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Petaluma eyes land for Rainier extension

Petaluma officials are negotiating over land needed to construct the Rainier Avenue crosstown connector, a key step to building the controversial road that has been planned for decades.

The Petaluma City Council on Monday directed City Manager John Brown to negotiate with the owners of three parcels off of Petaluma Boulevard North, the future western terminus of the .65-mile Rainier Avenue extension.

The roadway, planned since 1965, would provide motorists with another option to cross Highway 101, the Petaluma River and Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit tracks. Officials say it will alleviate traffic on the city’s four other crosstown connectors.

The three pieces of land, which are adjacent to meat processing plant Marin Sun Farms, are owned by 196 Cinnabar LLC. The company is owned by David Evans, founder of Marin Sun Farms, and Jeffrey Detwiler, a San Anselmo attorney, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Evans declined to comment on the real estate transaction, and Detwiler did not return a message seeking comment.

According to the Sonoma County Assessor’s Office, the three parcels have a combined value of $1.72 million. Councilman Mike Healy said that the city would only need a portion of each property for the road’s right of way.

“At this point, the city is looking at negotiating an amicable deal as opposed to initiating eminent domain proceedings,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

The city currently has $23 million in a fund set aside for traffic mitigation from development fees.

City Manager John Brown said he has had an initial meeting with the property owner, and hoped to complete the transaction by the beginning of next year.

“I’ve been given authorization to discuss price and terms,” he said. “From the city’s side, I don’t see why this can’t be done by the end of the year.”

The Rainier Avenue extension has been a divisive issue in Petaluma with opponents claiming it would not solve the city’s traffic problems and open up development in a flood plain. In 2015, the last time officials took action on the issue, the council approved the environmental document for the roadway on a 5-2 vote with Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett dissenting.

Both Glass and Barrett said last week that they were in favor of looking into purchasing property for the right of way, but questioned whether the roadway was still necessary.

“We should make sure that we preserve our options,” Barrett said.

Glass said that actually building the road would be a challenge, and he said building a different crosstown connector at Caulfield Lane would be more beneficial.

“Acquiring the land is not the tough part of the process,” he said. “The tough part will come with finding a way to design something that is financially possible and ecologically sound.”

After acquiring land for the right of way, including a fourth parcel east of the Petaluma River, construction of the roadway hinges on Caltrans widening Highway 101 through Petaluma, a project that faces an $85 million funding gap. The freeway work will raise Highway 101 at the location of the Rainier extension, creating an underpass for the new crosstown roadway.

Councilwoman Kathy Miller, who represents the city on the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, said Petaluma should be prepared to break ground on the Rainier project as soon as the freeway is widened.

“We continue to move forward on it while looking for funding for the freeway piece,” she said. “What I would like to see is, when that happens, the city is ready. We need to get our ducks in a row.”

County transportation officials are hopeful that the highway funding will be available by 2018. Supervisor David Rabbitt, a member of the SCTA board, said new state gas tax money could become available for the project, and the county is looking at extending Measure M, the sales tax used for transportation projects, at the November 2018 ballot.

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