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2010-03-20
Petaluma, CA. Residents Go To Court To Stop Target “Fiasco”

On April 6, 2007, Sprawl-Busters introduced a project called the "East Washington Place," a large development in Petaluma, California, situated between the Sonoma County Fair grounds and HWY 101. This proposal consists of 37.28 acres that used to host the junior high school, but is now slated for six big box stores and 227 condos. The Florida-based developer, Regency Centers, said in 2007 that the major anchor for the 130,000 s.f. space was a Target. A group called the Petaluma Neighborhood Association strongly opposed the project from the start. "The impact their proposed development will have on our environment, as well as our local economy, will be devastating," the group said. "The increased traffic flow in itself will drastically change Petaluma as we know it. The apparent water shortage that will definitely occur, and Regency Centers'bigbox nightmare will be one major deficit all residents will be confronted with. Downtown Petaluma will undoubtedly most severely suffer the impact of Regency Centers' proposed plan. The very spirit of downtown Petaluma, the independent vendors, restaurants, and individuality that they bring to our City will definitely be compromised, if not brought to demise, with the fruition of Regency Centers' proposed plan. We can have economic development without expansion; by channeling our efforts into making Petaluma better... not bigger! We must urge our city government to consider alternatives to such bigbox projects that are already antiquated, and soon to be obsolete." On February 10, 2010, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper reported that after five years of battling residents, the Target mall had received a vote of support from the Petaluma City Council. The Council voted 5-2 in favor of the project, ending this phase of what Mayor Pam Torliatt called "an ugly process." She told the newspaper the debate over this project "really bothers me," because of "how low it's gotten." This is the same Mayor who viewed the project as a form of economic development. "We need to keep our dollars local," she said, describing shopping at Target as 'local.' The residents who have fought this project for years, would certainly agree that the process and the product were both ugly. At one point, the developer intimidated the Council by filing a lawsuit charging that city officials had forced Regency to endure years of delay. After the City Council voted to approve the project, the Mayor told the Press Democrat, "I would suggest and ask that the applicant get rid of the lawsuit." Roughly one month later, on March 11, 2010, another lawsuit was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court -- this time by residents challenging the City of Petaluma's approval of the Regency Center project. The suit was filed on behalf of the Petaluma Community Coalition (PCC) by the public interest law firm of M.R. Wolfe & Associates of San Francisco. The PCC is a coalition of citizens in the city, and groups such as the Petaluma Neighborhood Association, the Petaluma River Council, Petaluma Tomorrow and the OWL Foundation. "We filed this suit because the City's approval of the EIR and project plan did not follow the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act(CEQA), and because the proposed project will have devastating impacts on our streets, swim center, skateboard park, and nearby neighborhoods," said Paul Francis, co-founder of the Petaluma Neighborhood Association. "You think getting across town is bad now, wait until this thing is built. People will be furious when they discover the reality -- utter gridlock." "The design and implementation of this project makes a mockery of our recently updated General Plan," said former City Councilman Matt Maguire. "We've been trying literally for years to get
Regency to work with us to make this a viable project with a lot less impacts. They've done nothing but stonewall us. We have no other option than to bring suit to prevent this fiasco from happening to Petaluma." "The General Plan calls for a mixed use project
with improved pedestrian, bike and transit access," Francis added. "The project as approved doesn't have that. What we're getting now is a typical 1970s style big box strip mall that is completely auto dependent. There is no housing. This is not a mixed-use project. It's the opposite of what's called for at this site." The Petaluma Community Coalition wants the city to put out the EIR again to explore ways to mitigate the adverse impacts of the project. The PCC also wants the Friedman's Home Improvement store proposed by the developer to be put back into the environmental review. The PCC says the traffic impact assessment needs to include a number of major intersections that were not part of the study area, and the EIR needs to address ways to reduce the project's significant greenhouse gases and air pollution. "A lot can be done to improve it," said Francis. "Members of the public have suggested structured parking, reduction of the 16-acre parking lot, and more public spaces would be more consistent with the General Plan. Two and three story buildings with residential units on the upper floors and better links to surrounding areas would make this a pedestrian oriented project. If nothing else, we want to see the multilane roads pulled away from all four sides of the swim center and skateboard park. It's a shame that Regency has been so arrogant, that they've resorted to intimidation tactics, because this could be a pretty good project if they would get a clue for what Petaluma is really about."

What you can do: The PCC charges that the review process has been skewed by gross misinformation in the press, developer PR ploys and hostility from Target supporters who have unfairly attacked the current council majority for, in their opinion, not approving the project quickly enough. PCC's members note that more important than haste is to ensure good planning and a full public review, where all the problems are revealed and honestly addressed. This hasn't been done, in part because of the pressure on the council to satisfy critics, Regency's threatening lawsuit and the poor financial condition of the city. The project will have at best a negligible benefit on the City's finances, but will have serious impacts on its infrastructure and natural environment. Regency's and Target's cookie-cutter approach is designed to push their investment risks and costs onto the surrounding community, which will bear the traffic, air pollution and other burdens for years to come. However, both corporations have built far more attractive, community-friendly and less environmentally-damaging projects in many other cities. "That's what we want to see here," Francis said. "All it takes is four votes and the will to do what's right for our city." The PCC says that approving a weak EIR without meaningful or effective mitigations sets a very low benchmark for future large projects that are queuing up. "We need and would love to see Friedman's back in Petaluma, and we want to help the Council to do this project right the first time," Maguire said. "Their premature approval and incomplete mitigations fail to serve the best interests of all of us, so we're proceeding with this suit. We're hoping a much better result will come out of it." One Council member who voted against the plan said the traffic level, and water consumption were unacceptable. Another opponent said the huge footprint of the stores will change the character of Petaluma, and tie up traffic on East Washington Street. "We deserve something better than a 'bigbox' plan," the Petaluma Neighborhood Association has said. The group has described Regency Centers as "a developer whose deceitful practices insult and undermine our community." Readers are urged to email Petaluma Mayor Pamela Torliatt at ptorliatt@aol.com with the following message: "Dear Mayor Torliatt, the East Washington Place project should be called what it really is: The 'Target Box' Place. Picturesque Petaluma, with its beautiful Marina, does not need this incompatible project. The City Council's actions have led to a courtroom, not a ribbon-cutting. You have the power to cut this project down to size, to make it more pedestrian-friendly, and compatible with the rest of Petaluma and your own General Plan. These box stores are inharmonious with the rest of commercial development in your community. You can insist that the Target project be made to fit Petaluma, not the reverse. I hope you will take an aggressive stand on site plan scale, open space, and character of the project, to protect the residents of the city. This is not an economic development project -- so don't swoon over the jobs and sales tax imputed by the developer. This revenue will largely come from other retailers in the area, and does not represent new growth. This proposal has missed the 'target' in terms of your General Plan, and the City Council should begin discussions with the PCC to settle this lawsuit by changing the scope and scale of the project." To find out how to help the residents of Petaluma stop Target, contact Paul Francis at petalumaneighbors@yahoo.com or Matt Maguire at mmaguire@crcnetworks.com.










 
 
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