In the end, the City Council's decision to continue fighting the proposed Dutra asphalt plant appeared to come down to whether or not the cash-strapped city could afford it.
More than 60 people packed city hall before the council discussed the appeal in closed session on Monday, and about 20 spoke passionately before the council. The majority encouraged and some discouraged the city from appealing a Sonoma County judge's dismissal of a suit to stop the plant.
Many arguments focused on the negative effects of the plant, but all seven councilmembers have previously said they oppose the plant. Councilmember Mike Healy highlighted before the meeting what he saw to be the two relevant concerns remaining: whether or not an appeal could be successful and if the city could afford the cost of appealing.
The non-profits Moms for Clean Air and Friends of Shollenberger sought to answer the second question at the meeting, offering the city a combined $10,000 to help defray legal costs.
They said they had consulted with lawyers and determined that the city's legal costs for an appeal would range from $10,000 to $18,000. City staff agreed that $10,000 would cover more than half the city's costs.
The council voted 6-1 to appeal, with Councilmember Chris Albertson dissenting.
Mayor David Glass thanked the non-profits for their offer. He said he planned to write a check to the city for the cause as well and that he hoped others would do the same.
Healy also acknowledged that the $10,000 would help, re-emphasizing that the city has had to reduce spending to "levels that are painful."
He added that he was now convinced that there were several legal issues that could be brought up in an appeal.
Healy, Glass and Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee referenced as well what they saw as overwhelming community opposition to the plant, although Dutra Spokeswoman Aimi Dutra contended that the vocal opponents didn't represent the majority of Petaluma residents.
But for Albertson, concerns over the city's finances seemed to prevail. He referenced the city's scarce resources as he took time to carefully explain why he dissented.
"My opposition (to the plant) doesn't mean I'll sacrifice other concerns for this issue," he said.
In taking the suit to an appellate court in San Francisco, the city will join the same coalition of non-profits and individuals that filed the original suit last year. The coalition sued Dutra and the County, claiming among other things that environmental impacts of the plant —?proposed to be across the river from the popular Shollenberger Park —?hadn't been properly considered.
The non-profits, in turn, are already planning fundraisers to cover their own appeal costs. An event, Hands Around Shollenberger, is scheduled on Feb. 12 at Shollenberger Park, though no details were available.
Meanwhile, Aimi Dutra said that Dutra plans to continue working on the permitting necessary to begin construction on the plant and have it open by mid-2013.
She described the council's decision as "unfortunate," but emphasized it would, "in no way," keep the project from moving forward.
(Contact Jamie Hansen at firstname.lastname@example.org)