Santa Rosa Merit Awards

2021 Merit Awards

Merit Awards Logo

Nominations are now being accepted for Santa Rosa businesses, individuals and organizations that deserve recognition for their volunteerism in serving the community and improving the quality of life in Santa Rosa.

Nominations will be reviewed by the Merit Awards Committee and winners will be honored in the following categories:

• Beautifying our community
• Serving others, particularly young people, seniors and those in need
• Strengthening our neighborhoods
• Expanding and enriching the artistic and historical culture of the City
• Fostering sustainability and protecting the environment
• Rising to the challenge: Community heroes

The deadline for nominations is July 10, 2021. The 2021 Merit Awards will be presented by the Mayor and City Council on September 20, 2021. Nominations may be made by anyone.

Since 1978, the Santa Rosa City Council has presented Merit Awards to individuals, organizations and businesses who volunteer their time and energies to serve the community and improve the quality of life in Santa Rosa.

The nomination form is online at To have a form mailed to you, or for more information about the Merit Awards Program, please call 707-543-3279.

Close to Home: Getting past partisanship to find solutions

By Lawrence Lehr and Hank Topper for Santa Rosa Together

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After our recent election we find ourselves as divided as ever. In the face of so many challenges, can partisan efforts solve our problems? Doesn’t our experience indicate that we need an alternative to the rancor in our national political life?

Santa Rosa Together, a nonpartisan volunteer group, has been looking at local alternatives. We understand that we can only move forward by working together. If we want to overcome our divisions and unite our city, we will need to create a better politics.

Our experience is that despite our differences, we have more in common than not.

We are volunteers from all political persuasions and have been working together for eight years to improve our city. Whether right or left, we have gotten to know and respect each other, and we have learned how to work together.

Hank Topper
Hank Topper
Lawrence Lehr
Lawrence Lehr

Democratic citizens aren’t born, they’re developed through practicing democracy. Our politics should give us that practice by making participation accessible to everyone, including meeting with neighbors so we can get to know each other and take responsibility for our neighborhoods.

Let’s create strong neighborhood organizations in every part of our city, partnerships where we move beyond partisan allegiances, meet face to face and find common ground. Then, when our city needs to address a challenge, like creating the affordable housing we desperately need, let’s start the planning process in our neighborhoods.

Let’s give neighborhoods, the information and expertise to discuss issues and make informed decisions. Then let’s create the opportunity for neighborhoods to come together in citywide meetings to create the plan we need to address the challenge and take this plan to the City Council for approval and implementation.

Let’s make sure that every neighborhood has a role in implementation so that we can all contribute to the work. Neither government nor nongovernmental organizations can solve our problems by themselves. Our local governments would function much more effectively if they organized neighborhoods to guide and assist them.

Let’s transform city government from a cadre of experts doing things for us into an organization helping us get organized, and partnering with us to do the work of the city.

This isn’t rocket science, but it won’t be easy. Yet it could contribute greatly to overcoming our divisions.

We must get more engaged with each other and develop confidence in our ideas and ourselves. Wouldn’t this defuse the power of partisanship and help us find common values that would allow us to build a great city? Neighbors formulating common goals while learning from others is the way to build trust and accomplish great things.

Santa Rosa Together is working on opportunities to rebuild our politics.

The pending general plan update can begin the process of bringing residents together and strengthening our neighborhoods. We will start a citywide conversation to develop city charter amendments to define a new partnership between neighborhoods and government. And we will start a neighborhood building and youth engagement program to give residents opportunities to learn from each other and strengthen neighborhood organizations and civic institutions.

We believe that this is some of the most important work any of us can do right now. Let’s create a new model that revitalizes democracy for ourselves and our children and create a city that better reflects our deepest values. Contact us at and learn how you can help.

Hank Topper and Lawrence Lehr are members of Santa Rosa Together.

Can the General Plan process bring us together as a city?

