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City fights for redevelopment project funds

A contingent of Petaluma representatives, armed with stacks of paper documenting their case, appeared in Sacramento on Monday to argue that Petaluma is owed and urgently needs redevelopment funds for two transportation projects.

The projects are the East Washington interchange, which is currently under construction, and the Old Redwood Highway interchange, which is set to go out to bid. The state recently denied an appeal for money the city says it is owed through its former redevelopment agency, including $4 million for East Washington and about $11 million for Old Redwood Highway. Uncertainty over that money could hold up jobs and construction work in Petaluma and potentially jeopardize Petaluma's agreements with the agencies tasked with carrying out the construction, the Sonoma County Transportation Agency and Caltrans.

The urgency of those projects led city officials to team up with state lawmakers to ask the state Department of Finance to reconsider its decision. As a result, Assemblymember Mike Allen, who is running to represent Petaluma this fall, wrote a letter to the state Department of Finance requesting a meeting, calling the decision to deny Petaluma projects "erroneous" and potentially opening the door to "imminent and serious legal liabilities."

The letter was signed by Assemblymembers Jared Huffman and Mariko Yamada. It apparently got the department's attention, because Petaluma was granted a meeting.

At that meeting, Petaluma was represented by the city manager, the city attorney, the economic development director, Mayor David Glass and Councilmember Mike Healy, chair of a board overseeing the dissolution of Petaluma's redevelopment agency. Suzanne Smith of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority was there, as well as Dan McElhinney of Caltrans. They were joined by Assemblymembers Allen and Yamada and State Senator Lois Wolk.

Everyone was there to make the case that Petaluma urgently needed funds for the East Washington Street interchange and Old Redwood Highway, and that they had been rightfully committed to long ago. Petaluma was also denied funding for numerous other projects, from affordable housing to the Rainier Cross Town Connector, but officials agreed to focus on the most timely projects.

"Rainier is every bit as important, but it is not as time sensitive," Healy said. "We need to get answers on these projects now to avoid damage."

Petaluma officials say they left the meeting feeling optimistic.

"I think that, after today, we've convinced them of the unique merits of these two projects," said Glass, adding, "It was helpful to have three legislators there."

"We definitely got their attention," said Healy.


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