Durable Growth, Government

Block parties: One more time around the block

140719001 Swift Block Party by David PowersWhen I last wrote about block parties and the unwillingness of the City of Petaluma to permit them in locations where other cities have few concerns, I promised that I was finished with the subject for awhile.  I was wrong.  Righteous indignation led me back for one more post.

For those who are new to the topic, the Petaluma Municipal Code bars block partiesexcept on cul-de-sacs.  As far as my research went, Petaluma is the only North Bay city with this unusual and puzzling restriction.  I decided to become an advocate to change the rule.

The code section hasn’t stopped all Petaluma block parties, although I know of at least one that was canceled when the cul-de-sac rule was cited.  The more common result is the block parties proceed, as I found on a successful tour of Fourth of July block parties, but only after most party organizers spend time working with the Petaluma Police Department to secure a permit, only to often proceed without a permit.

The genesis of this blog post came when I was invited to yet another Petaluma block party.  Unfortunately, it fell during a recent vacation, but I prevailed on a local friend and possible future block party host to attend in my place.  In his report, which included the photos illustrating this post, my replacement included a phrase the caused me to again tackle the block party issue.

In my pre-party communications with the party organizer, she advised me that, although her party site isn’t on a cul-de-sac, she has nonetheless been able to secure approvals from the Petaluma Police Department for past parties.

But apparently the approval was more difficult to secure this year, although she turned in her application weeks in advance.  According to the report from my proxy and confirmed by the organizer, she received verbal approval to proceed only a single day before the party.

140719002 Swift Block Party by David PowersPerhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but that situation offended me.  Here is a woman who collected over a thousand dollars to fund the party, who secured concurrence from every neighbor, and who we should be praising for her contributions to the community.  Instead, we treated her like a border-line scofflaw by making her seek a last-minute approval on the day before the event, when her focus should have been on the final organizational details for the party.

As I’ve written before, this criticism isn’t directed at the Police Department.  I can appreciate that they’re trapped between common sense of what they feel is the community good and the overly stringent words in the Municipal Code.  No, my criticism is directed toward those who could be trying to implement a change to the Municipal Code, but aren’t.

Consistent with every other Petaluma block party of which I’ve been aware this year, this 140719003 Swift Block Party Sign by David Powersmost recent party was another success.  My replacement reports that everyone had a fine time and that the past success of the block party has spawned neighborhood parties on other holidays throughout the year.  As good block parties should do, this block party is building community.

At least for this year, I’ve done about as much as I can to advocate for more reasonable block party rules in Petaluma.  I still love block parties as one-day experiments in urbanism, but keep running into dead-ends in my advocacy.

However, it’s possible that you readers can still make a difference.  If you believe that Petaluma should be more encouraging of block parties, I suggest you contact your favorite City Councilmember and ask for a change.

I’m not asking that you put yourself forward as the host of a future block party.  (Personally, I live on a street that probably carries too much traffic to be a good block party location.  It’s more likely that I’ll be the lieutenant for a block party a couple of streets away.)

Instead, I’m asking that your advocacy be based on four points:

One: You want to respect the folks who currently organize block parties by removing the current dichotomy between the strict letter of the Municipal Code and the more common sense approach taken by the Police Department.

Two: You want to encourage more block parties in reasonable locations.

Three: You want your community to be able to make small, incremental, common-sense fixes to problems when they’re noted.

Four: You want your community to build a tradition of problem-solving that can be applied to the bigger civic issues that will arise in future years.

If you agree with four points, and I hope that most readers will, then please undertake some advocacy.  And let me know how it goes.

In my next post, having truly exhausted the block party topic, I’ll turn to a bigger subject, the future of the Sonoma Marin fairgrounds.  I’ll discuss the conversations at the last Petaluma Urban Chat meeting and set the stage for the upcoming meeting.  Of course, Petaluma Urban Chat has no official standing in the ongoing fairgrounds negotiations, but if we can put together common-sense solutions, perhaps we can influence the negotiations.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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