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…

 

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Petaluma Politics–Campaign 2010

While the election focus in California in 2010 will be on the Governor’s race, things look to be more than interesting on the home front in Petaluma. 

In case you have not been keeping score, the Mayor and two members of the Petaluma City Council have announced  they are running for County Supervisor.  This, of course, generates much speculation as to the ultimate make up of the City Council and who will be Mayor after the final votes are counted in November. And lest we forget, the Water Rate Initiative is on the ballot again!

Petalumans, realizing that past is prologue, are bracing for the ordeal…

Local water fowl are seeking cover…

How will I cope?

First, I now offer my sincere condolences to the ultimate winners.

Second, I offer congratulations in advance to the losers for dodging the bullet.

Finally, I make the following pledge to Petaluma’s Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), the Petaluma Animal Shelter, and Rebuilding Together Petaluma (RTP)…

  • For each candidate mailer received, I will donate $1 to each of these organizations
  • For each party or slate mailer, I will donate $.25 to each of these organizations
  • For each campaign e-mail, I will donate $.05 to each of these organizations
  • For each robo call, I will DEDUCT $.50

The final numbers will be counted and posted on this site after the November election. 

 

Petaluma Is A House Divided…4-3

The recent “restructuring” of the planning function by the City Council is an extremely significant, if not controversial, action. Corey Young’s report in the Argus Courier provides the details for those who may have missed this event. 

Strong passions were exhibited on both sides during the “debate” preceding the 4 to 3 Council vote to eliminate the current Planning Commission as well as the Site Plan and Architectural Review Committee (SPARC).

As a consequence,  a new Planning Commission will be appointed to review development applications. The City Clerk is currently taking applications for seats on this new commission.  The deadline is June 29, 2009. Thereafter, the City Council will select the members of the new commission from the applicant pool

Given the intensity of the debate, it is clear there is a rigid 4 to 3 split over the appropriateness of this action. At one level, it is a continuation of the so-called pro development and anti development debate.  At another level I detect strong odors of the old West Side versus East Side perceptions in the wind.

I accept the proposition that the decision to restructure the planning function was motivated by a genuine desire to streamline the process. It is silly to debate whether or not it should have been done… 

It’s done!

Now what?

Appointing a new Planning Commission is not going to be a simple matter. 

  • Will the Council attempt to preserve the institutional memory as well as the work on applications in process by appointing those who served on the now abolished committees?
  • Will they instead appoint new people to these positions?
  • Will they merely appoint a mix that reflects the 4 to 3 Council split?

The new commission must have credibility if it is to have a chance to succeed.

Given the genuine passions on both sides, I see no reason not to expect the 4 to 3 divide to continue to manifest itself when it comes to selecting the members of the new commission.  The result will be a single entity with no more “credibility” than before. It will be seen as “fair and honest” by the 4 (and their supporters) and an anti development power grab by the 3 (and their supporters). 

In short, no matter how well intended, I fear that the public perceptions generated by the process will outweigh and overcome the motives and objectives of those seeking the change. 

This should give serious pause to those public-spirited applicants for the new commission.

I understand and respect the passions and views of both sides.  However it is just another game of winners and losers. Given the nature of  our political processes, this is to be expected.

The only chance to avoid this result is if both sides holster their rhetorical guns and try to find a way to create a new commission that will not be perceived as being loaded one way or the other.

Otherwise, it will be … Business as usual…Some will win.  Some will lose. The rest of us will keep score.