Petaluma’s Founding Documents…Decomposing in the Basement

In this busy era we tend not to reflect upon our history and the documents from our past. In many instances government documents–records from the “pre-digital days”– sit decaying in boxes stored in backrooms, basements, or attics. (1)

And so it is with the City of Petaluma’s Archives in the basement of City Hall.  The preservation of some of these original documents and records must be given high priority.

Two original documents should be attended to now

Articles of Incorporation from 1858, signed by the California Secretary of State, Ferris Forman…*


  City Charter of 1876, signed by Secretary of State, Thomas Beck…*

If action is not taken, the above photos may be your first–if not the only–opportunity to view what I call the Founding Documents of our fair city.

These documents need to be properly treated and preserved in safe storage so that they do not continue to deteriorate. A documents archivist suggested…

“Digital replicas can–or should–be made to display in the Council Chambers or the Petaluma Museum…perhaps even in time for Petaluma’s 160th anniversary in 2018.”

  • If we take action now, we can ensure that they will still be here for the celebration.
  • If we don’t do anything………..Well, time is not on our side.


  • The City of Petaluma should immediately consult with a documents expert as to the best means to preserve the City’s founding documents and make them available to all of us in the future. (2)
  • The consultant should also be asked to advise as to the preservation of the rest of the important historical files in the City Archives.
  • If for some reason the City is not able to proceed, then it should immediately look to other agencies or institutions that are capable of preserving this history.

I have conducted some preliminary research in this area with the assistance of a few “sources” and have secured recommendations as to possible area candidates for this task.


*Photos from a January 2011 visit to City Hall  gathering information for Petaluma’s Charter–A Little Civics Lesson

(1) Care, Handling, and Storage of Works on Paper

(2) On the Preservation of Books and Documents in Original Form

Petaluma’s Charter…The Sequel

This unplanned “sequel”  is an attempt to generally respond to the e-mails generated by Petaluma’s Charter–A Little Civics Lesson.

More than one e-mail mentioned the fact that Bell, California is one of the 120 charter cities and suggested that the charter form of government contributed to the massive municipal “thievery” recently exposed in the press.  The fact that Bell happened to be a charter city is coincidental as opposed to causative.  Corruption and incompetence are not confined to any particular form of government. 

Many suggested that it would be too expensive, time-consuming, and politically impossible to devote any time to working on proposed charter revisions.  I fully appreciate these objections. However, when will it ever be done?

  • Setting up a small commission or committee–and I mean small–of perhaps five people involves no significant cash outlay.
  • I would also suggest that it be a regular body, much like the other volunteer city boards, with a charge to working out and proposing amendments in stages. 

It is tempting to go for a total charter rewrite; but, I fear that would just fall into a political morass of never-ending discussion, debate, and argument serving only to provide general fodder for the press.  I think it is far better to start out with small technical clean up changes that would be presented to the voters every four years as funds permit. This would get people used to the process and eventually we could work towards larger changes if needs be. 

If nothing else, I suppose I have succeeded in making people aware of  the general components of a California charter city and how it should be maintained. 

At the end of the day, however, I am a realist.  As I said in my previous article: “A pretty tall order, I realize.  Please consider this one of my rare streaks of optimism.  My doctor says he has a pill for it…I have an appointment tomorrow.”

I can advise that I picked up the prescription this morning!

Let’s see if it works…

Ah yes…

I am now back to normal…

Whew! That was close….

Petaluma’s Charter–A Little Civics Lesson

The current discussion on filling the vacant seat on the City Council has once again included a reference to the City Charter and possible amendments to it. See Patch Letter To the Editor By Mayor Glass 

Over the years, I have noted references, from time to time, to Charter provisions dealing with one topic or another requiring that certain action be taken or preventing an action from being taken. Sometimes the Charter dictated outcome has been desirable and at other times there was a question whether an amendment would be desirable going forward.

