Climate, development top Petaluma news in 2019
Like in 2017, the past year was again marked by natural disasters - fires, floods and power outages. In 2019, Petaluma again showed resiliency as a community, responding to these disasters by welcoming evacuees while lending a hand to stem the crisis.
But Petaluma this year also addressed the root cause of nature’s ire - climate change. From ranking climate change among the top of the Petaluma City Council’s goals to declaring a climate emergency, the issue was the top story in a busy year.
The year started with transition in Petaluma’s top leadership. Both the mayor and city manager’s seat changed hands at the beginning of the year as two new city council members took the dais. The Petaluma school board also saw a shakeup after last year’s election unseated three incumbents.
Controversial issues, never in short supply in Petaluma, came to a head at City Hall as battles were waged over gas stations, public art and development.
Meanwhile, major transportation projects like the SMART train, highway expansion, bike paths and river maintenance advanced to varying degrees.
The legal cannabis market gained a foothold in Petaluma as its acceptance increases. And, throughout the year, Petalumans excelled in the arts and sports, bringing glory to their hometown.
Here is a recap of the top 10 Petaluma stories of 2019:
1. Climate change
Petaluma leaders, with constituent input, identified early this year that climate change is a real threat to this low-lying city. Several climate marches, some youth-led, brought the national urgency home to Petaluma’s streets.
Tackling climate change was listed among the top city goals. Then, in May, the city council declared a climate emergency, raising the issue to the highest priority and marshaling resources of local government to analyze the city’s contribution to climate change with the goal of zero carbon emissions within 25 years.
“I have no problem with adopting a climate emergency resolution. Obviously I think there is a climate emergency,” Mayor Teresa Barret said at the time. “I do have a problem with thinking that that is enough, that by adopting a resolution we can give people the idea that we can check that box and move on.”
Later in the year the city formed a Climate Action Commission to study how the city’s actions contribute to climate change.
2. Natural disasters
Weather-related disasters this year showed that the consequences of climate change are having an affect on Petaluma now. A wet winter was capped off by a heavy rain in January that flooded several streets around the upper reaches of the Petaluma River.
But the real impact came in October after a hot, dry summer. PG&E, under pressure for causing the 2017 firestorm, preemptively cut power to thousands of Sonoma County residents, including many in east Petaluma, to prevent its equipment from starting another blaze.
The attempt proved to be futile, however, when a power line near Geyserville sparked a massive wildfire on Oct. 23. The Kincade fire ended up torching 77,000 acres and caused the largest evacuation in county history.
Petaluma, which was spared from the fire threat, again opened emergency shelters for evacuees.
“Remarkably, and then again not surprisingly, the evacuation went relatively well,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom on a tour of Petaluma shelters. “We have a lot of experience from 2017. Half the folks that are in this shelter were evacuated in 2017.”
Petaluma sent three engines and a crew of firefighters to help in the effort to protect homes in Windsor and Healdsburg.
3. Leadership change
The November 2018 election brought a significant change to the leadership at Petaluma City Hall. The beginning of 2019 saw the inauguration of two new city council members and a new mayor, all with strong progressive bona fides.
Teresa Barrett, who was a councilwoman, won the mayor’s race and was sworn in along with newcomers Councilwoman D’Lynda Fischer and Councilman Kevin McDonnell. Councilman Dave King also won reelection.
Also stepping down at the end of last year was longtime City Manager John Brown.
Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun briefly took the reins until the city hired Peggy Flynn to lead Petaluma’s administration. Brodhun retired later in the year.
The former assistant city manager of Novato, Flynn went to work creating a strong public outreach campaign and making progress on several key development projects.
“My philosophy is we work for you. We work for residents and businesses here,” Flynn said at the time. “We need to have that two-way discussion. ... It’s government for the people and by the people.”