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A banner election for Petaluma progressives

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Some weeks before the midterm election, as people were still putting up lawn signs and figuring out their Halloween costumes, I met with Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett at Riverfront Cafe to talk about the upcoming election and politics in general.

It felt significant seeing them together, the outgoing mayor and the hopeful future mayoral. Glass and Barrett are old political allies who have served alongside each other as Petaluma leaders since 1999, when they first met on the city’s Planning Commission, chaired at that time by the late Argus-Courier columnist Don Bennett. They’ve been torchbearers for Petaluma’s progressive politics ever since. And Barrett’s eventual victory, on Nov. 6, can be seen as a passing of the torch as well.

But at the time of our meeting Barrett’s victory was far from assured. Mike Harris was having another go at running for mayor, and the last time he did that, against the incumbent Glass in 2014, he lost by the thinnest of margins: 84 votes. (Never say your vote doesn’t count.)

So Barrett was taking nothing for granted. But that doesn’t mean she was backing away from her political ideals. If anything, she doubled down on them. And to my eyes she looked to be enjoying herself, telling jokes over a glass of wine between serious observations on our city’s future.

“Petalumans desperately need the kind of housing that developers desperately do not want to build,” she told me. It was a line from the first candidate forum at City Hall on Oct. 2, and she was repeating it now.

What does it mean to be a progressive citizen of Petaluma? It means supporting smart growth over sprawl, environmental health over individual profits, and fair treatment for all. It means believing in the role of government, supporting key infrastructure for the public good such as parks and mass transit, and demanding transparency and accountability from our leaders. It means believing, as Barrett and Glass do, that developers’ plans should work for the cities that approve them, not the other way around.

In the case of our recent election, going by the endorsements of Barrett and Glass meant supporting Dave King, Kevin McDonnell, D’Lynda Fischer and/or Dennis Pocekay for city council. And by that standard, Nov. 6 was a good day for Petaluma progressives, because King, McDonnell and Fischer all secured seats in unofficial returns. (The city’s other main race, for Petaluma City Schools board, also went well for progressives, with Mady Cloud, Sheri Chlebowski and Joanna Paun coming out on top.)

And Measure M, a county measure supporting our regional parks, crushed it with 70 percent approval.

As for Barrett, she won handily — no thin margin this time around. The outcome confirmed what Glass said about her during our meeting at the cafe: “She has a crossover of voters that is unique. ... She bridges the gap for a lot of people.”

With the new bloc of progressives in office, expect a city government that is more responsive to the people it serves. For development decisions, the center of gravity shifts to King and McConnell. For fiscal policy, there is a greater chance the city will develop a revenue plan that everyone can support. And preexisting revenue streams that benefit the public – for example, the impact fees developers pay for affordable housing – are more likely to remain in place.

As for Barrett, she saw a clear message in this month’s election: “Don’t build more projects that locals can’t afford and that just lead to more and more traffic problems.” She added, “I hope the three council members who did not stand for election understand this message and take it to heart, as I think it will only be stronger as 2020 comes around.”

(Don Frances is a Petaluma writer. This is the first installment of his new regular column on the people, places and ideas that make Petaluma great. He can be reached at donfrances@gmail.com.)