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About Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa is the county seat of Sonoma County, California, United States. As of January 1, 2008, the population of Santa Rosa was approximately 161,496 residents. Santa Rosa is the largest city in California's Wine Country and fifth largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, after San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, and Fremont.

Santa Rosa's metropolitan statistical area has a population of 486,630, making it the 12th largest in California and the 105th largest in the United States.


Santa Rosa has a total area of 40.37 sq mi (104.6 km2), of which 40.13 sq mi (103.9 km2) is land and 0.25 sq mi (0.6 km2) (0.62%) is water.

The city is part of the North Bay region, which includes such cities as Sonoma, Healdsburg and Sebastopol. It lies along the US Route 101 corridor, approximately 55 miles (90 km) north of San Francisco, via the Golden Gate Bridge.

Santa Rosa lies on the Santa Rosa Plain; its eastern extremities stretch into the Valley of the Moon, and the Sonoma Creek watershed known as the Sonoma Valley, while its western edge lies in the Laguna de Santa Rosa catchment basin.

The city is in the watershed of Santa Rosa Creek, which rises on Hood Mountain and discharges to the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Tributary basins to Santa Rosa Creek lying significantly in the city are Brush Creek, Matanzas Creek, Colgan Creek and Piner Creek. Other water bodies within the city include Fountaingrove Lake, Lake Ralphine, and Santa Rosa Creek Reservoir.

The prominent visual feature is Hood Mountain seen to the east. To the southeast, Taylor Mountain and Sonoma Mountain are readily visible from much of the city.


Restaurants and other retail stores occupy several historic buildings in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square district in the downtown area, including these along Fourth Street.

Santa Rosa has cool, wet winters and warm, mostly dry summers. In the summer, fog and low overcast often moves in from the Pacific Ocean during the evenings and mornings. It usually clears to warm, sunny weather by late morning or noon before returning in the later evening but will occasionally linger all day. Average annual rainfall is 30.45 inches (773 mm), falling on 74 days annually. The wettest year was 1983 with 63.07 inches (1,602 mm) and the dryest year was 1976 with 11.38 inches (289 mm). The most rainfall in one month was 19.42 inches (493 mm) in February 1998 and the most rainfall in 24 hours was 5.23 inches (133 mm) on December 19, 1981. Measurable snowfall is rare in the lowlands, but light amounts sometimes fall in the nearby mountains.

There are an average of 28.9 days with highs of 90°F (32°C) or more and an average of 30.2 days with lows of 32°F (0°) or lower. The record high was 110 °F (43 °C) on September 13, 1971, and the record low was 15 °F (−9 °C) on December 13, 1932.

Monthly climate averages (1961–1990)
Month High (°F) Low (°F) Precip. (inches)
January 58 (14°C) 37 (3°C) 6.2 (15.74 cm)
February 63 (17°C) 40 (4°C) 4.64 (11.78 cm)
March 65 (18°C) 41 (5°C) 4.34 (11.02 cm)
April 70 (21°C) 42 (6°C) 1.8 (4.57 cm)
May 75 (24°C) 46 (8°C) 0.31 (0.79 cm)
June 80 (27°C) 50 (10°C) 0.3 (0.76 cm)
July 84 (29°C) 51 (11°C) 0 (0 cm)
August 83 (28°C) 52 (11°C) 0 (0 cm)
September 83 (28°C) 51 (11°C) 0.6 (1.52 cm)
October 77 (25°C) 47 (8°C) 1.86 (4.72 cm)
November 65 (18°C) 42 (6°C) 4.8 (12.2 cm)
December 57 (14°C) 37 (3°C) 4.96 (12.6 cm)


Santa Rosa lies atop the Healdsburg-Rodgers Creek segment of the Hayward-Rodgers Creek Fault System. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a 20% chance of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake on this segment by 2030.

On April 14, 2005, the United States Geological Survey released a map detailing the results of a new tool that measures ground shaking during an earthquake. The map determined that the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was most powerful in an area between Santa Rosa and what is now Sebastopol, causing more damage in Santa Rosa (for its size) than any other city affected.

Two earthquakes of magnitudes 5.6 and 5.7 shook Santa Rosa October 1, 1969, damaging about 100 structures. They were the strongest quakes to affect the city since 1906. The epicenters were about two miles (3 km) north of Santa Rosa.

