A Petaluma Homeless Christmas Carol…2010 (Another Redux)

I fully intended that last year’s post on this subject (Click Here) would be my last. 

However, while riding through Lucchesi this Christmas Eve morning, I noted someone sleeping next to the Community Center…

This scene persuaded me to break my vow and to check out the now (in)famous Homeless Christmas Carol location on Lynch Creek Trail.  As I approached the bridge, I noticed that the tree was once again decorated, although not as gaily as in past years. In fact, it was a fairly sad looking tree…

One ornament was particularly poignant…

Petaluma’s State Of The Union–Part II

BACKGROUND

Petaluma’s State Of The Union–Part I invited a discussion about how we are dealing with the changes being forced on us due to the general state of economic affairs in our fair city:

…the (current) economic malaise is not unique to Petaluma. It is playing out across the nation and some areas of the country are more severely affected than here.

Overall, I suspect that we are, to borrow a phrase from Bill Gross of Pimco, seeking a “new normal” economically. This journey to the “new normal” will take many months, if not years.

So how do we cope locally?

This article reflects some of the discussions generated by Part I.

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I do agree we are all on a journey to a “new normal,” although at this point it is far from clear at what level the economy will stabilize.  Everything that we as individuals, businesses and government at all levels have come to treat as business as usual needs to be reexamined in light of the new realities, including the uncertainty around things once thought to be more stable than they are. –A Reader

Neighborhoods & Public Spaces (Streets & Parks)

The current recession has adversely affected the City’s ability to stay even with deteriorating streets, park maintenance, broken streetlights and neighborhood blight.  In my experience, these are the most common daily “complaints” registered with me or expressed on the various forums on Petaluma 360.

Frankly, I don’t expect things to get better for quite some time.  We will be doing “good” if they don’t get any worse. 

Notwithstanding, even though operating with a severely limited budget, the City could do a better job of communicating as to what can be done and what can’t be done…or when it can be done.

Why is it so hard to find out what is going on? Why is everything a big secret?–A reader

The City Website is the perfect place to create a public advisory newsletter with a cross link from Petaluma 360 if they would agree to do so.

Such a newsletter could and should

  • Advise where and how to report concerns or complaints as well as provide telephone numbers, links to online complaint forms, and e-mail contacts.
  • Advise and assure the public that their code violation complaints are confidential under state law.
  • Educate people on what is or is not the City’s responsibility with respect to maintenance questions, neighborhood preservation questions, and code enforcement issues.

Granted, much of this information is available throughout the web site. However, it is widely scattered and difficult to find.  It needs to be brought to one place on the Home Page with few cross-links to other parts of the site. It has been my experience that if people are required to go more than two clicks to get to information, you are going to lose them.  

Remember…

  • If the public is not encouraged to communicate and to report, there can be no response or action.
  • While there may not be money or staffing available at present to deal with a problem such as a broken street lamp, a pothole, or an alleged code violation, it is better to have it reported and recorded for attention at a later date. 
  • In many instances there will have to be an express understanding that a response or corrective action may be delayed. 

Sales Tax Revenue

Much ink and newsprint has been expended (not to mention the angst displayed in the local blogosphere) about Petaluma’s need for more retail.

I am not about to delve into the passionate debates/discussions about “retail leakage” or the elements of the big-box vs. local store argument. I do note that the driving force is the crazy California financial and tax structure causing sales tax revenue to be, as one reader put it,  “…disproportionately important for local government.”

One solution is to attempt to add a new local sales tax. From Cotati, a reader reports:   “We’ll put a 1/2 cent sales tax on the ballot in April. All revenue stays in Cotati!”

  • Granted this is one way to generate some revenue for your city.
  • However, it is going to be a tough sell in Cotati. A few days ago, I noticed a car parked on a street holding up a sign that almost eclipsed the car from view–(“STOP THE TAXES”) 

A sales tax proposal for Petaluma has no chance. It would be political suicide.

Another solution is retail development. The “debate” in Petaluma over the nature and extent of the Regency Project (Target) will eventually be resolved through the planning process and the City Council. 

