When asked if they support the general plan guidelines for housing, retail and commercial development, almost all the candidates said they want to revisit how mixed use, a designation that applies to much of Petaluma's future development, is defined in the general plan. Mixed use is a term that calls for or allows a development to host a variety of functions, from retail stores to office space to housing. Candidates differed on whether the definition should require certain elements, like residential, in Petaluma. The problem that many candidates pointed to is that the general plan calls for mixed-use development in many areas around town, but only defines the term very loosely. Some have criticized large-scale development projects, such as the Deer Creek Village project, for being inconsistent with the general plan because it is not mixed use, while others have countered that the project, a mix of retail and office space, does indeed fit the definition of the term.
"One area (of the general plan) that could have been handled better is the question of what constitutes "mixed use" development, especially as you move away from the downtown core. This is an area the city may need to revisit in the future," said Healy. "The General plan is the shared vision of the community expressing what we would like to see happen in the future. It is an incredibly detailed and carefully prepared document. It is important that City Hall stand behind it so that businesses can reasonably expect that if they want to build something on their property consistent with the General Plan, that absent unusual circumstances, that will be allowed. That hasn't always been the case in the recent past," he added.
Miller also spoke of the importance of adhering to the general plan, something she says she took seriously and helped craft as a planning commissioner. "It is Petaluma's guideline for development and should be adhered to so project proponents know what to expect," she said, adding of mixed use, it "seems to be a catchall for development that doesn't fit into any other category. I think the mixed-use designation needs to be better defined."
Kearney said that better defining mixed use would be an "opportunity for us to improve our current general plan." He said that one of the city's current problems is that the Planning Commission and City Council have different definitions of what mixed use is.
Kearney added that he believes that mixed use works well in a dense downtown setting, but perhaps not as much in other areas of town.
Ren? agreed that redefining mixed use should be a priority. She described mixed use as being "about reducing the overall footprint (of a project)," adding, "We're doing (Petaluma) a disservice by trying to define car-centric retail as mixed use." Ren? also criticized the general plan for not properly addressing how to reduce car travel and greenhouse gas emissions in Petaluma.
Davies said in his questionnaire, "I do think we could potentially codify mixed use definitions and requirements better, but it's also a challenge because not all levels of mixed use may be appropriate for a given site."
Herries spoke of a strong desire to revisit mixed use, saying it's an issue that's come up repeatedly on the Planning Commission. She said she would like to see mixed use redefined to specifically include a residential requirement. "Right now, people look at mixed use as a myriad of retail uses," she said. "We need to roll in that element of residential." Herries expressed a broader desire to revisit other parts of the general plan as well, noting, "given the state's decision to remove redevelopment monies from Petaluma, and our substantial reliance on this funding, it is important that we revisit and realign our general plan to accommodate for previously unforeseen impacts to housing, retail and commercial development."
Candidates were mainly in agreement on two other development-related issues: that of maintaining the Economic Development Director position held by Ingrid Alverde and opposing a casino on land south of Petaluma owned by the Dry Creek Rancheria band of Pomo Indians. Healy, Miller and Kearney specifically said they would oppose a casino at the site, while all six candidates said they would negotiate with the tribe to encourage other uses there.
To read candidates' complete responses to the Argus-Courier's questionnaire, visit www.petaluma360.com
(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@argus courier.com.)