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The fact that Friedman's re-entry to Petaluma has been delayed, perhaps even stopped, has been widely reported. Just when we thought the City Council was ready to make a decision on the Deer Creek Village shopping center, opponents launched an 11th-hour gambit that has once again sent the proposal back for more study and analysis.

The impetus for delay was a pair of challenges to the Environmental Impact Report pushed by two former members of the council, former mayor Pamela Torliatt and former council member Janice Cader-Thompson.

Torliatt's challenge was a five-page letter with a huge stack of supporting documents, sent at 11:57 .a.m. on February 27, the day of the Council review. This, of course, did not allow enough time for staff to review the documents.

Cader-Thompson's challenge was in the form of a document submitted by an attorney. More about this later.

The gist of Torliatt's attack on the EIR is that she claims that it doesn't acknowledge that Rainier, the cross-town connector that would give Petalumans another way to get from east to west and vice versa, will never be built.

What Torliatt doesn't acknowledge is that if it isn't built, it would be due largely to the efforts of Torliatt and Cader-Thompson and the small group who call themselves "progressives."

This group has been relentless in opposing shopping center development and building Rainier, the cost for which would be underwritten partially by development. That opposition was largely responsible for Cader-Thompson's defeat when she ran for reelection, and Torliatt's loss at the polls in her bid to be a County Supervisor. Both retail development and the cross-town connector at Rainier are high priorities east of the freeway, and it was no surprise that the east side vote was decisive in both of their defeats.

Cader-Thompson has always been in-your-face blunt about her opposition to Rainier — she does after all live near Rainier Avenue. Torliatt, on the other hand, has always danced around the issue, often speaking one way, voting the other. So, it was surprising for a politician who has been giving every indication of wanting to get back into the electoral maelstrom to choose a position that appears to be supported by a fairly restricted minority in this town.

Her thesis is that if Rainier isn't going to be built, the EIR is not valid, and if the EIR is not valid, the shopping center should not be built (and Friedman's then would probably not make its ballyhooed return).

Analysis of her claims, and rebuttals, will come from other sources. What is of interest in today's writing is the fact that it does seem to be a concerted political effort to derail both the shopping center and Rainier.

This is supported by the fact the challenge from the law firm of Brigit S. Barnes & Associates, Inc. dated February 23, and presented by Cader-Thompson, is referenced in Torliatt's letter, dated February 27. And, just to make this even more fun, it should be acknowledged that the Barnes law firm letterhead's client list includes the owner of the Plaza North Shopping Center, long-time opponents of the Rainier crossing and supporters of candidates opposed to the Rainier crossing.

A great deal of Torliatt's argument centers around her claim that the City absolutely cannot fund the Rainier crossing, and therefore the EIR is invalid. There are plenty of responses to this, some of them obvious, but we'll let the experts handle it. In the multiplicity of challenges she has made, perhaps some may require additional study.

One part of her letter is pure chutzpah. She bolsters her claim by adding that the Petaluma Planning Commission voted 5-1 to reject the EIR for its inadequacies. Take note that she, as Mayor, was instrumental in firing the existing Planning Commission and replacing it with people who are mostly anti-retail development. All five people who voted to deny were her appointees.

If Torliatt does have political ambitions, if she does want to return to public life this year, perhaps it would be better for her if she doesn't succeed in stopping Deer Creek Village. Either way, she'll have to do plenty of dancing.

(Don Bennett, a business writer and consultant, has been involved with city planning issues snce the 1970s. His e-mail address is dcbenn@aol.com.)