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Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds future up for discussion

The first meeting to broach public discussion over the future of the city-owned Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds property will take place later this month, following a postponement amid the Kincade fire and PG&E power shut offs.

The centrally-located 64-acre property is nearing the expiration of its lease with the Fair’s operating agency, creating an opportunity for the city to explore possible new uses on the expansive plot of land.

The Jan. 31 meeting marks the first public step in planning for the property’s future, and punctuates an effort on behalf of the city to lift the curtains on the process for the benefit of community members. The fair’s operator, the state-run 4th District Agricultural Association, has held the property since 1973. The current lease expires 2023, following a one-time 25-year extension of the original 25-year term.

The city council voted to appoint members Mike Healy, Dave King and Kevin McDonnell to the temporary subcommittee that will represent the city in talks with Dominic Grossi, Michael Parks and Brian Sobel representing the fair board.

City Manager Peggy Flynn and third-party facilitator ?Barry Long from Urban Design Associates will meet with the city and fair board subcommittees Jan. 30 to discuss community outreach options in advance of the public meeting the following day.

“It’s going to be our initial convening of these two groups that haven’t been engaged for a couple years, at least,” Flynn said of the Jan. 30 private meeting. “It’s been a while since we’ve all been in a room, when we can talk about expectations, history, and find common ground before the discussion Friday.”

This initiation of public talks follows years of torpidity, and is a direct response to years of complaints lobbed at the city from those wanting more open collaboration. A majority of council members voiced an eagerness during the Sept. 9 council meeting to incorporate more transparency, pointing to impatience among community members over lack of engagement opportunities.

“I think we’ve been hiding long enough, this has been going on for several years and there have been lots of closed session meetings on this by both the city and fair board,” said Councilwoman Kathy Miller at the September meeting. “People are tired of it, they want to know what’s going on.”

The $1 per year lease with 4th District Agricultural Associations provides the city $1 million annually in revenue, and city officials have indicated a desire to keep the fair at the site, albeit on a smaller footprint.

In opening up usable space on the sprawling property, the city is looking to maximize roughly 55 acres. Ideas floated by community members and city leaders include constructing affordable housing, relocating City Hall and creating an event center.

“We’re super excited for this first phase, especially given the myriad of possible uses for the fairgrounds,” Flynn said. “We want to make sure everyone gets to weigh in and discuss our collective future for this property, which is an important asset to Petaluma and its residents.”

Both subcommittees will convene for the public meeting Jan. 31 in City Council chambers at 9 a.m., and the meeting will be both livestreamed and recorded.

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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