Three Suggestions to Strengthen Our General Plan Update to Make It the Guide We Need to Create a Great City

A position paper of Santa Rosa Together, November 2020

Santa Rosa Together, a broad and non-partisan group of volunteer community leaders, has been working for the past eight years to get more residents engaged and organized, give everyone a voice and role, and improve the way we work together in Santa Rosa. Based on our work and our conversations with residents across the city, we would like to share three suggestions for improving Santa Rosa’s General Plan Update.

Here are our suggestions:

  1. Add the opportunity for us to create a shared vision for our city that can guide and inspire our work. This shared vision needs to be updated in much the same way as the General Plan itself.
  2. Ensure that ALL of our residents have the opportunity they need to join in this important conversation about the future of our city, especially those who have been left out of our politics. We need to develop and commit to a plan for broadening participation in this work.  
  3. Include into the process components that build Santa Rosa’s overall civic capacity.   Let’s invest in giving everyone a voice and a role.  We need a fully engaged community to address all facets of the work to create a great city.

Creating a shared vision

Our General Plan Update gives us a great opportunity to make a new plan for the work we will do for the next ten years. To maximize this opportunity, let’s design an update process that will allow us to discuss our vision for the city. Let’s take the time to identify the values we share that are the source of our vision. Opening this conversation to our values will give us all a voice in the work to create a shared vision. If we do this, we will have the ability to turn our General Plan update into a guide and an inspiration for the work we will need to do.  We will be able to plan each aspect of our city so that it fits with our values and vision.

Creating this common vision will not be easy. We know that the deep divisions in our nation are reflected in our city and our neighborhood – we are all looking for ways to heal our divisions. The work to create a shared vision based on our shared values might just be the most important part of this General Plan Update process.

Ensuring that all of our residents can be a part of this important conversation

A thriving Santa Rosa will require the ideas and work of all of our residents. We know that in the recent past, large parts of our community had not been fully included in our politics. Our city has now taken some important steps towards a more inclusive city through the annexation and development of Roseland and our new District elections. But the demonstrations around the death of Andy Lopez and the Black Lives Matter movement have made it perfectly clear that many of our residents still do not feel like they are a full and respected part of our city’s politics. Let’s use the opportunity presented by the General Plan Update to make a special effort to include all of our residents in this conversation. Let’s ensure that these conversations are held in all sections of our city and organized so that they are accessible to everyone. If we succeed, our work to update our General Plan could be a major step forward in our efforts to include all our residents in the decisions and work of our city.

Developing a plan for building our civic capacity

For many years, we have all adopted the view that our city government does things for us. We pay taxes and vote every couple of years to elect our council to make decisions for us. We expect our city government to implement these decisions. When necessary, our government hires contractors to help them. In this view, the work to improve our city is seen mostly as a job for experts and not for residents. As a result, most of us are not engaged in the decisions and work of the city. When residents are asked for input, many have felt their input was ignored or not given serious consideration. Santa Rosa’s great potential for engaged residents is mostly untapped. This lack of engagement has gradually undermined the level of trust between residents and our government, further undermining our ability to work together. All of this has led many of us, both in and outside our government, to question this whole understanding of the roles of our government and residents and wonder if we can’t find a better way to work together in our city. And, now, it has led many of us to believe that we need to use our General Plan update to help us address this fundamental problem.

What would it look like to include civic capacity in our General Plan Update? Here are some key questions about building civic capacity that could be used for discussion and planning during the General Plan Update.

  • How could we develop a city government that understands and prioritizes the importance of engaging residents in the decisions and work of the city and partners with them and their organizations to create a vibrant Santa Rosa?
  • How can we develop a culture in our city of respect for all of our residents that values their ideas and their participation in the work of the city, a culture that better reflects our shared (small “d”) democratic values?
  • How can we build the empowered and inclusive neighborhood organizations that will give us the ability to shape our neighborhoods and have a strong voice and role in the city?
  • How could we develop a regular citywide process for engaging residents and their neighborhood and community organizations to help make the decisions on the key issues that will shape our city? How can we develop a process that will allow us to share ideas across the city and find the common ground we need to work together to address these key issues?

