Nineteen-seventy-five was a vibrant year in Petaluma.
Topics of passionate public conversation included Mayor Helen Putnam and ”The Petaluma Plan,” a new library in town, river dredging, a housing agency, a redevelopment of downtown with The Great Petaluma Mill, “Christo’s Fence,” a fire at the Creamery, heightened interest in wrist-wrestling, and lots more. It was, in fact, a fairly active year for the world in general. The U.S. population was 243 million in 1975, the State of California contained 21 million people, and Petaluma’s population had just spiked to a whopping 26,000.
We were still a small town, but many were concerned we were growing too fast.
In the ’60s, Petaluma’s population had doubled by 10,000, and then, in the single year of 1970-1, it soared by another 5,000. Key worries were water supply, sewer capacity and over-crowded schools. Our Mayor, Helen Putnam, and the City Council had long been determined to control future growth here, and in 1973, the city had voted-in a revolutionary limited growth idea, a measure than won by a 4 to 1 margin.
It was a land mark decision, the first in the nation.
And it was angrily protested by the construction industry. They sued, and the city of Petaluma took the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where our plan was finally approved. The High Court stated in its decision, “The city is within its rights to preserve its small town character.”
In the following years, many cities in America adopted our innovative idea.
Petaluma’s huge Co-op Creamery burned to the ground that fall, in a fire that was one of the worst in our city’s history. An entire block on Western Avenue was lost. The Argus-Courier headline said it all. “BLAZE GUTS CREAMERY!” The story took-up the entire front page, with the loss estimated at over two million dollars. That important dairy-serving facility was rebuilt several years later.
The long awaited new library on Washington and Payran began construction in ’75, replacing the too-small Carnegie Library on the corner of Kentucky and B Street. The new library was to be built on the site of our Little League Baseball field, but, not to fret. The L.L. was moved to a better location, and the old library became our Petaluma Historical Library and Museum.
A big County-wide argument in ’75 was the subject of “Christo’s Fence,” and its possible impact on the affected ranchers. In March, the Board of Supervisors had approved that miles-long art project, which won by a 5 to 1 vote. But the chambers were packed with ranchers claiming, “If it isn’t illegal, it’s immoral!”
The fence was approved anyway.
The four big national stories of 1975 were the end of the Vietnam War, Nixon’s Watergate scandal, the Patti Hearst/SLA saga, and the attempted assassinations of President Gerald Ford.
Oh yes, and then there were the tantalizing stories of labor boss Jimmy Hoffa disappearing, boxer Muhammed Ali’s “Thrilla in Manila,” Great Britain voting to stay IN the European Union (It took another 41 years for them to change their minds), and California Governor Ronald Reagan hinting that he “might” be making a run for the Presidency.
In other news, “Jaws” was the movie of the year, although “One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest” was a close second. “Saturday Night Live” debuted on TV that year, with comedian George Carlin as its very first host. Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded something they would call “Microsoft,” Mr. Potato Head was the toy of the year, and the religious group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses declared that 1975 would definitely be “The year of Armageddon.”