what wine regions the Gold Ridge RCD is working in: Green Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, and West Sonoma Coast. The Gold Ridge RCD office is actually at an old house on the Dutton Ranch property which makes wine, and is also home to an apple orchard.

4. Lands at Risk for Development (The Greenbelt Alliance)

Speaking of wine, I’ve heard many locals sigh at the slow loss of fruit orchards in Sebastopol being turned over to vineyards, like much of the rest of the county. Besides a transition to vineyards, Sonoma County has been experiencing a transition to a more and more urban space. After lockdown, with so many jobs going online, more people have moved from the denser San Francisco or East Bay area to the North Bay and beyond for a quieter, slower pace of life with more access to wild spaces and less population density. (That thought is only from observation, not from a study.) Here are lands at risk for development in Sonoma County, according to the Greenbelt Alliance.

Development in Sonoma County is particularly interesting in light of increasing wildfires. The area I live in now, in northeastern Santa Rosa, was completely burned down in the Tubbs Fire of 2017. Many lots around us are empty or under construction, so we only got one tricker treater this year. Notice much of the Gold Ridge district is red, in Tier 3, the highest fire risk.

Here’s a bonus storymap of Significant Fires in Sonoma County, through a collaboration with the EPA, NASA, California State Parks, and more.

6. Change in Racial Segregation (The Other & Belonging Institute)

Speaking of development and change, I found a map created by the Other & Belonging Institute mapping the change in racial segregation in the Bay Area. I noticed that western Sonoma County has generally been increasing in diversity in the last 10 years, while there’s no clear pattern for Santa Rosa.

7. Racial Segregation in the Bay Area (Other & Belonging Institute)

But that’s just change in racial segregation in the past ten years - what does racial segregation look like in the North Bay? You’ll notice below that west county is still highly segregated, though according to the map above it’s diversified more in the last decade. Larger municipalities like Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose are diverse when you zoom out, but have segregated neighborhoods when you zoom in, due to people of color historically being restricted from some neighborhoods. Movement of white families back into these places in the past 20 years has led to increased diversity for the region, but not necessarily more integrated neighborhoods.

8. Households Below 200% of the Poverty Level (Portrait of Sonoma County)

As I looked at Sonoma County in comparison to the greater Bay Area, I wanted to zoom in a little closer. This map shows the percentage of households below 200% of the poverty level. The study found that these rates vary significantly by ethnicity, and Hispanic residents experience poverty overall at a 20% higher rate than white and Asian residents.

9. Human Development Index (Portrait of Sonoma County)

Mapping Human Development Index by neighborhood goes beyond wealth to measure health and education, and gives a more in depth picture of the county.

10. Native Territories (

Most importantly, I wanted to end with a map of native territories in the North Bay. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District lies in southern Pomo, coast Miwok, and Kashaya territory. Today, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, “a restored tribe serving Marin and Sonoma Counties,” live on this land and work to pursue and restore the natural environment and native culture. The Olamentko people (also called the Bodega Miwok) traditionally lived in the area of Bodega Bay, where the Gold Ridge RCD does much of its work with larger landowners, such as dairies.

Bonus Maps without Commentary

11. Bikeways (Permit Sonoma)

12. Forests of Sonoma County (Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District)

13. Landscape Resilience (Bay Area Lands)

14. Russian River Map found in the Gold Ridge RCD Office

15. Not a map, but relating to land: the Cultural Conservancy successfully raised enough money to buy 7.6 acres of land from Graton Rancheria. It is now Heron Shadow, a “place of refuge and learning for community engagement, connection to the land, growing Indigenous foods, and nourishing Indigenous and intercultural relations.” Read more about their successful land campaign here. (Photo Credits: The Cultural Conservancy)

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