Best Of 2014

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Best Green in Sonoma County

The future is green.

That's not glib wishful thinking, it's a cold fact. As we burn through natural resources such as oil, gas and water, and suffer the consequences of their overuse, going green presents itself not as a groovy alternative, but as the last, best choice. The planet can only take so much abuse, and it should be abundantly clear that it's growing increasingly pissed off (see climate change, super storms, ocean acidification and mass extinction).

To our little corner of the world comes Sonoma Clean Power (SCP). The newly formed public agency will begin offering an alternative to PG&E's monopoly through greener and more competitively priced power. Starting in May, the agency's default "Clean Start" service will provide power from 33 percent clean-energy sources (compared to PG&E's 20 percent) to 14,000 commercial customers and randomly selected residential users in the participating cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati, Sonoma, Windsor and unincorporated areas in the county. Sonoma Clean Power will roll out service to more residents and businesses in the months and years to come. The cost of this electricity is estimated to be 2 to 3 percent cheaper than PG&E.

There's also a second option called "Ever Green" that will cost about 20 percent more. For that premium rate, users will get 100 percent renewable, volcano-spawned steam power from the Geysers. Residents who want to opt out and stick with PG&E can do so.

Will SCP's rates stay competitive with PG&E? Will the agency be as lean and locally accountable as it claims? And, more important, will the utility's green power help cool our warming planet? No one knows for sure.

But what's encouraging about the creation of SCP is that we get to ask these questions and find out. Locally sourced power that doesn't come from fossil fuels or dammed rivers is the future. How we get there and how we pay for it are critical questions we and other communities will soon have to answer. Our advantage is that we're not putting these questions off. We're tackling them now. sonomacleanpower.org.—S.H.

click to enlarge COKIE LEPINSKI
  • Cokie Lepinski

Best New Life for Old Wood

Heritage Salvage in Petaluma is a like a thrift store for lumber. The wood there has been used or reclaimed, and is waiting for someone to come along and find a new use for it. Judging by the long list of restaurants that buy Heritage's stuff, reclaimed lumber is a hot commodity. As with thrift stores, you don't always find what you want, yet for builders and DIY-ers with an eye for beauty-in-the-rough, the yard invites exploration and repeat visits.

Much of the wood is pulled from tumbledown barns, water towers and other old structures from the North Bay and beyond. A lot of the lumber has a story to tell, like the slabs of fir pulled from the Napa River—the wood reportedly sunk at Mare Island Naval Station during World War II. I found a hundred-year-old slab of redwood felled from West Marin long ago that I turned into some burly kitchen shelves. Try finding that at Home Depot.

Heritage Salvage also makes gorgeous tables, cabinets, chairs and barn doors, if that's what you need. There's something very satisfying about giving old wood new life. 1473 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma. 707.762.5694.—S.H.

Best 'Freaky Friday' Moment-That-Could-Have-Been

I was walking out of Mac's Diner in downtown Santa Rosa when it happened. Like a sign of the times or a whiff of the economic Zeitgeist or two ships passing in the night, there it was: Doug Bosco, former congressman, Efren Carrillo advisor, part-owner of the Press Democrat and corporate attorney, nattily dressed in a V-neck sweater and slacks, heading west on a Fourth Street sidewalk just as the disheveled homeless man who lives in his car with his girlfriend on the streets around the Redwood Gospel Mission walked east. They practically rubbed elbows, the rich and poor, the man with barely a penny to his name and the man with more pennies than most of us combined. What a perfect moment for a bit of Freaky Friday magic to occur. Suddenly, Bosco looks down at his formerly Italian leather clad feet to see dirty white sneakers, frayed around the toes, the slight hint of a gray-white athletic sock peeking through the nylon. And the other man—whose name I do not know—suddenly finds himself wearing a soft, delightful cashmere, a sweater unlike any he's known before; he understands that he's walking to a meeting with some Important People in the Community, that he bears influence, that people will listen, that what he thinks and feels has suddenly become something with weight and heft . . . He can almost taste the power . . . —L.C.

Best Tax-Deductible Picnic Table

The term, "Redwood Empire" is giving way to the more marketable "wine country" tagline, and in truth, these days the North Bay produces a lot more wine than lumber. While the empire's reign may be over, you can still get a taste of what it was like at Occidental's Sturgeon's Mill Restoration Project. The hundred-year-old lumber mill is now a nonprofit organization that showcases the way it used to operate. Sturgeon's hissing, steam-powered mill chugs to life four times a year in highly recommended free "public demonstration" events rife with old-timey charm and knowledgeable docents who all seem to favor snappy green suspenders. Watching the mill come to life and turn hulking redwood trunks into tidy stacks of lumber is like closing your eyes and waking up in the '90s—the 1890s. But Sturgeon's Mill is more than a trip down memory lane. If you're looking to build a picnic table or a redwood slab bench, you can order tax-deductible timber grown and milled on-site, a process that's so old-school it's downright artisanal. 2150 Green Hill Road, Sebastopol. www.sturgeonsmill.com. —S.H.

