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Opinion: Facts about Corona lawsuit

Incumbents running for City Council have levied several misleading attacks against Brian Barnacle concerning the Corona Station development, including on social media, in the press, and most recently a robocall. It’s time to set the record straight.

Yes, it’s true that Brian is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city. Ask yourself why he joins a growing number of citizen-led lawsuits against Petaluma. Because they are the only option when the City Council blatantly ignores the public’s interests.

And for the record, Brian has offered multiple times to debate the incumbents one-on-one in an open forum on this topic, but they refuse. What are they hiding from? Here’s the truth.

First, the lawsuit has actually increased the number of affordable units at the Corona Station from 11 to 116. The day after plaintiffs delivered their settlement terms to the developer, he sold it to an affordable housing developer, making the entire project affordable rental housing. This is a huge win for the city.

Second, the new developer also ceded the land needed to build the east side SMART station.

Third, the lawsuit costs the city nothing. The developer is responsible for all the defendants’ legal fees.

With these falsehoods cleared up, let’s review the merits of the case. In a recent candidate forum, Brian summed it up well: “The deficiencies of this project ranged from immoral to illegal.”

On the legal front, the lawsuit asserts that the city violated the Mitigation Fee Act, was not consistent with the General Plan land use designation, and failed to assess, disclose, and mitigate the project’s safety and traffic impacts.

The Mitigation Fee Act requires that our transportation impact fees be used to reduce traffic or improve safety on our roadway. Instead, the City put $2 million from our transportation mitigation fund into an escrow account to help the developer (a donor to Mike Healy’s 2016 campaign) buy prime real estate in downtown.

The General Plan called for mixed-use development, but this project ignored the General Plan. Instead, they proposed nearly all market-rate, single-family homes with two-car garages, no yards, and minimal open space for children. This meant that every time a person in the area wanted a gallon of milk or a cup of coffee, they would need to drive, adding to traffic on McDowell. It also meant that the only place for children to play was in the street.

On the safety front, the land use violations compounded both safety and traffic issues. Further, the environmental review did not even mention the word “safety,” yet the city planned to build a train station and locate 110 families at an intersection that already has 1.6 times more accidents than other similar intersections.

Neighboring residents raised these concerns but the slim majority on the City Council ignored them. We should not be taking safety lightly. Ignoring street safety in projects like this is one big reason people are increasingly unsafe on our roads.

Now for the immoral part. In addition to illegally giving the developer $2 million, the City Council allowed him to push the majority of the affordable housing to the far south edge of town, next to the freeway — away from jobs, transit, and other public services — so the downtown parcel could be exclusively luxury apartments. This is an immoral practice that we should not tolerate in our town.

Some say we need council members who can compromise. But the original Corona Station project was no compromise. It was a sellout. At one City Council meeting, the developer said the whole project could be affordable housing. But the Council did not even consider it, despite the fact we have hit only 15% of our affordable housing targets.

The contrast is clear: The incumbents stood up for their donor’s profits. But Brian stood up for our community. That’s the kind of leader I want making decisions about our future.

(Davis Everett is a climate activist and Petaluma resident, who supports responsible growth, affordable housing, and government transparency.)

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