Regardless of the outcome, I still have the feeling that the arguments on either side are not taking account of what I perceive to be a changing retail environment–More and more retail shopping is online. For another take on the future shape of retailing see Impassioned Petaluma City Council Votes Yes on Contentious Development by Frances Rivetti.

Yes, we need to find ways to generate more sales tax revenue in Petaluma and Regency may be a part of the answer.  Nevertheless, sales tax revenue alone is not going to be the solution to the City’s budget woes.

As one reader put it “…ultimately the focus has to be on attracting businesses to locate and grow here that provide head-of-household jobs.  Those are the kinds of jobs that allow people to live in this community and patronize our shops and restaurants.  In order to attract these kinds of businesses to come here, we need solid public services — good streets, parks, utilities, police, fire, schools — the entire range. And right now, with public services in a downward spiral, we don’t have a very compelling story.”

Quite a challenge if you think about it…

What Can We Do?

Well…

To borrow from Suzanne Maggio-Hucek 

Don’t just stand there

Making the transition to a “new normal” is never easy.  At the individual level, writing letters, volunteering, and staying informed are all activities that contribute to our social and community infrastructure.

In addition, a little personal reflection may help us to put some of the perceived wrongs and passions of the moment into perspective…

It’s funny what happens when we change our perspective. Step back. Switch it up a bit. Things change when we take the time to see something in a different way.

Take the time to change your view.

Change your view  Suzanne Maggio-Hucek 

Perhaps then we may be able to see the rainbow more clearly… and eventually blue skies…

 

A Petaluma Christmas Carol…2009–Revisited

In A Petaluma Christmas Carol…2009 (December 6, 2009) I reported as follows:

In 2007, the day after Christmas, I posted “A Petaluma Christmas Carol” on Petaluma 360. That article was based on a homeless camp that included Christmas decorations and a Christmas Tree.

I visited the location in December 2008 and there was no camp. Therefore, I reposted the article in its original form.

As part of the review process for this year, I returned to the site on December 3. A homeless camp similar to the one in 2007 had once again been established. This time it included a household pet with feeding dishes…

At the time I published the 2009 Christmas Carol, there was no Christmas Tree.  However….

I happened to be passing by the location early on December 19, 2009 and noticed that the camp was still in place.  This time, however, I also noted that the Christmas tree has once again been established. While not as elaborate as the 2007 tree, it is still  a testament to our times and evidence that people will honor the season in even the most difficult of circumstances…

 

A Petaluma Christmas Carol…2009

FOREWORD

In 2007, the day after Christmas, I posted “A Petaluma Christmas Carol” on Petaluma 360. That article was based on a homeless camp that included Christmas decorations and a Christmas Tree.

I visited the location in December 2008 and there was no camp. Therefore, I reposted the article in its original form. 

 As part of the review process for this year, I returned to the site on December 3. A homeless camp similar to the one in 2007 had once again been established. This time it included a household pet with feeding dishes…

 

Not trusting myself to not go off the rails if I were to comment on this scene, I will simply allow it to speak for itself and to serve as preamble to…

******

A Petaluma Christmas Carol 2007-2009

In Sleepless & Homeless In Petaluma   (Also see Alternative Link) I suggested that none of us were immune from the possibility of ending up without a home…

…seeking assistance or shelter from the cold…

…or living outside under a Petaluma bridge…

I did not plan to revisit this subject, but events often override intentions…

December 23, 2007

As I was traveling over the bridge that was the subject of Sleepless & Homeless, I noticed that the scene had been decorated for Christmas–a Christmas Tree, Christmas Wreaths, and objects at the base of the tree. One of the objects was a copy of Better Homes & Gardens–intentional or not, the irony was glaring.

In spite of the circumstance of their situation, the creators of this Outdoor Christmas managed to demonstrate their Christmas Spirit. 

I thought of Dickens…and how little has changed since he wrote the now iconic A Christmas Carol in 1843.

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‘Every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!’…

 ‘At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,’ said the gentleman, taking up a pen, ‘it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.’

 

‘Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.’

