A win, a loss and a tie for city

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In one week, Petaluma saw three separate newsworthy events, each offering a different set of implications for city residents on long running issues.

First, there was the revelation that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not budget the Petaluma River dredging project into its 2019 work plan. Then, on Dec. 1, an environmental group announced it had raised enough money to purchase a 44-acre extension of Helen Putnam Park. Lastly, on Dec. 3, the city council finally weighed in on a controversial Safeway gas station project and sent it back for more environmental review.

For those of you keeping score at home, the dredging news is a loss for the city; the land deal is a win for the city; and the gas station decision amounts to a tie, or at least a do-over.

No dredging

It was immensely frustrating to learn that, for at least another year, there will be no dredging on the Petaluma River. That will make 13 years and counting since the last silt was removed from the river.

Due to the lack of dredging, what was once a mighty working river, replete with commercial shippers and pleasure boats, now is a mud-choked swamp passable by none but the smallest of craft. Islands of silt become exposed at low tide.

Petaluma is counting on the river as an economic asset, focusing more development along the river and looking to attract tourists with enhancements like the small craft rental center and riverfront restaurants. But if the river is unusable, then this plan is stuck in the mud.

The river is also our main conduit for flushing away flood waters as our streams and creeks all drain into the tidal slough. As the river becomes more clogged, the entire watershed will become backed up, meaning we will be more at risk for dangerous flooding.

Rep. Jared Huffman has worked tirelessly to lobby the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the river, but so far to no avail. Larger ports that handle more commercial freight are prioritized while we continue to languish. Hopefully, in the new Democratic-controlled Congress, Huffman can use his clout to get the job done.

Davidon deal

A group called the Kelly Creek Protection Project raised more than $4 million to buy 44 acres of land owned by developer Davidon Homes. The group fell short of an ambitious goal to raise $11 million to purchase 58 acres, the entire Davidon-owned tract.

What this means is that a compromise deal will now more forward, ending a contentious 14-year project that will result in more park land and fewer homes than originally proposed. Davidon’s initial plan for the pastoral land in the hilly fringes of west Petaluma was a development of up to 93 homes.

The project is now reduced to as many as 28 mid-range homes, which will add to Petaluma’s housing stock. In the current housing crisis, any residential building, even at the upper end of the economic spectrum, will help loosen vacancy rates and ease skyrocketing housing prices.

Even better for all Petaluma residents is the future 44-acre extension of Helen Putnam Regional Park, the popular hiking area just west of the city. This land will include new hiking trails, restrooms and parking, which will be enjoyed by all Petaluma residents, not just those who can afford the new adjacent homes.

Maybe gas here

Opponents and supporters of the Safeway discount gas station proposal on McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive packed City Hall for the third time in recent months. The project, which was proposed six years ago, has repeatedly been delayed due to last minute filings of data and paperwork.

Opponents say the eight-pump station is too close to schools and ball fields and would cause unwanted traffic. Supporters say it would provide a cheaper alternative to expensive gas in the city. The city council had the final say, and delivered a win for neither side, instead sending the project back for a full environmental impact report.

This was the right decision. The proposed location was zoned for a gas station, and the General Plan update would have been the ideal time to try and block the project. Still, approving such a sensitive, controversial project without an EIR would have opened the city up for legal challenges. Now, after the study is complete, we will have a better understanding of what the actual impacts will be. Facts are more useful than feelings.

Also, once we know the impacts of the project, we will be able to mitigate them. Yes, an EIR will take more time, but hopefully the end result will put this project into the city’s win column.

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