A place to start for new council
Now that the confetti has settled from the Nov. 6 election, it’s time to put politics aside and get down to the business of governing. After all, that’s what we elect our leaders to do, make the hard decisions that solve our most pressing problems.
Our new elected leaders in Petaluma won’t have any shortage of important issues to keep them busy once they are sworn into office. Whether they are assuming their first elected positions or are incumbents starting another term, here is a short list of projects to tackle in the coming year.
The Petaluma City Council will have two new members come January. Councilwoman Teresa Barrett resoundingly won the mayor’s race and incumbent Councilman Dave King won re-election as the top vote getter. Once final results are certified, the other two seats will likely go to Kevin McDonnell and D’Lynda Fischer, two newcomers who ran on progressive platforms.
The first order of business for the new council should be a detailed, longterm plan for solving the city’s housing crisis. Opposition to new construction has been the stance of so-called progressives in Petaluma. But with housing prices skyrocketing and many working class families priced out of the city, building more affordable housing has become a progressive issue.
McDonnell and Fischer both have experience in urban planning and are well positioned to help guide Petaluma’s future growth. Barrett has been a proponent of adhering to the city’s General Plan and other site-specific plans, which call for infill development and walkable neighborhoods that combine residences, commercial space and transit options to encourage people to get out of their cars.
Fortunately, there are plenty of vacant parcels in Petaluma just begging for this sort of infill development, and our new leaders should wield their political power to incentivize developers to deliver the projects that will add to our housing stock. A prime location is the so-called Haystack Landing development on East Washington Street between the river and the train station.
The vacant, blighted land is perfect for the kind of mixed-use project that has been proposed there over the years, and our leaders should work with the developers to make it a reality.
The poor quality of our streets, another long standing public grievance, could be a much easier problem to solve this coming year and low hanging fruit for a city council looking for an easy win. Voters beat back a repeal of the state gas tax increase, meaning that Petaluma can count on an annual $1 million influx that, statutorily, must be spent on street repairs and can’t be moved to plug any other gaps in the city’s budget.
With guaranteed annual funding for streets, Petaluma should map out which roads will be fixed in the next several years, prioritizing the worst and most used routes. A well publicized plan will let the public know when their neighborhood can expect some attention.
Another infrastructure project that warrants the council’s attention is the Rainier crosstown connector. With funding and a timeline in place to widen Highway 101 and make room for the long planned crosstown road, this council can take significant steps to ready the project for construction.
The key step is doing a detailed appraisal of the project’s cost, expected to be in the $10s of millions, and coming up with a funding plan. Opponents of the Rainier connector have in the past thrown up their hands and claimed the large expense as an excuse for inaction. But given the road’s importance in alleviating traffic, its popularity among voters and the possibility it could be shovel-ready in four years, our leaders need to start looking for creative funding solutions.
Funding will be a major theme of this council term. Fortunately we are getting a boost for our pavement from the gas tax increase, and now our city parks stand to receive $700,000 per year thanks to the recently passed Measure M sales tax.
But Petaluma’s General Fund remains emaciated, and our police and fire departments are dangerously depleted. With pension obligations sucking up an even larger share of the city budget, we are left with no other options besides imposing a new revenue source.
All types of taxes, including a sales tax increase, should be considered to raise additional revenue with public safety getting first crack at the funds.
Our new and continuing elected leaders certainly have tough challenges to face in the coming year. But we are confident that our leaders are capable of working together to find real solutions that benefit the public. We look forward to observing the process, and we wish them luck. When they succeed, Petaluma succeeds.