Nature and wildlife

Due to its population, much of Santa Rosa's remaining undisturbed area is on its urban fringe. However, it includes the principal corridors of Santa Rosa Creek and its tributaries, which flow through the heart of the town. Great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets and black-crowned herons nest in the trees of the median strip on West Ninth Street as well as long Santa Rosa Creek, even downtown. Deer often are spotted roaming the neighborhoods nearer the eastern hills, as deep into town as Franklin Avenue and the McDonald area; flocks of wild turkeys are relatively common in some areas, and mountain lions are occasionally observed within the city limits. Raccoons and opossums are a common sight throughout the city, while foxes, and rabbits may be regularly seen in the more rural areas. In addition, the city borders, and extends around the northern end of, Annadel State Park which extends into the Sonoma Mountains and Sonoma Valley. Annadel State Park also adjoins Spring Lake County Park and Howarth Park, forming one contiguous park system that enables visitors to venture into wild native habitats.


Santa Rosa can be seen as divided into four quadrants: Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest. U.S. Route 101 runs roughly north and south through the city, and divides it into east and west sides. State Route 12 runs roughly east and west, and divides the city into north and south sides.

Neighborhoods include:


Historical populations
Census Pop.
1860 1,623  
1870 2,898   78.6%
1880 3,616   24.8%
1890 5,220   44.4%
1900 6,673   27.8%
1910 7,817   17.1%
1920 8,758   12.0%
1930 10,636   21.4%
1940 12,605   18.5%
1950 17,902   42.0%
1960 31,027   73.3%
1970 50,006   61.2%
1980 82,658   65.3%
1990 113,313   37.1%
2000 147,595   30.3%

As of 2008, there were 161,496 people, 56,036 households, and 35,134 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,678.3 people per square mile (1,420.1/km²). There were 57,578 housing units at an average density of 1,434.9/sq mi (554.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 74.4% White, 2.3% African American, 0.9% Native American, 5.5% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 13.1% from other races, and 3.7% from two or more races. 23.5% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

As of the census of 2000, there were 63,153 households out of which 30.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.9% were married couples living together, 11.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.3% were non-families. 27.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.57 and the average family size was 3.14.

In the city the population is spread out with 24.3% under the age of 18, 9.5% from 18 to 24, 30.0% from 25 to 44, 22.3% from 45 to 64, and 13.9% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females there are 95.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 91.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $50,931, and the median income for a family is $59,659. Males have a median income of $40,420 versus $30,597 for females. The per capita income for the city is $24,495. 8.5% of the population and 5.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 9.5% of those under the age of 18 and 4.7% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


In the state legislature Santa Rosa is located in the 2nd Senate District, represented by Democrat Pat Wiggins, and in the 7th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Noreen Evans. Federally, Santa Rosa is located in California's 6th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +21 and is represented by Democrat Lynn Woolsey.

City image

The intersection of 4th & D, downtown Santa Rosa.

Horticulturalist Luther Burbank lived in Santa Rosa for over 50 years. He said of Sonoma County, "I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned." For many years the City's slogan was "The City Designed For Living."

In early 2007, the Chamber of Commerce, the City, and Santa Rosa Main Street (a Downtown booster group funded by the City), started searching for a new slogan, to "help the City of Santa Rosa discover its identity." The Chamber said it wants to develop "a strategic community message for marketing the city to visitors, residents, and businesses in the year 2007 and beyond."

Local historian Gaye LeBaron, in a March 4, 2007 column for The Press Democrat, commented that:

There is a disconnect between the average Santa Rosan's perception of the town and reality... What we have are a lot of people, some old-timers, some fairly new residents, who never, ever intended to live in the fifth-largest city in any area. And, frightened by new crimes, stalled in old traffic, watching tall buildings rise, they're mad as hell! When you stop to think about it, this revelation explains a lot. We have spent decades wondering why we couldn't save the Carrillo Adobe or the Hoag House, why we can't have a plaza like Healdsburg's or Sonoma's, why we've never achieved a proper historical museum like all the other towns around, why it takes so long (20 years for ANYthing) to reach the simplest civic goal, why we have to hire an image consultant to tell us what we represent. It's because we have outgrown the hometown, small-town advantage. We've become a real city while we were busy complaining about our farm town.