Best Way to Enjoy Nicotine in a Safe, Tasteful Way and Still Bug the Hell Out of Everyone Around You

There was a time when the host or hostess at a restaurant asked two questions, "How many in your party," followed by, "Smoking or non?" Now that question seems absurd in smoke-hating California, but social expectations are being pushed thanks to eCigs, the hand-held, smokeless, vaporizing nicotine inhalers gaining popularity. Since they expel only vapor, are they legal for indoor use in public spaces? What about patio spaces? If the popular Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa is any indication, they are not welcome, even on an outdoor patio. Like their cancer-inducing cousins, eCigs are not allowed within 10 feet of the entrance. Though it's not unheard of to see someone puffing away at the nico-stick after a big meal, it's unnerving to see a green light at the end of it instead of a red ember, and though it's just vapor, that stuff still smells and looks weird.—N.G.

Best Use of Facebook

The internet is a ubiquitous presence connecting people socially and professionally around the world. Yet it connects us to more than just people. When I wanted to make the leap to canine companionship, I looked where any animal-loving person looks nowadays: the internet. I met my puppy on the digital pages of the Marin Humane Society. There she was, looking at me with precious puppy-dog eyes. Without even leaving the house, this dog and I connected in my mind, and within five minutes, we were inseparable. Just a few years ago, this would not have happened so easily. Dogs and cats had to stay locked away and alone. Now they're on Facebook, thanks to agencies like the Petaluma Animal Shelter, which shows off its dogs and cats, and finds them forever homes much more efficiently and quickly. On Twitter, organizations like Napa Humane can promote events and fundraisers to keep the doors open and the animals safe. There are even sanctuaries devoted to our equine friends, like Sadie's Haven in Santa Rosa, a horse rescue center and adoption center run by volunteers.—C.S.

Best Honor-System Bookstore (And Town)

The Bolinas Book Exchange offers a suggested pricing plan that sets the price of a book based on its prospective literary value to you. It's a pretty incredible gesture that gives voraciously reading vagabonds the opportunity to find great books on an honor-system payment plan. It's not a huge surprise that this sort of forward-looking, post-capitalist act of kindness would be taking place in the free-spirited village of Bolinas, which also has a 24-hour honor system farm-stand and a free box whose recent offerings included a cassette copy of The Best of Kansas, a treasure whose value may well rival that of a bottle of Bryant Cabernet. A perusal of the selections at the Book Exchange reveal a wide reach of pleasurable subject matter, heavy on literature and localism and art books. I recently went there with a buck in my pocket and spied a copy of Günter Grass' Tin Drum. I felt a wee bit guilty as I slipped the buck into the store's lockbox and stuck the book in my pocket. The Tin Drum is quite clearly more valuable than that. Won the Nobel Prize for literature and all that. But I can return the book to the Exchange once I rise above the noise and confusion and finish that mutha. This is the pay-it-forward village, and Bolinans take their karma quite seriously. About a year ago, some idiot decided to rip the lockbox off the wall at the Book Exchange, an event captured by a surveillance camera and sent to the YouTube universe of shame-vids. They never caught the guy—he had pulled his sweatshirt over his head—but rest assured, that dastardly deed will catch up with him. Only thing is, it would be great if that pay-what-you-wish honor system extended to the Bolinas gas station, where a "regular" gallon of the energetic elixir will set you back—please wait for it—$5.26! For that kind of coin, you can hook yourself up with the entire frickin' omnibus of Proust at the Exchange.—T.G.

Best Cooking Store for Professionals & Enthusiasts

They don't even have a Facebook page, but Shackford's Kitchen Store in Napa has a thriving customer base, nonetheless. Perhaps it's due to their knowledgeable staff or wide variety of cooking tools for both home cooks and professional chefs alike. They carry beautiful knives that will dazzle dinner guests and durable knives that can withstand the wear and tear of a commercial kitchen. They carry bright colanders in several colors and chef coats in white. And they're the first place to check when seeking out unpronounceable gadgets necessary for making delicate and traditional dishes. 1350 Main St., Napa. 707.226.2132.—N.G.

