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For progressive Wolpert, development key issue

Affixed to Bill Wolpert’s office computer is the dictionary definition of the word “progressive.” It is this left-of-center political mindset that Wolpert, a candidate for the Petaluma City Council, hopes will differentiate him from the three incumbents in the race, who he has cast as moderates.

“I don’t know of a better term for my views than progressive,” said Wolpert, 63.

The Petaluma planning commissioner and architect has made development a key campaign issue in this rare election year without the kind of rancorous, divisive issues of years past. One such development, the Marina Apartments off Lakeville Street, has become emblematic of his crusade for a more walkable, bikeable city.

As planning commissioner, Wolpert voted with the majority to deny the project, citing among other reasons, a desire for the developer to include an adjacent bike path. The city council overruled the planning commission, approving the project without the bike bath, with incumbents Mike Healy, Kathy Miller and Gabe Kearney voting with the majority.

“I’m looking for a higher standard for development,” said Wolpert, who owns Green Building Architects. “I want to see more robust mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development.”

While the incumbents have said they favor walkable, mixed-use developments, Wolpert said their recent project approvals, including the Deer Creek shopping center, haven’t met his standard.

“That’s not what I’d call robust mixed-use,” he said.

Wolpert said he will champion environmental causes if elected to the council, including combating climate change with improved public transit and more electric vehicle charging stations. He also sees housing affordability as a serious challenge facing Petaluma and other communities, that is driving away young working class families.

He said that the city’s short-term vacation rental policy, which allows residents to rent out properties on sites like Airbnb, has eaten into the city’s housing stock.

“We shot ourselves in the foot when we allowed houses to be rented out short-term,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of rental housing off the market.”

As the newcomer in the race, Wolpert has the challenge of gaining name recognition ahead of the Nov. 8 election. He shares the progressive ideology with Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett, and he has been endorsed by former Mayor Pam Torliatt, the Sonoma County Democratic Party, which also endorsed Healy, and Sonoma County Conservation Action, among others.

Originally from the Central Valley, Wolpert received a degree in architecture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and worked as an architect in Pasadena for 20 years before moving to Portola Valley to work in an architecture firm.

After the firm struggled during the dot-com bust around 2000, he moved north, first to a house outside of Petaluma in the Chileno Valley, then into the city limits.

He lives with his wife, a former culinary arts teacher at Casa Grande High School.

Besides development and the environment, Wolpert has been studying the many other issues facing the city, including the budget, public safety and infrastructure needs, in addition to campaigning and running his business. He admits that it has been a steep learning curve.

“I’ve never been so busy in my life,” he said. “Fortunately, my wife has been very supportive.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)