The top story in the Valley this year was the murder of 17-year-old Luis Miranda in Maxwell Farms Regional Park.
In late December, the I-T news staff selects the top most influential Sonoma Valley stories over the past year.
It's never easy and not everyone will agree with these choices, but these issues either affected or drew the attention of a wide range of Valley residents. The outcome of many will influence the future of this community, while others struck deep emotional chords.
1 - Maxwell Park murder
On Oct. 22, 17-year-old Luis Miranda was shot to death in Maxwell Farms Regional Park by alleged gang member Juan Calderon, igniting a wave of mourning, recrimination and community outreach that continues into the new year.
It was the first gang-related slaying in recent memory, and it challenged the Sonoma Valley to take more seriously the growing evidence of gang infiltration previously limited to petty violence, tagging and intimidation.
Calderon, also 17, was identified by numerous witnesses as the shotgun-wielding assailant. He was arrested along with Juan Carlos "Puppet" Perez, 24, and 19-year-old Javier Ceja. The three had been involved in an angry confrontation with Miranda earlier on the evening of the shooting, and all three were charged with murder with gang enhancements. They were arraigned in Sonoma County Superior Court Nov. 9, and all three entered pleas of not guilty.
A preliminary hearing has been set for Jan. 28, at which time Judge Rene Chouteau will hear evidence from prosecutors to determine whether to bind the suspects over for trial.
A series of community forums in the aftermath of the tragedy brought community members together to hear guidance from Santa Rosa gang-prevention experts and to plan future gang-prevention strategies. The next meeting is set for Monday, Jan. 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the El Verano Elementary School gym.
2 - Hospital Board picks In-Town site
After years of expert opinion, on Oct. 10 the Sonoma Valley District Health Care Board finally voted to put the replacement facility for the seismically unsound Sonoma Valley Hospital on the In-Town site.
The In-Town site consists of the current facility, which sits on several acres of land on Andrieux Street, as well as the Carinalli property, which includes four acres of land on Fourth Street West between MacArthur Street and Bettencourt Street.
The board's decision was immediately wrapped in controversy after a representative of Barry Swenson Builders questioned the validity of the financial figures the board used that showed the In-Town option would be the most economically feasible choice. Swenson is the private development company interested in constructing the Broadway site, which had also been considered by the board.
Although board chairman Dr. Dick Kirk announced intentions of listening to a hospital proposal from Swenson, other boardmembers are pushing to move forward with plans on the In-Town site. It is still unclear whether the board will hear a final presentation on the Broadway site.
The board's decision raised even more controversy among the neighbors who live near the Carinalli site, who say the new hospital will hurt property values. The neighbors have vowed to fight construction all the way to City Hall.
Meanwhile, hospital administrators and boardmembers move forward on plans, and are in the process of developing project cost estimates, which Chief Executive Officer Carl Gerlach pegged at "above $200 million." Boardmembers are seeking to put a general obligation bond measure to finance construction on the ballot next spring.
3 - School parcel tax fails
In July, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District decided to ask the voters to approve a $91 a year parcel tax for six years. The parcel tax would raise somewhere between $1.2 million and $1.4 million a year and would be used to keep the school libraries open, would pay salaries of coaches and pay extracurricular stipends for teachers, among other things. The measure, which appeared on the November ballot, needed 66.7 percent to pass, but received only 57 percent of the vote. The school board will be looking at cuts later this month.
4 - Hospital parcel tax passes
Dozens of hospital supporters cheered on the evening of March 6, when they learned that Measure B, a $195 parcel tax initiative to aid the financially struggling Sonoma Valley Hospital, passed with 73.7 percent of the vote.
Many thought there was no way the required 66.7 percent of voters would approve the tax; however district voters demonstrated the hospital is an important addition to the community with an impressive show of support. Campaign leader turned hospital boardmember Bill Boerum said he ran a stealth campaign in a conscious effort not to raise opposition to the measure.
The tax, which lasts for five years, will garner about $3 million a year for the hospital. Hospital administrators repeatedly said that without the added financial support of the parcel tax, the facility would not have had the means to stay open and would likely have shut down.
Hospital administrators will once again be asking voters for support this spring, when a general obligation bond to finance new hospital construction is expected to hit the ballot.
5 - City puts moratorium on mobile-home conversions
A plan to convert the Rancho de Sonoma mobile-home park to a resident-owned subdivision inspired a resident-protest movement against owner Preston Cook and prompted the Sonoma City Council to impose a moratorium on park conversions.
The park-conversion movement has alarmed mobile-home park residents across the state because the process can lead to the elimination of rent-control protections and the eventual reduction in affordable housing, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.
The moratorium was originally intended to last only until a revised city ordinance could be developed tightening protections for park residents. Simultaneously, an ad hoc council committee planned meetings with residents and Cook to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement.
But when City Attorney Tom Curry finished researching state law and presented a draft ordinance to govern future park conversions, the council concluded a legally defensible ordinance would contain too many loopholes that could actually reduce the level of protection park residents were seeking.
The council therefore voted 4-1 against adopting the new ordinance and instead extended the existing moratorium until June of 2008, at which time it could issue another extension for an additional year.
Meanwhile the council committee has been holding meetings with residents, and Cook and is still seeking to find common ground.
6 - 'Bottle Shock' films in Sonoma
Residents of Sonoma got a taste of life in Tinseltown when the independent film "Bottle Shock" rolled into town and began filming around the Valley in August. The film was produced by Brenda and Marc Lhormer, Sonoma residents who run the Sonoma Valley Film Festival and head the Sonoma Valley Film Society.
The Lhormers got an early script of "Bottle Shock" from a friend in the industry. The film told the story of the proprietors of Chateau Montelena, a Napa winery that beat out the exalted wines of France in a 1976 blind tasting known as the "Judgment of Paris." The Lhormers brought on the writing/directing/producing team of Randy Miller and Jody Savin ("Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School") who rewrote the script, which Miller directed and Savin helped produce. Film stars include Bill Pullman, Alan Rickman, Freddie Rodriguez and Rachael Taylor.
The filming took place at Buena Vista Vineyards, the Ledson Hotel and even shut down East Napa Street for a day. Dozens of onlookers gathered anytime the camera came out to watch movie magic in action. The film was just accepted into the lineup at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.