Best Place to Find Out if a New Car Is Evil or Not

In the gas-guzzling, fossil-fuel-worshipping past, new cars were rated on many elements: speed, comfort, aesthetic appeal and, usually, safety records. But what about the other elements that go into car manufacturing? Sustainability? Gas efficiency? The safety and quality of the work environment for the folks who put the cars together in the factory? The Automotive Science Group aims to change the way we look at, and judge, car companies and the vehicles they produce in a way that takes into account the pressing environmental concerns of the 21st century. Founded by Eco-Innovations, the Santa Rosa–based group rates cars by a complex automotive performance index using something intriguingly called "ecological economics." The index rates cars by looking at manufacturers' labor practices and efforts to use low-impact technologies, and the automobiles' environmental impact throughout their entire life cycle, among other things. The result is a score that helps consumers figure out how to buy a car that doesn't totally conflict with their values, and maybe even makes the world a greener place. www.automotivescience.com.—L.C.

Best Possibility for Eternal Life

Think you're "over the hill" at age 40? That landmark is closer to 50 now, thanks to the work of these scientists. Perched atop a hill off the freeway in Northern Novato is the Buck Institute, a research facility dedicated to exploring why people die of "old age." It's housed in a building designed by renowned architect I. M. Pei, who also designed the Louvre in France, and hundreds of incredibly smart people are employed there. Everyone's looking, basically, for a cure to old age. So far, the Buck Institute has focused largely on the gut of flies, recording the reactions of certain types of bacteria in certain conditions to give a better understanding of how similar circumstances might translate to humans. Why don't aging tissues regenerate? Why do stem cells lose their functionality with age? And how do tissues change to no longer support regeneration? These are the foci of the Buck Institute, but they're not alone in their mission—the institute is one of seven making up the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research. www.buckinstitute.org.—N.G.

Best Crime Blotter

It's an unfortunate reality that the most interesting part of many local community papers is the weekly police blotter. But there's a local paper in our midst that not only provides a steady supply of interesting, in-depth stories—it offers the best police blotter we've ever seen. The Pulitzer Prize–winning Point Reyes Light's "Sheriff's Calls" sets the bar for any and all future attempts at doing a crime blotter correctly. The beauty of the Light's log is that it's an exercise in poetic restraint—whoever is putting this weekly digest together understands that readers' interest in the items lies not in the writer's take on them (we've all seen those parenthetical asides in crime blotters that try to get all cutesy with the crime), but on the calls themselves and the story they tell, or imply. In keeping their blotter clear of editorial asides or other pointless fluff, the paper provides a clear and weird underbelly narrative of West Marin. A representative sample from the Light's March 8 log is a classic of the genre, with a number of short items punctuated by a wryly understated description of a completely bizarre and stupid crime:

DILLON BEACH: At 1:35pm, a resident reported that a neighbor had sawed off part of his or her deck, the safety of which was the source of ongoing debate.

BOLINAS: At 7:07pm, a school window appeared to have been tampered with, as though someone had tried to break in.

OLEMA: At 7:30pm, a car drove down an embankment.

INVERNESS: At 8:07pm, a dog was barking.

BOLINAS: At 8:07pm, someone reported a beach party and bonfire.

MUIR BEACH: At 9:30pm, a car drove into a ditch.

LAGUNITAS: At 9:55pm, a woman heard explosions across the creek.

MUIR BEACH: At 10:41pm, a SkyWest jet traveling at 11,000 feet reported that someone had shone a laser into the cockpit.—T.G.

click to enlarge NICOLAS GRIZZLE
  • Nicolas Grizzle

Best Tiny, Free Communal Art Space

It's a revolutionary concept: open a workshop space that provides room for all types of artists, be open to new ideas, host musical and information events as a community hub, and do it all for the sake of art.

"It's kind of a space we've been robbed of," says owner Malcolm McGowan (pictured) of Penn's Edge. "It's a space to be creative." Artists can borrow tools, use the space and even set up shop for their own work. If they decide to leave it set up for others to use, all the better, says McGowan. The shop is open during the day for artists to use, free of charge.

McGowan and his girlfriend, Dahllia Fawsy, are artists themselves, working with leather and jewelry, respectively. There's a small, soundproof spot for musicians to hone their craft, materials for artists to purchase and make their own pieces, and, of course, creative and functional works made by local artists for purchase as well. The spot opened about seven months ago, and it's open floor plan and shelf of records (just above functioning turntables) make for an inviting feel.

The communal art space hosts music events and seminars in the evening. The art space hasn't quite caught on as much as originally hoped, and for the seven months it's been open, it's been funded by McGowan and Fawsy's art sales. "Everything that we've been doing is just being open to people if they want to use it," says McGowan. 10009 Main St., Penngrove. 707.242.6866.—N.G.

Readers Picks: Everyday | Back to Intro Page

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August 27- 2, 2014
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