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Opinion: City ignored safety concerns in Corona station project

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On March 30, the Petaluma Community Alliance filed a lawsuit against the City of Petaluma regarding their approval of a project that would build 110 single-family homes at the corner of McDowell Boulevard and Corona Road.

The Alliance is focused on preserving and enhancing resident quality of life in the city by advocating for responsible community development. The Alliance is in no way against the idea of having our east side train station at Corona Road. In fact, we look forward to the day it opens.

However, the irresponsible actions of a majority on our City Council — namely council members Mike Healy, Kathy Miller, Gabe Kearney and Dave King — resulted in a deeply flawed project that has a plethora of design, legal and ethical problems. In response to their irresponsible actions, the Alliance formed to stand up for the people throughout Petaluma who would be negatively impacted.

It is impossible to cover the breadth of project shortfalls in a single piece. However, at a minimum the Alliance’s lawsuit will show that the project violates Senate Bill 743 and Public Resources Code Section 21099, that the City misrepresented key guidance and recommendations from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, resulting in false conclusions, and that the project has numerous design deficiencies.

The community raised significant safety concerns, which the City ignored during the process of approving this project.

The intersection at North McDowell Boulevard and Corona Road is one of the most dangerous in Petaluma. Car speeds exceed 40 mph, a train crosses through multiple times per day, there are long traffic queues waiting for stoplights, freight vehicles enter and exit the post office throughout the day, and there is no continuous sidewalk connecting the site to closest services.

Some of those features were not even mentioned in the project’s Transportation Impact Study. However, the TIS did find that the intersection “experienced substantial numbers of rear end crashes” and had 1.62 times more crashes per million vehicles entering than usual.

The hundreds of senior citizens who live in the mobile home parks across the street from the proposed project adds to the hazardous situation. Many of the mobile home park residents commented that it is already unsafe to enter and exit onto McDowell, and in 2011 a man was killed trying to get from the bus stop to his home.

The project was going to include a sidewalk to address pedestrian safety, but that was removed late in the City’s approval process and the impacts of removing it were omitted from any analysis.

In short, few would say that safety is not an issue in this area. But that is essentially the City’s position.

For instance, the City opted to not conduct an in-depth Environmental Impact Report, instead opting for a much less rigorous Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). It is within the City’s legal rights to only require an MND, but the burden of proof is on them to address public concerns and they did not.

In fact, the word “safety” was only used one time in the transportation section of the MND, and it was the sentence stating that the purpose of the TIS was “to evaluate the project’s potential to impact pedestrian, bicycle and traffic safety, conflict with established level of service standards, access, and/or introduce conflicts with the General Plan …”

Given that the word safety is not included in the transportation section of the document that is intended to disclose safety concerns, how can one conclude that the City thoroughly assessed, disclosed and mitigated the project’s safety issues?

The concerned citizens, many of whom live directly across the street from the proposed project, highlighted all of this to the City.

In the end, a few council members chose to turn a blind eye to public safety as they approved this project. Council member Miller even suggested that the residents — primarily seniors and families with children — could walk from the site to Beyond the Glory, a 1.1-mile stretch of high-speed arterial street without continuous sidewalks.

The whole process really showed just how out of touch our council members are with the safety hazards they are creating. Our streets are already unsafe and adding 110 new families to an unsafe intersection with no access to services is a recipe for disaster.

For the second time in two months the City is being sued by residents for putting the community at risk. Hopefully, they start taking safety seriously before people get hurt.

(Brian Barnacle was raised on a farm in Petaluma and is a current resident. He is a small business owner, a land use enthusiast, and the signatory on the Petaluma Community Alliance’s lawsuit against the City.)

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