Bennett: Rainier will take action, not arguments

It has been suggested that I have been a bit harsh with our mayor lately and I got to thinking that maybe my critics are right. But just when I decide to do a column on nasturtiums or goldenrod or some such, he once again bursts forth with the type of utterances that make further comments irresistible.

Two weeks ago, I suggested that his proposal to tie a sales tax for the construction of the Rainier cross-town connector to a two-thirds vote was a cynical ploy to kill Rainier funding, at least in the short term. Most savvy local poll-watchers agree that it is utopian thinking to expect an affirmative two-thirds vote for taxes in Petaluma.

Then, last week the mayor responded, arguing that the proposal (first advanced by his council colleague Teresa Barrett) was indeed an earnest effort to get Rainier funded and built. In his words, he is “committed to getting Rainier built.”

At this point my skepticism meter soared. Historically, Glass has been an outspoken opponent of Rainier, and was angrily expressed when the community was asked what it wanted.

Ten years ago, Measure S on the November ballot was a simple advisory measure, essentially asking the community if they wanted Rainier built or not. The operative language was this:

“The people of the City of Petaluma do strongly urge and advise the Petaluma City Council to pursue the design, environmental analysis, funding and construction of a cross-town connector and interchange connecting Petaluma Boulevard North with the intersection of Rainier Avenue and North McDowell Boulevard.”

In the official voter pamphlet, the argument against Measure S was headed by, you guessed it, David Glass. He was mayor then, and was listed first of five people authoring the statement.

That argument went pretty much like this: The Rainier connector won’t solve our traffic problems, it will just make it worse. It would threaten “native oak woodlands” along the river and would primarily benefit “big box retail development.”

The argument said, “Why should taxpayers subsidize development in the worst place for it?”

Does that sound like the words of someone “committed to getting Rainier built?”

Also, Glass was first in a list of three rebutting the ballot argument in favor of Measure S, arguing that “you will not find any claim of actual, measurable traffic relief on East Washington or anywhere else if this project is built.”

At any rate, the voters of Petaluma disagreed with him, and if my memory serves me, the vote in support of Measure S came in somewhere around 70 percent. The community wants another way to get across Highway 101 from one side of town to another.

Now, I concede that the mayor may have had a change of heart in the intervening decade, but very few familiar with either him or the issue believes that. For one thing, his core constituency is the bloc that call themselves the “progressives,” and opposition to Rainier is and has been a key plank in their unofficial party platform.

If and when the mayor indicates a willingness to sit down with his council colleagues who support Rainier to help figure out a way to get it built, and offer his leadership to work with them to get it built, then I will concede that he has turned 180 degrees. So far, his expressions of commitment have been to advocate alternatives to Rainier that have no substantive support, such as the “Washington First” plan, an interchange at Corona Road, or his most recent effort to require a two-thirds vote for Rainier funding.

It is worth noting that the name at the top of the list of the argument rebutting Glass’ opposing argument was Councilmember Mike Harris. This fall, the two are facing each other in the election for mayor of Petaluma.

Currently, about 60 percent of the city’s voters live east of the freeway, and there is overwhelming support for Rainier. The lack of another cross-town connector essentially forms a barrier that isolates east-side folks from the historic downtown district. They have consistently voted to knock that barrier down, on Measure S, and for candidates.

If Mayor Glass wants that vote, it will take actions, not arguments.

(Don Bennett, business writer and consultant, has been involved with city planning issues since the 1970s. His email address is dcbenn@aol.com.)