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Compromise trumps absolutism

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Ideological purity has been frequently mentioned during the Democratic presidential primary campaign. It refers to candidates and their supporters who take an absolutist political stance and refuse to compromise or back down.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is often mentioned as an ideological purist, espousing a doctrine of democratic socialism that is extreme even within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Sanders’ supporters appreciate the fact that he unapologetically adheres to this ideology, even in the face of criticism over its lack of mass appeal and questions about the senator’s electability.

More importantly, though, is that ideological purity is a major cause of our political polarization in this country. A generation ago, in what is now a bygone era of bipartisanship, politicians were more moderate and not as entrenched in their extreme views. To pass legislation, compromises were made. Politicians changed their stance on issues based on new information.

Alas, compromise happens less frequently now, which is partly to blame for our national political dysfunction. There is also evidence that ideological purity is seeping into our local politics.

Take the recent battle over the Corona Station development in Petaluma. After several public hearings and fierce opposition, a deal was finally reached that will result in Petaluma getting a second SMART station with 150 parking spaces, 110 townhomes near the east side station, 400 apartment units near the downtown station and 50 affordable housing units on Petaluma Boulevard South.

For a city with a housing crisis and a climate emergency, this deal would seem like a windfall. Yet it was almost derailed by ideological purists.

The main objection centered around the fact that the development near the Corona Road SMART station was not dense enough to be considered transit oriented. This is a fair point.

Ideally, to take advantage of the benefits of the future transit station, the nearby development should have been proposed as a three- or four-story apartment block with limited parking, providing housing for more people who can use the train to commute. A small commercial component like a convenience store, would ensure the need for even fewer car trips.

That would have been an ideal project, and it was what opponents pushed to achieve. But the developer, Lomas Partners, said such a development would not be economically feasible. Lomas is the landowner, not the city, and there are few things the city can do short of banning single-family zoning to compel a developer to increase density. If the developer can’t build a project that makes the most economic sense, they will likely just sit on the vacant land rather than take a loss building the city’s preferred project. That’s just business.

In the case of Corona, the developer did slightly modify the plans based on community feedback. Density was increased, which will result in 110 townhomes instead of fewer single-family homes. Yes, each townhome will have a two-car garage, but that doesn’t mean every homeowner will have two cars. Some may use the garage space for storage or as an office.

And let’s not forget that adjacent to the new station is the Brody Ranch development, which is adding 200 housing units, including 140 apartments, so the area is set to be rich in housing.

Instead of lamenting the lack of density at the Corona site, we should instead focus on the benefits of the deal. Petaluma will finally get its long awaited second station with 150 parking spaces. For commuters, this will make the SMART train much more useful as the downtown station suffers from a lack of parking. More train riders equals less car trips, which is better for the climate.

Also, the 400 housing units next to the downtown station that are part of this deal, and another nearly 200 planned for an adjacent vacant parcel, will transform and beautify the blighted downtown station area and provide the transit-oriented development that critics of the deal were advocating. On top of this, the developer has promised to partner with Burbank Housing on a 50-unit affordable housing project on Petaluma Boulevard South.

To set this deal in motion, the city was on a tight timeline. SMART is currently constructing a station in Windsor, and the Petaluma station had to be added to that contract while the builder is still in the area. If not, we might have had to wait until the Healdsburg or Cloverdale stations were under construction, which may be a decade or more.

So, the Corona Station deal is a victory for Petaluma as it deals with an acute housing shortage. It is a victory in Petaluma’s battle to combat climate change. And while the housing element near the second station could have been more dense, it is a victory for compromise over ideological purity.

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