History, growth and development

The former Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Station

The first known permanent European settlement of Santa Rosa was the homestead of the Carrillo family, in-laws to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who settled the Sonoma pueblo and Petaluma area. In the 1830s, during the Mexican period, the family of María López de Carrillo built an adobe house on their Rancho Cabeza de Santa Rosa land grant, just east of what later became downtown Santa Rosa. Allegedly, however, by the 1820s, before the Carrillos built their adobe in the 1830s, Spanish/Mexican settlers from nearby Sonoma and other settlements to the south raised livestock in the area and slaughtered animals at the fork of the Santa Rosa Creek and Matanzas Creek, near the intersection of modern-day Santa Rosa Ave. and Sonoma Ave. This is supposedly the origin of the name of Matanzas Creek as, because of its use as a slaughtering place, the confluence came to be called La Matanza.

By the 1850s, a Wells Fargo post and general store were established in what is now downtown Santa Rosa. In the mid-1850s, several prominent locals, including Julio Carrillo, son of Maria Carrillo, laid out the grid street pattern for Santa Rosa with a public square in the center, a pattern which largely remains as the street pattern for downtown Santa Rosa to this day despite changes to the central square, now called Old Courthouse Square.

In 1867, the county recognized Santa Rosa as an incorporated city and in 1868 the state officially confirmed the incorporation, making it officially the third incorporated city in Sonoma County, after Petaluma, incorporated in 1858, and Healdsburg, incorporated in 1867.

The U.S. Census records, among others, show that after California became a state, despite initially lagging behind nearby Petaluma in the 1850s and early 1860s, Santa Rosa grew steadily early on. According to the U.S. Census, in 1870 Santa Rosa was the 8th largest city in California, and county seat of one of the most populous counties in the state. Growth and development after that were never rapid, but were steady.

As a result, the city continued to grow when other early population centers declined or stagnated, but by 1900 it had been, or was being, overtaken by many other newer population centers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. According to a 1905 article in the Press Democrat newspaper reporting on the "Battle of the Trains," the city had just over 10,000 people at the time.

The April 18, 1906 San Francisco Earthquake essentially destroyed the entire downtown, but the city's population did not greatly suffer. However, after that period the population growth of Santa Rosa, as with most of the area, was very slow.

Famed director Alfred Hitchcock filmed his thriller Shadow of a Doubt in Santa Rosa in 1943; the film, which has been released on VHS and DVD, gives glimpses of Santa Rosa in the 1940s. Many of the downtown buildings seen in the film no longer exist, due to major reconstruction following the strong earthquakes in September 1969. However, some, like the rough-stone Northwestern Pacific Railroad depot and the prominent Empire Building (built in 1910 with a gold-topped clock tower), still survive.

Post World War II

Old Courthouse Square is the heart of Downtown Santa Rosa. This is the Empire Building, completed in 1910 and a Sonoma County landmark. It was seen in Shadow of a Doubt by Alfred Hitchcock.

With the end of World War II in 1945, Santa Rosa would soon see substantial growth for the next 25 years. The population enlarged by 2/3 between 1950 and 1970, an average of 1,000 new residents a year over the 20 years. Some of the increase was from immigration, and some from annexation of portions of the surrounding area.

In 1958 the United States Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization designated Santa Rosa as one of its eight regional headquarters, with jurisdiction over Region 7, which included American Samoa, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. Santa Rosa continued as a major center for civil defense activity (under the Office of Emergency Planning and the Office of Emergency Preparedness) until 1972 when FEMA was created in its place, ending the civil defense's 69-year history.

When the City Council adopted the City's first modern General Plan in 1991, the population was about 113,000. In the 21 years since 1970, Santa Rosa had grown by about 3,000 residents a year—triple the average growth during the previous twenty years.

Santa Rosa 2010, the 1991 General Plan, called for a population of 175,000 in 2010. The Council expanded the City's urban boundary to include all the land then planned for future annexation, and declared it would be Santa Rosa's "ultimate" boundary. The rapid growth that was being criticized as urban sprawl became routine infill development.

At the first five-year update of the plan, in 1996, the Council extended the planning period by ten years, renaming it Vision 2020 (updated to Santa Rosa 2020, and then again to Santa Rosa 2030 Vision), and added more land and population. Now the City projects a population of 195,000 in 2020.

History resources

Local historian Gaye LeBaron, a retired Press Democrat columnist, is the author of two modern histories: Santa Rosa: a 19th Century Town; and Santa Rosa: a 20th Century Town. The Sonoma State University Library, in Rohnert Park, holds the Gaye LeBaron Collection: 700 file folders of her research notes and primary source materials, containing some 10,000 documents.

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