Are We…Islands In A Common Sea?

The slogan on this building artwork in Petaluma caught my eye…

As best I could, I researched and traced the origin of the phrase to Anne Morrow Lindberg…

“I feel we are all islands–in a common sea. We are all, in the last analysis, alone. When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.” —Anne Morrow Lindbergh

While considering the meaning—not to mention the implications—of these words, the following image from Water St. keeps coming to mind…

“Thankfully, there’s Healdsburg”

“Thankfully, there’s Healdsburg” proclaims the sign on the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce window

Healdsburg in Northern Sonoma County has changed with gentrification* and $400 a night hotel rooms; however, there are still a few places where one can get a nice lunch for less than a mortgage payment.

On a recent Friday afternoon there were the usual downtown crowds…

  • The sidewalk in front of the Healdsburg Bar & Grill patio was filled with people.
  • A Dickensian figure sitting on the public bench next to the sidewalk was holding a sign…“Poverty 2015”  

Given the tendency for readers to only look at the first image in a post, I first present an image to give you a sense of the scene…

Two different worlds, if you will, separated by mere inches on the sidewalk...

Two different worlds, if you will, separated by mere inches on the sidewalk…

 Photos in the slideshow below…


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*Further information on the changes in Healdsburg are reported in this recent San Francisco Chronicle article…How wealth is making Healdsburg a miniature San Francisco

Where have all the benches gone…long time passing…?

Public Benches

It is a common practice for cities to remove benches if they attract homeless or other “undesirable” people who tend to hang out too long in public places. A quick search on Google or Bing confirms the widespread use of this urban management technique.

And, of course, this technique has been applied from time to time in Petaluma. For example, consider the permanent removal of the benches on the Concourse walkway to the City Parking Garage. In the composite photo below you can see the area in 2012 on the left and today on the right…

April 2012 (Left)   July 2015   (Right)

April 2012 (Left–Benches)
July 2015 (Right–No Benches)

In addition, it is my understanding that in recent years some of the public benches on the Water Street Promenade have been removed or relocated to discourage negative activities in the area.

Now It Is The Putnam Plaza Benches

I recently noticed that the two public benches in Putnam Plaza were removed as part of a City landscaping project next to Starbucks.  All that remains are the donor plaques…

Bench Donation Plaques Putnam Plaza

Bench Donation Plaques Putnam Plaza

I made an inquiry about the benches to City Hall and received this e-mail response today…

“The benches were removed as part of a cleanup for the plaza related to negative activities (emphasis added) and discussed with the business owners and the Police Department.  People were sleeping on and behind them in the bushes (now also removed) against the Starbucks wall.  The benches at some point will be refurbished and replaced in the plaza but in a different spot.  A date has not yet been identified.  The negative activities have been reduced largely to the cleanup efforts, fixing of lights, power washing, and signage.”

I certainly empathize with the businesses and others who object to “negative activities” in our public areas. However, the bench removal tactic is not effective.

Removing Benches…

  • Does not discourage the very people against whom it is directed from sitting on the sidewalk or otherwise occupying the area where the benches were located. Granted there be some temporary change in behaviors, but inevitably there is a reversion to the previous state. As proof of this, go to my earlier post which contains photos of people in the various areas previously targeted for bench removal.
  • Does deny others (what some would call “regular” people) the opportunity to use the benches when they are downtown.

I did a little more digging and found that the subject of “negative activities” downtown in the Water Street area has been with us for some time.  Take a few minutes to read these two articles from 2007…

Aside from some of the specific complaints that generated the circumstances discussed in the above two articles not much has changed since 2007 in terms of constructive responses. As one person put it to me– “Focus on the situation that created the problems instead of the benches.” In that regard, this recent article may be of some value: Taking It to the Street

 In Closing

Turning back to the present situation in Putnam Plaza, I hope that the benches are returned sooner rather than later. In the meantime the donor plaques still mark their location…awaiting their return.

If the benches are not returned, I wonder if the donors could claim the plaques or at least a refund of their donation.


Street Life…Life On Our Streets

Every six months or so I archive my photos to make room on my computer.  The inventory is now well past 190,000 images residing on archive disks that will most likely disappear in the dustbin of history. Before archiving I selected a few photos documenting scenes from my daily walks around what I call the Petaluma Photo Grid…scenes that reflect an aspect of street life here and elsewhere in the country that we should not…dare not…ignore.


Some may call them Travelers, Transients, People Living Rough, or Homeless. However, they are people and part of our communities.

As a friend recently commented: “It’s important for all of us to not ignore what we find disturbing but instead really include it in our consciousness, accept it as a part of our reality. Then we may decide we want to change it and actually be able to do that.”


(Individual photos may be enlarged by clicking on them)

Street Life Gallery I

P1030748 Love Where You Live

Weary Traveler (Petaluma Blvd)  P1010211RAWa


3 DSCF5326

2 DSCF5106RAWWEB DSCF6158 Golden Concourse Walkway DSCF5328RAW P1030746 Water Street  DSCF4926RAW Weller St P1030327 Western Avenue  DSCF5757

Street Life Gallery II

Water Street Loading Dock

Ralph Lauren Loading Dock on Water St P1030495RAW

5 P1030282WEB 4 Ralph Lauren Loading Dock on Water St P1030284

Street Life Gallery III

Water Street P1030235RAW2WEB

Foggy Morning Pedestrian P1020662RAW1

P1020182RAW B&WWEB

1 Book Reader  P1010992RAW B&WWebcropped

Street Life Gallery IV

American Alley Stroll




In closing, I offer this passage from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol…

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. ‘Spirit. are they yours.’ Scrooge could say no more. ‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.  This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.  Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’ ‘Have they no refuge or resource.’ cried Scrooge. ‘Are there no prisons.’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses.’ The bell struck twelve.

READER NOTE–Some of my past posts on this topic are listed below

UPDATE July 10, 2015: See recent article from the Bohemian newspaper:  Taking It to the Street

So, where will you die?

Of course, one never knows where or when they will die, but if you are homeless, the chances are you will die alone…on the street…or in a cold dark place.

And so it was last night in Downtown Petaluma…

“B” Street at Petaluma Blvd. South

“B” Street at Petaluma Blvd. South

Petaluma Police Report No 14-6086

“At approximately 7:30 pm, a citizen reported seeing a man lying face down on the sidewalk near the intersection of “B” Street and Petaluma Boulevard South in downtown Petaluma.  The citizen called 911, and Petaluma Police and Fire units responded.  The man was transported to Petaluma Valley Hospital, where he was declared deceased.  The deceased man was known to be a local transient.”

“The deceased subject had a visible head injury; investigation is continuing to determine how the injury was sustained and its relevance to the case.  An autopsy is expected to take place this week.”

Petaluma 360

“This is the eighth time this year that a person believed to be homeless was found dead outside in Petaluma and the 21st since 2010….During the same four-year period, Petaluma police conducted 238 death investigations overall. Tuesday night’s body is the first of the homeless deaths found on a downtown street….”

“B” Street at Petaluma Blvd. South

“B” Street at Petaluma Blvd. South

Update 12/19/14–The man has been identified as MICHAEL LEE PATTON, 60 YRS

RELATED ARTICLE: So, where do you sleep?