Train Pains

SMART development concerns activists

For several years, a southern California businessman has been pushing to develop a 6.5-acre piece of land at the eastern end
of Petaluma.

The land, owned by Todd Kurtin’s company, Lomas Properties, is adjacent to the proposed location of the Corona Road SMART station. Once completed, it will be the second station serving the city.

According to Petaluma’s 2013 SMART Station Area Plan, city planners expected the Corona Road Station to serve as a park-and-ride to offset parking at the Downtown Station, with the possibility of turning into a denser development later on.

“In the short-term, the Corona Road SMART Station will likely function as a suburban park-and-ride station. However, in the long term, the Corona Road Station Area may evolve to include transit-oriented development,” the report states.

But some residents opposing the current proposal argue that now is the time to develop the property in a transit-friendly fashion, not later.

Lomas Properties’ current plan, which the Planning Commission considered twice in November, calls for primarily single-family homes—some attached and some detached—on a land directly next to the proposed train station.

Lomas Properties’ first proposal, presented at a Nov. 12 Planning Commission meeting, called for 110 single-family homes across 5.23 acres of the 6.5-acre piece of land in question.

A second, revised proposal, unveiled at a Nov. 19 Planning Commission meeting upped the total number of units to 116. Lomas Properties also dropped their request for a zoning adjustment on the property.

Brian Barnacle, a resident working against the current proposal, says it is a wasted opportunity of a prime piece of land located next to public transit.

“From top to bottom, it’s more of the same,” Barnacle says, referencing the urban sprawl development that covers much of Petaluma.

Last week, Barnacle and other residents sent a 15-page letter to the Petaluma City Council outlining numerous criticisms of the plan and the city’s planning process.

“It would be incredibly shortsighted to approve the project when we so desperately need long-term vision,” the letter states in part. “We residents are relying on you to be bold, encourage density, discourage the automobile, and ensure we are implementing good business practices.”

At the center of the critique is the issue of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), a form of urban planning which prioritizes dense developments within walking distance of public transportation options.

TOD has become something of a buzzword among urban planners in recent years. As California and the North Bay face interlocking threats—unaffordable housing prices, income inequality and the increasing impacts of global warming—TOD supporters say implementing the development principles is a way of combating multiple problems at once.

There are many benefits to TOD, including reduced urban sprawl, reduced reliance on cars—thus reducing vehicle miles traveled, expense on working families, and traffic congestion—and, hopefully, a more diverse and affordable range of housing options.

For the North Bay, the SMART stations are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prioritize this kind of development, Barnacle argues.

Barnacle’s letter suggests that the Petaluma City Council rejects the current proposal—which they expect to consider early next year—consult TOD experts, pursue millions of dollars in state funding for TOD projects, and review Lomas Properties’ prior experience completing TOD developments.

However, there is already a lot of momentum behind the current plan. According to the Nov. 12 Planning Commission report, Lomas Properties may end up with interlocking agreements with the city and SMART.

As part of a proposed development agreement with the city, Lomas Properties would donate a 1.27-acre sliver of the property for use as a SMART park-and-ride.

Under a separate, existing deal with SMART, Lomas Properties would purchase a piece of downtown real estate.

“The applicant is also in contract with SMART to purchase the approximately 4.65-acre parcel adjacent to the downtown SMART station. Approximately $6 million in proceeds from that sale are designated for construction of the second SMART station at Corona Road. The [proposed] development agreement [with the city] includes reference to this requirement as an essential part of securing development of the Corona Road Station,” the staff report states.

And then there’s the time crunch, according to staff. The report presented at the Nov. 12 meeting warns that “If the necessary entitlements are not secured by March 2020 [to align with an existing construction contract] the needed construction contracts will not be able to be secured until construction of the Cloverdale station, which remains uncertain.”

All in all, both stations’ development could have a big impact on the future of Petaluma. Whatever the city builds will likely remain in place for decades.

The proposal is expected to be considered at additional city meetings in January.

As pressure mounts on local politicians to humanely relocate the residents of a growing encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail, the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on a case that may impact future policies.

On Monday, Dec. 16, the high court opted not to consider the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 2018 decision on a case concerning the City of Boise’s policies for punishing people living on the city’s streets.

Ultimately, the Appeals Court, which serves California and seven other states, concluded that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Because the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, known as Martin v. City of Boise, the Appeals Court’s decision will stand. The case may have some impact in Sonoma County, where local homeless advocates reached a temporary legal agreement with Santa Rosa and the county regarding their rules for relocating people living outside.

The local injunction, which the parties agreed on this July, cites the Martin v. City of Boise case as an uncertain factor. With less uncertainty around the court case, the local parties will have to consider the new legal standing when they revisit the injunction, which currently sunsets in June 2020.

Under the injunction, the city and county are not allowed to move encampments, unless they have shelter beds, hotel vouchers or another alternative which meets the person’s needs to offer as an alternative.

Over the past several months, an encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail has swelled to an estimated 180 residents, sparking conversation and criticism of the lack of action by Santa Rosa and Sonoma County politicians to shelter—and move off of the trail—the people living there.

On Tuesday, Dec. 17, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors considered temporary housing alternatives for the people living on the trail, including housing them at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

Reached by phone on Monday, Dec. 16, Alicia Roman, an attorney who worked on the local injunction, said she was “excited that the supervisors are having this discussion” and that the Supreme Court declined to change the lower court’s ruling on Martin v. City of Boise.

Still, there are a lot of questions needing answers, including where and how the county and other local governments will offer temporary housing options, she added.

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