A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GRATON COMMUNITY PROJECTS ORGANIZATION
…The West County community that could
Never let it be said that there isn’t power to bring about change when a small community like Graton, California, bands together for the good of its citizens.
Nearly 20 years ago, the community of Graton was a near ghost town. It sadly lacked a sense of place, and a vital Main Street was needed. The community began working together and in 1993, formed Graton Projects. The determined spirit and vision of those original founding members resulted in many successful projects. A 1,500 household survey, resulted in setting the stage for discussions on water, sewer, parks, downtown revitalization, Hispanic day laborers and a community services district. A safe walkway along Donald Street to Oak Grove School was constructed by volunteers with donated materials. In 1994, the town lobbied for stop signs (but received only one) and supported developer/architect Orrin Theissen’s bold vision to obtain a block grant and renovate the existing buildings, rebuild sidewalks, install diagonal parking in an effort to renew the declining downtown area.
Regular town hall meetings were held addressing all these local concerns. A sub-committee imagined an annual historical celebration dubbed “Graton Today”, the inaugural event was held on September 1994 and continues today, celebrating its 16th year on September 18, 2010. The community has held several candidates’ nights, identifying local support for Graton and its issues. The Projects Committee encouraged labor/community center efforts, ultimately resulting in a Graton Labor Center (Centro Laboral de Graton) — a highly successful labor center offering day laborers a safe gathering place while seeking employment at a fair rate, plus learn English language skills and obtain health tips. The organizations’ ongoing efforts began to form the idea of an independent community services district (CSD), including powers for water, sanitation, parks and recreation. The potential of this idea was enormous and would change Graton’s identity. Petitions were circulated door-to-door within the community, producing an 86% in favor result.
The fundraising efforts continued over a period of 3 years through dances, raffles and donations. The effort paid off and enough funds were raised to satisfy the $4,300 fee to LAFCO (Local Area Formation Committee) to form a California Community Services District. But, more work was needed and by this time, The Graton Citizens for Local Sewer Control was formed. A local newspaper “Graton Gazette” became the “political voice” and for a period of 5 years, published news and articles covering progress of the Sewer Control issue along with art, poetry, fiction, community profiles (all contributed by locals), Graton Fire News (plus comments about the siren) and coverage of Graton’s local business activity.
During this time, the new, refurbished 2-block downtown was taking shape — and the ancient tumble-down buildings were renewed and restored, giving Graton a well-deserved and brand new image. Things were changing for Graton in many ways and in June 1999, Community Building Days brought folks together with the installation of personalized bricks in the new downtown sidewalk. Meanwhile about 70 volunteers planted 400 young redwood trees at the sewer site that would benefit from irrigation with secondary wastewater. The mantra of “zero discharge” and “stand alone option” prevailed. But all did not go smoothly for this inspired and dedicated group of Graton citizens. G.C.L.C.C. became “flushed with rage” over regional sanitation pipelines to West County and a proposed pipeline connecting Graton to Forestville. Unfortunately, the pipeline was forced upon the community despite an unsuccessful effort by citizens to obtain a court injunction against SCWA (Sonoma County Water Agency) to prevent it.
On the other hand, SCWA donated monies towards the redwood tree irrigation project and supplied up front money for financial/economic planning and engineering for the “stand alone option”. Ongoing redwood planting has continued for several years. What began as a planting of redwood saplings, has transformed into a young redwood forest — happily nurtured by secondary wastewater from Graton’s citizen-owned wastewater treatment plant.
On May 13, 2002, the 50lc3 non-profit corporation named Graton Community Services Projects, Inc. was formed. Redwood tree planting and tour of the sewer facility was held on 11/1/03. A final town hall CSD meeting and breakfast was held on 11/8/03. When after 3 years of meetings, Graton was given the go ahead to form a CSD, the name was changed in 2003 to Graton Community Projects, Inc.
The members of G.C.P., Inc., continue to work towards improving the community of Graton, one project at a time. Recently the organization was successful in installing a 4-way stop sign at the busy intersection of Graton Road and Bowen/Ross. Actively sponsoring or co-sponsoring various community events, i.e. the Graton Community Garden; Graton Day (held each September); a Winter Variety Show in February; and the popular Santa Sunday in December with Santa and friends bringing a joyful gift to this small and friendly part of West Sonoma County that includes a free photo with Santa.