In California legal parlance, Petaluma is what is known as a Charter City as opposed to a General Law City.*  According to the League of California Cities, 120 of the 480 cities in California are Charter cities.  And Petaluma is one of them.**

The Petaluma Charter provisions are available online but, being in a curious mood, I asked the City Clerk, Claire Cooper, if I could see the physical document.  She asked if I wanted to see the original, and I, of course agreed.  I drove over, half expecting to see something like the Dead Sea Scrolls or yellow parchment leather-bound documents. Of course, they were not quite that old.  But old enough. 

Consider the Articles of Incorporation from 1858, signed by the California Secretary of State, Ferris Forman…

Next, consider the original City Charter of 1876, signed by Secretary of State, Thomas Beck…

As an aside, seeing the “originals” of Petaluma’s founding documents was instructive as to how documents were created in the days before computers, IPads, IPhones, and even typewriters…

Of course, the Petaluma Charter has been amended sporadically over the years and it is available online in its present form. (Click Here)  

However, charters need regular updating. Certainly, the dilemma of how to fill the vacant seat is one part of the charter that may need examining and amendment to prevent future difficulties. Many cities have a regular review process performed by committees or commissions. Also, it must be kept in mind that charter amendments require voter approval.

Notwitstanding, I wonder if we would not all be better served going forward if the Council set up some kind of review committee to gather up all the creaky, outdated parts of the City Charter and bring them up to date to submit to the voters…and continue the process into the future.

A pretty tall order, I realize.  Please consider this one of my rare streaks of optimism.  My doctor says he has a pill for it…I have an appointment tomorrow.

In closing, I want to thank Claire Cooper, City Clerk and Deborah Padovan, Deputy City Clerk for their time and courtesies…and the white gloves to handle the documents!


*For background as to the difference between the two forms of California municipal government:

** Callifornia Charter Cities

  • Adelanto
  • Alameda
  • Albany
  • Alhambra
  • Anaheim
  • Arcadia
  • Bakersfield
  • Bell
  • Berkeley
  • Big Bear Lake
  • Buena Park
  • Burbank
  • Carlsbad
  • Cerritos
  • Chico
  • Chula Vista
  • Compton
  • Culver City
  • Cypress
  • Del Mar
  • Desert Hot Springs
  • Dinuba
  • Downey
  • El Centro
  • Eureka
  • Exeter
  • Folsom
  • Fortuna
  • Fresno
  • Gilroy
  • Glendale
  • Grass Valley
  • Hayward
  • Huntington Beach
  • Indian Wells
  • Industry
  • Inglewood
  • Irvine
  • Irwindale
  • King City
  • Kingsburg
  • Lancaster
  • La Quinta
  • Lemoore
  • Lindsay
  • Loma Linda
  • Long Beach
  • Los Alamitos
  • Los Angeles
  • Marina
  • Marysville
  • Merced
  • Modesto
  • Monterey
  • Mountain View
  • Napa
  • Needles
  • Newport Beach
  • Norco
  • Oakland
  • Oceanside
  • Oroville
  • Pacific Grove
  • Palm Desert
  • Palm Springs
  • Palmdale
  • Palo Alto
  • Pasadena
  • Petaluma
  • Piedmont
  • Placentia
  • Pomona
  • Port Hueneme
  • Porterville
  • Rancho Mirage
  • Redondo Beach
  • Redwood City
  • Richmond
  • Riverside
  • Roseville
  • Sacramento
  • Salinas
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • San Leandro
  • San Luis Obispo
  • San Marcos
  • San Mateo
  • San Rafael
  • San Ramon
  • Sand City
  • Santa Ana
  • Santa Barbara
  • Santa Clara
  • Santa Cruz
  • Santa Maria
  • Santa Monica
  • Santa Rosa
  • Santee
  • Seal Beach
  • Shafter
  • Signal Hill
  • Solvang
  • Stockton
  • Sunnyvale
  • Temple City
  • Torrance
  • Truckee
  • Tulare
  • Vallejo
  • Ventura
  • Vernon
  • Victorville
  • Visalia
  • Vista
  • Watsonville
  • Whittier
  • Woodlake