 

‘At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said ‘I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes down…’

 ‘If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future…’

 

   

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children…
–‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.  This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.
–Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.  Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.
 
 And abide the end.’

 

‘A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.’

‘God bless us every one.’ said Tiny Tim, the last of all.’

 

******

It has almost become a seasonal ritual or cliche to encourage people to make year-end charitable donations. 

Petaluma’s COTS is a remarkable organization dedicated to helping  homeless individuals and families. For additional background, see Petaluma’s Homeless Neighbors

A COTS donation in any amount will be appreciated and will be put to good use.

1. You can donate online at http://www.cots-homeless.org/ 

or

2. You can send a check to

COTS
P.O. Box 2744
Petaluma, CA 94953

A Neighborhood Story–Part II

In A Neighborhood Story, I described the background for the “Rene Drive Potluck” on October 4.  To quickly recap,  invitational flyers had been distributed to each home a month in advance and a reminder invitation was distributed the week before the event.

Violating conventional wisdom, sign-up lists for dishes were not circulated.  People were simply invited to come and asked: “To bring your favorite dish, beverage, and chair and join the rest of the neighbors.”  Organizers were prepared to have no one respond or, in the alternative, to be faced with several varieties of potato salad.

Come the big day, tables and chairs started to appear in front of some of the homes. Ken Burnett from the Public Works Department (second from the left in the photo below) stopped by and gave advice on how and where to set up the street barricades…

Ken Burnett

In short order, people, chairs, and tables with umbrellas started to arrive and the event took on a life of its own.  The food tables quickly filled up with shepherd’s pie, enchiladas, rice, hot dogs, chili, beans, dips, homemade liver pate, fresh fruit, salads, chicken mole, cupcakes, flan, and (my favorite) a large bowl of  watermelon cubes. It was a feast…a cornucopia

As the day progressed, the dishes were “reloaded” as needed. I attempted to capture some of the scenes with my camera but admit that I missed a lot.  Frankly, I lost focus (unintended pun) because of the food table. 

As an aside, the potluck was set up in front of a house that was for sale.  Several realtors with prospective buyers had to pass through to get to the house. 

They were told they could join in if they bought the house…

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RENE DRIVE POTLUCK

Rene Drive Restaurant

OVERHEARD

“This has never happened before! This was a great idea.”

“I’ve lived here for 30 years and hardly know anyone on this street!”

“Can we do this every year?”

“Let’s do it next September.”

“Hi, I’m …”

“Ours is 15 months. I know what it’s like having a new baby.”

SOME OF THE FACES

Faces 1Faces 3Faces 2 Faces 4Faces 5

Petaluma’s Vacant Homes–Holding Back The Blight

It is not “news” to report that the national recession has taken its toll on homeowners in the form of foreclosures.  Even a casual observer can see that Petaluma is also suffering from the foreclosure tsunami.

In some of Petaluma’s neighborhoods, more and more homes are sprouting  bank foreclosure notices… 

abandoned-homes-august-2009-003

or “”For Sale” signs–sometimes two…

For Sale For Sale...

Vacant Homes

Unoccupied homes can become an eyesore if they are not maintained or, even worse, they can become an attraction for vandals or squatters. In some cities, squatters have moved in and established utilities, thus living rent-free until discovered. Since banks take forever to put a property up for sale, squatters can live for up to 18 months before being evicted.  For a TIme article on the situation in Stockton, Ca. (Click Here)

Fortunately, things have not gotten this bad in Petaluma. However, I do wonder if we may have more vacant homes than homeless people.

There is something you can do to help prevent a problem developing with an unoccupied home in your neighborhood.

City Code Enforcement

If there is a property in your neighborhood that you think is becoming a problem, you should contact Code Enforcement…

  • Go to their Web Page  and click on the link titled “On-line Complaint/Violation Form” (Preferred Method of Contact)
  • In the alternative, call the Code Enforcement Complaint Line at 707-778-4469

If you suspect drug and gang activity, call the Police Department directly at 707-778-4372.

