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Grants boost Petaluma spending

Petaluma was recently awarded two grants totaling more than $500,000 in state and federal funding that the city plans to use on its affordable housing plan and essential safety equipment for firefighters.

The State Department of Housing and Community Development last week awarded Petaluma $300,000 in a Local Early Action Planning grant. The money will go toward planning efforts as Petaluma addresses a shortfall of affordable housing.

The recent award comes four months after Petaluma was awarded another $310,000 in state money in April under Senate Bill 2, to streamline its development process and encourage accessory dwelling units.

An updated study of Petaluma’s mandated housing needs, which measures the number of housing units available for different income levels, is due next year. The city can use this grant for that effort, according to a letter from Gustavo Velasquez, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

“The LEAP Program reflects the state’s commitment to work in partnership with local governments to address California’s critical housing needs,“ he wrote. ”Local governments are using the grant awards for the preparation and adoption of planning documents, process improvements that accelerate housing production, and to facilitate compliance in implementing the sixth cycle of the regional housing need assessment.“

In an additional award, the Petaluma Fire Department received $251,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for new self-contained breathing apparatuses. The city will need to contribute a 10% match to use the grant.

Jeff Schach, assistant fire chief, said the equipment is vital, especially as we enter critical wildfire season. Petaluma has sent firefighters to major blazes in each of the past three seasons.

The self-contained breathing apparatuses are used during fires to protect firefighters from hot, toxic smoke, and gasses like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, Schach said in an email.

“They are also used during hazardous materials incidents and confined space rescue calls,” he said. “Our current SCBA’s are almost 15 years old and require replacement due their age and condition. Their replacement cost is a significant capital expense for our department budget. This critical piece of equipment would have been a necessary purchase this fiscal year or next with or without the grant. Great news.”

The grants come as Petaluma struggles with a budget that has taken a hit due to lost tax revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic as well as rising pension costs. The city had not fully recovered from the last recession 10 years ago.

The Petaluma City Council has placed a measure on the November ballot that would raise the sales tax by one cent to shore up the General Fund. Measure U, if passed, would boost the city’s budget by an estimated $13.5 million annually.

Petaluma City Manager Peggy Flynn said outside grants help the city save money. The city on average receives about $1.1 million in outside grants each year, she said.

“We are continuously seeking to leverage city dollars to successfully apply for outside funding — which has a multiplier effect and allows us to accomplish more for our community than we would otherwise be able to afford,” she said. “Grants are one of the ways we fund critical public services, innovative ideas and programs and they also provide significant resources to move capital projects forward that benefit the community.”

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

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