What will we accomplish if we add these three suggestions to our General Plan Update?

Our General Plan Updates have traditionally included only the physical aspects of our city, things like our roads, public transportation, housing, public buildings, public safety, emergency preparations, and more. All are important aspects of our city that need thoughtful planning. But this list –and our traditional way of planning– does not include what might be the most important part of our city life: our ability to include and engage all of our residents in the decisions and work our city. Our civic capacity and the civic infrastructure that supports this capacity are the keys to addressing and planning for all the other important aspects of our city. A city that cannot engage its citizens, build the trust, and the institutions and practices needed to find common ground and work together will be very limited in its ability to meet its challenges. We need to use the opportunity of our General Plan Update to engage in a discussion of our government and our civic capacity and plan for a better way of working together.

We are a diverse city that includes people with different faiths and beliefs, different ways of life, and different backgrounds and cultures. We will use this opportunity to get to know each other. We will learn to respect each other and our differences. We will discover our shared values and together we will create a shared vision for our city. With our shared values and vision, we will build a strong and vibrant community drawing on the strengths of all of us. We will rebuild our politics to reflect our values, a politics that engages all of us as equals in the work to create the city we have imagined. With a strong and vibrant community as the soul of our city, we will plan for the transportation, housing, safety, schools, health, and the environment we need to connect, nurture and protect us.

Santa Rosa Together Announces: Building Neighborhood Power

Saturday, February 1, 9:30 am-1 pm  (free workshop)

Location: 35 Stony Point Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Residents of Santa Rosa are invited to join neighbors as we begin defining the types of services, structures and support we want in our neighborhoods. With well-defined neighborhood visions, we can work with policymakers and developers and help to shape the neighborhoods of our dreams! We will be led by world-renown community builder, Jim Diers*, the former Dir. of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Professor at the University of Washington’s Asset-Based Community Development Institute. 


Spanish translation & children activities provided!

“We are excited to join with the City of Santa Rosa in preparation for the upcoming City General Plan update to foster community engagement in the process, and for our community members to learn more about how they can grow stronger neighborhoods,” states Pat Kuta, Co-Chair of Santa Rosa Together.  “Santa Rosa Together is a diverse and non-partisan group of volunteer leaders working together to get more citizens engaged, give everyone a voice and role, and improve the way we work together in our city,” she explains.” This is our fourth neighborhood forum.

This event is being presented by Santa Rosa Together, Housing for All and Sonoma Intersections Coalition. These unlikely allies have come together to help our community define what we want our neighborhoods to be. This event will increase awareness of the role of community in responding to the housing crisis, explore innovative solutions to some of our social challenges, and create healthy neighborhoods.

*Jim Diers:  Jim is a speaker, facilitator, author and activator assisting associations and agencies in support of caring, inclusive and powerful communities.

Quarterly Neighborhood Groups Forum

Empowering Neighbors

S.R. Neighborhood Groups Quarterly Meeting

  • Join us to meet with Jim Diers, an internationally recognized speaker, facilitator, author and activator assisting neighbors in support of caring, inclusive and powerful communities. And author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way.-he will address the opportunities for strengthening neighborhoods in the new City Council Districts.
  • City Planning Staff will launch the community-wide General Plan Review: Santa Rosa 2050.  Learn how you and your neighborhood can participate in designing our City’s future.
  • Share your ideas, and learn from our neighbors.

                                                                        Free event.           

Saturday, June 15

9:30am-noon. (note earlier start time)

Santa Rosa Christian Church 1315 Pacific Ave Off street parking in the back

Santa Rosa Together

What is Santa Rosa Together? 

A diverse & non-partisan group of volunteer community leaders
working together, and get more citizens engaged, give everyone a voice and role, and improve the way we work together in the city

 You can email us at