As we say goodbye to 2013, we look back on a year of highs and lows.
It started out on a sad note, with the death of 19-year-old Alyssa Byrne, whose passing continues to serve as a warning to young people to take precautions while partying.
But history was also made by Petaluma sports teams, as both the Leghorns and the Casa Grande football team reached levels they'd never before achieved.
Development heated up with two new shopping centers in town and a mega-casino opening in Rohnert Park. While road repairs across town aimed to improve safety, the projects drove drivers crazy. And the Petaluma Police Department saw a slew of personnel issues become public.
Here are the stories that captured the most attention from the Petaluma Argus-Courier readers in 2013.
Casinos draw concern
It was quite the year for Indian gaming casinos in Sonoma County. Petalumans felt the effects of the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, which — as the North Bay's first Las Vegas-style, mega-casino — caused long traffic delays on Highway 101 and drew Petaluma police officers to help with law enforcement after the casino first opened in November. The City of Petaluma will eventually get $100,000 from the casino to offset the cost of law enforcement and traffic mitigation, but there's no word yet on when that money will be deposited.
Meanwhile, anti-casino groups spent much of 2013 eyeing the actions of the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians. The Dry Creek tribe, which owns a 277-acre parcel of land along Highway 101 at Kastania Road, said this year that it applied to have the land taken into federal trust to build ball fields, tribal housing and restaurants. But both local and outside anti-casino coalitions suspected that the tribe was angling for another mega-casino — this one closer to San Francisco than Graton's Rohnert Park gaming facility.
Graton's Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris even went so far as to challenge Dry Creek's Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins to sign a legally binding agreement stating the Dry Creek Tribe would never build a casino on the Kastania Road property. Hopkins did not respond to Sarris, and instead told the public about the elaborate plans he had for the site, sans casino.
The City of Petaluma watched the gaming action unfold, and worked to acquire water rights to the Kastania Road property. The city continues to work with the North Marin Water District, which currently supplies water to the site, in hopes of brokering a deal to offer the Dry Creek tribe water service in exchange for a promise to never pursue a casino on the land — an arrangement Hopkins previously had suggested.
Homeless take to the river
While Petaluma remained known as a vibrant "river town," drawing tourism and commerce around the Petaluma River, another, darker side to the city's beloved waterway emerged: the increasing number of homeless encampments perched on its banks.
After finding the bodies of three dead transients near the Petaluma River during the last four months of 2013, police stepped up efforts to monitor the mostly unseen areas by the riverbed where homeless people often set up camp.
Efforts to clean up these encampments along the Petaluma River occurred on and off for several decades, with little effect. Today, rusted bicycles, rotting furniture, decomposing bed mattresses and discarded clothing litter the riverbanks. Garbage can be seen every few feet, often protruding from the surface of the water. Gallon jugs of urine and toilet paper covered in fecal matter can be spotted from the bike path that curves its way through the tall grass in the area.