Petaluma’s State Of The Union–Part I

Last week President Obama addressed Congress on the State of the Union.  The purpose of this article is to generate a discussion about Petaluma’s State of the Union.

At one level, recent newspaper articles or letters to the editor paint a grim picture of decline in our fair city…

At the neighborhood level, foreclosures continue to plague many…

While Petaluma may be unique in having a regional and a local newspaper serving the community, they can inadvertently create an impression that the recession and governmental budget shortfalls are confined to Petaluma. It should be kept in mind, however, that the 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?

For many, the answer lies in more retail development.  Currently, there is a great deal of  heated discussion on this issue in Petaluma. 

However, are there other avenues to explore? 

For example…

  • Faced with diminished revenues and resources, what can the City do to manage and better communicate about its ability to cope with infrastructure needs (potholes, sewers, streetlights, etc.) and public safety obligations?
  • Is there a role for neighborhood groups?
  • Is more “privatization” (contracting out) of government functions a solution? Is it a desirable solution?
  • What role will our NGO’s and service organizations (COTS, Rebuilding Together Petaluma, etc.) play in getting us through? Are they at their limits?

What do you think?

The above are merely suggested topics or areas of discussion. Feel free to suggest and comment on others.

Post your thoughts in the comment section below, or in an e-mail to 

  • If you use the comment feature, you don’t have to provide your name, but please include your e-mail address (it is not displayed) in case I may reply or want to ask a question.
  • If you elect to communicate by e-mail, the address and name will not be published.

If you live outside Petaluma, you are also welcome to comment or e-mail; however, please discuss what works, or what could work, in your community. Any and all positive ideas will be more than welcomed!

I will attempt to consolidate any thoughts, comments or ideas you care to submit with  my “two cents” in Part II on February 10.

MLK–A National Day Of Service

Martin Luther King Day is more than another Monday Holiday. It is also a day when people throughout the country join together to work on various service projects in their community.

Everyone knows this…right?

Well I, for one, did not.

Furthermore, my ignorance would have continued but for a request from Jane Hamilton of Rebuilding Together Petaluma (RTP)  to take some photos at the Martin Luther King Jr. “Day of Service” project at Valley Vista Child Care in Petaluma.

I later learned that the Valley Vista project was one of many throughout the nation. For example, in the Greater Philadelphia Area, 70,000 people turned out to work on 1,100 community projects. (Link)

On the morning of January 18, I arrived at Valley Vista to find 30 volunteers. They were primarily employees, including friends and family members, from Kaiser Permanente facilities in Santa Rosa, San Rafael & Petaluma.

Their presence was due to the efforts of Carol Harris, Kaiser’s Community and Government Relations Manager (Sonoma/Marin) and Jane Hamilton of RTP.

Kaiser and RTP have a history of working together in the planning and execution of  MLK Day projects with Kaiser providing grants and employee volunteers to work with RTP. And so it was again this year.

During the course of the day, they fixed  bicycles, scooters, computers, and skates.  In addition, one crew worked on painting a room–washing the walls before applying a prime coat and the finish coat. Another group worked on general cleaning which included, believe it or not, sorting through and organizing the Barbie accessories.

Below are a few photos and photo collages from the day’s activities…


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.





  • Rebuilding Together Petaluma posted a link to a full set of photos from the Valley Vista workday.  To view, CLICK>>HERE
  • Also see the Article in the Press Democrat.

St. James Sprouts A Garden–Part II


The transformation of 3/4 of an acre at St. James Catholic Church to a food-producing community garden is no small task. Perhaps this photo collage will provide a sense of the physical size of the project…

Coordinating the logistics and schedules for the garden construction and planting is a full-time job. Fortunately, Lois Pearson  (I call her the “Dedicated Dynamo”) and the other members of the St. James Community Garden Committee have been more than up to the challenge.

Lois is also quick to point out that many people in the community have helped bring the project along…

We have had several people donate their services and or supplies for our start-up. Lucas Deniz tilled our field, J.P. Ospital put in our irrigation system, Michael Birmingham built our wood boxes, Carlo Farrina and Jim Gambodini are donating fieldstone, John Shribbs has been an advisory as well as donated many native plants, Pete Bonardi and John Brugaleta are doing our electrical. Rose Zamudio from Tuscan Gardens and Grayson James from Petaluma Bounty have also advised us. Mari Philo is in charge of the Planting Committee and has done a fantastic job.
Tyler Harwood is doing his Eagle Scout project by building us 5 redwood picnic tables and benches. I have a few Casa students doing their senior projects and the Helping Hands Group has also pitched in.