If you have general questions, you can also contact Code Enforcement by e-mail at codeenforcement@ci.petaluma.ca.us

Citizen reporting is essential, as City staffing levels do not permit pro-active enforcement.  The identity of those making inquiries or complaints is not disclosed.  They “… have no problems being the bad guy, so you don’t have to. Due to our lack of staffing, we may not be able to address every complaint right away, but we will get to it…Keeping your neighborhood clean and maintained is one of the best ways to deter crime and keep your property values up.”

As an aside, while this article focuses on coping with problems with unoccupied houses, you should also contact Code Enforcement if you have concerns about a house that is occupied.

When to Report

If something does not look or seem right, feel free to contact Code Enforcement or the Police Department as outlined above. Some signs to look for include…

  • Overgrown vegetation
  • Weeds that haven’t been cut or pulled
  • Graffiti
  • Piles of junk, trash and garbage.

Recently, a vacant home purchased in foreclosure was being remodeled for resale. The contractors left the house unattended with the front windows and garage door open–for two days. It was an open invitation for mischief.  Fortunately, a neighbor decided to call the police on the second night and they came out and secured the property.

Another current case involves a vacant foreclosed property with open windows, curtains blowing outside the window, and an unsecured garage door. In addition, newspapers, flyers and new phone books can be observed littering the front sidewalk…

abandoned-homes-august-2009-005abandoned-homes-august-2009-001

In closing, keep in mind that even when a complaint is addressed by the City, there are usually additional delays because the process of identifying the owner (usually a bank) is quite cumbersome.  In some cities, such properties have become so numerous they have initiated legal action against the banks.

Let’s hope it does not come to that in Petaluma…

Petaluma Budget Woes

Petaluma Budget–More Hits Coming?

The short answer to the question—more than likely.

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First–Consider the fact that local tax revenue from tourism is falling. For details, see the recent Press Democrat Story.

Second–County real estate assessed values declined for the first time in history, thus lowering revenue from real estate taxes (Press Democrat Story)

Finally–According to a database provided by the Sacramento Bee, the new California state budget will reduce or borrow the following from Petaluma’s City and redevelopment budgets:

• City of Petaluma $1,112,587
• Petaluma Community Development Commission $5,074,284

For additional information, check out the story and links on CaliforniaCityNews

These revenue shortfalls will play out in many aspects of our civic life–not the least of which is park maintenance. 

I recently commented on the state of affairs around the pond in Lucchesi Park and the Community Center.  Fortunately, the fountains have once again become operational. However, the pond still seems to be in need of attention. Finding the funds for this purpose will, I imagine, be extremely problematic.

…Lucchesi Pond…

Lucchesi Muck August 13 2009 002Lucchesi Muck August 13 2009 009Lucchesi Muck August 13 2009 011Lucchesi Muck August 13 2009 012Lucchesi Muck August 13 2009 017

Petaluma–Summer 2009

In spite of  Washington wrangling over health care,  Sacramento budget battles, Sonoma County fuming over a proposed asphalt plant, and lawsuits against Petaluma  over the Planning Commission…

&

In spite of the recession, housing foreclosures, and unemployment…

…Life manages to go on….

People still…

Attend street markets and shows…

Summer 2009 012

Spend the day at a park…

Summer 2009 017

Wonder who or what took a large bite out of this tree…

Summer 2009 022

Take their dogs to Noah’s Bagels…

Summer 2009 016

Watch the geese and new “arrivals” in Lucchesi…

Summer 2015

Lucchesi’s Still & Stagnant Waters–Redux

On July 12, I published photos and comments on the sorry conditions around our Community Center and the Lucchesi Pond. (Click Here)

On July 25, I noticed that the fountains were finally in operation after being out of service since last winter…Publication1

I can also report that the level of duck & goose poop on the sidewalks has once again been reduced to “manageable” levels.  Ducks & geese being what they are, there is always going to be some poop for pedestrians to navigate.

Huzzahs to the City for bringing this to pass in these tough budget times!

However, the pond is going to require ongoing maintenance and that will be a challenge in the months ahead.  The debris & algae build up is significant…

Fountains Online 005Fountains Online 002

Obviously, the challenge is still before us…