As an aside, I have observed volunteers at many community projects in Petaluma over the years. Without exception, they are always focused, hardworking people. This man, however, went above and beyond, showing up with a walking leg cast…


The St. James community garden will be somewhat different as there will be no private plots.  Instead, the primary purpose of the garden is to grow fresh vegetables for those in need in our community. 

According to Lois…

We will  harvest and give the produce to anyone in need in the Petaluma community– COTS, PEP, Food for Families, etc. We will also grow seasonal flowers to decorate our church altar. 


Many of the seedlings in the photo below were started by volunteers using heirloom seeds donated by the Petaluma Seed Bank. The Gatti Nursery provided space to grow them before planting in the garden….

For more information on the Petaluma Seed Bank see Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co and an article by Chris Sampson of  The Argus Courier.


As with any garden project, lots of mulch and compost are required.  Sonoma Compost stepped up to the plate and donated some of the materials.


Finally, the “buzz” in the air is that the garden will also include at least one bee hive courtesy of  Ettamarie Peterson of Peterson’s Farm 

(Additional photos are available at Community Garden At St. James)


Members of the general public are welcome to come and volunteer to work on the project. You do not have to be a member of the church to participate.

  • Additional workdays are scheduled for January 23 and January 24, (next Saturday & Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 3 pm.
  • For questions or information on upcoming workdays,  contact  Lois Pearson 763-8467, or Stacy Arancio 769-8657, 

Donations and volunteer time notwithstanding, there is an ongoing need for funds to keep the project going forward. Consequently, there will be a “Valentine Social”  fundraiser–appetizers, desserts, wine, music and dancing–on Feb 13th from 7 to 10pm in the St. James Parish Hall. 

  • Tickets are $30.00 per person or 2 for $50.00.  Ticket contacts are Lois Pearson @ 763-8467 and Adele Calkin @ 763-5792.
  • They will also be selling raffle tickets for a three night stay in Palm Desert. 


St. James Sprouts A Garden Part I

In late December, I happened to notice an unusual but nonetheless familiar site on the grounds of St. James Catholic Church in Petaluma.

Aha! Mulch and compost! 

Of course I had to enter the grounds to see what was going on. In doing so, I discovered the beginnings of mulched/composted beds and raised beds as well as the construction outlines of a very large landscaping project…

My Mulch Correspondent instincts were fully activated.  In short order, I discovered a major community garden project by the parishioners of St. James.  The results of my “investigation” will be reported in Part II of this series on January 18.

As a partial tease, I offer this closing note–The garden will be almost 3/4 of an acre  in size and will include the cultivation of vegetables grown from heirloom seeds. For those who can’t wait until the next article on January 18, contact  Lois Pearson 763-8467, or Stacy Arancio 769-8657, 

Petaluma: Attempted Bank Robbery?

Back Story…

In Are You Being Robbed As You Read This? I offered several tips on how to monitor suspicious activity on your credit cards and checking accounts.

One point in particular from that article needs to be restated: “Monitor your credit card bills and bank statements closely. If there are any suspicious charges or debits, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.”

While the purpose of this warning was to focus on third-party charges  to your bank accounts or credit cards, it also applies to sudden or unexplained charges by your bank. 

Case in Point…

We recently added an automatic savings feature to our checking account at our bank–a very large bank whose name shall not be disclosed.  We have had accounts with them since 1985.

  • In going through the process of setting up the automatic savings account, we repeatedly stressed that we were not willing to pay any fees for the privilege of depositing money with them. 
  • We were repeatedly assured there would be no fees–a good thing, considering that the savings interest rates these days are essentially zero.

All went well until the second month when the bank statement listed a $25 monthly fee on the savings account.  To be fair, the statement did show that they paid us interest of 11 cents…thus reducing our “loss” to $24.89.

To make a long story short, we visited a branch office  and a bank officer immediately reversed the $25 fee stating that the person who created the account must have “pushed the wrong button” while setting it up.

Fair enough. Mistakes happen.

However, I can’t help but wonder…

  • How many times has this happened and the account holder did not catch it on the monthly statement?
  • How many “senior citizens” have been caught by such mistakes?
  • Why would a  bank have a system that allowed the charging of a $25 monthly fee on savings accounts that currently pay .o5% interest?
  • Is the bank secretly counting on people being  unaware enough to sign up for a savings account that charges a fee? Such customers would be better off stuffing their money in their shoes!

Readers can offer their own answers to these questions–particularly the last two.