Durable Growth

Think globally, act locally . . . Petaluma style

Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds entrance

Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds entrance

Once again, I apologize for sometimes being Petaluma-centric.  I truly try to maintain a North Bay focus, but there is so much stuff going on under my nose here in Petaluma that I can’t ignore it.  Today will be a blow-out of Petaluma updates.

Fairgrounds Re-Use: Here is my long-promised update about the efforts by Petaluma Urban Chat on the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds.  As a recap for newcomers, the Fairgrounds are owned by the City and leased to the Sonoma Marin Fair Board.  The current lease will expire in 2023 and the City has expressed an interest in continuing to have a Fair, but also in reclaiming a portion of the site for other economic uses.

In support of the City direction and to ensure that the new site uses incorporate the urbanist direction in which Petaluma should be heading, Urban Chat has prepared an independent plan for re-use of a portion of the Fairgrounds.  The plan was prepared over a course of several months and involved at one time or another up to forty members of the community.

It’s a good plan and there’s much to commend in it.  However, a two-dimensional depiction of colored blocks isn’t always the best tool to fire the enthusiasm of those not accustomed to reading land-use plans.

So, the Urban Chat Fairgrounds group has decided to develop renderings of the plan, presenting three-dimensional perspectives for presentation to the general public.

But renderings are a major endeavor.  We’ve located design professionals who are also excited by the vision for the Fairgrounds site and who are willing to work cheap, but not for free, to prepare renderings.

To fund the effort, we’re establishing a fundraising effort on IOBY, a Kickstarter-type organization which works exclusively on non-profit land-use, public place, and community involvement efforts that focus on the betterment of cities and towns.  (For those who enjoy a good acronym, IOBY stands for “In Our Backyard”, an alternative to the frequent urbanist NIMBY “Not in Our Backyard” foes.)

We’re still working on the IOBY paperwork, so the Fairgrounds efforts isn’t yet posted on the IOBY site, but I suggest taking a look at the projects now on IOBY to learn of some of the great ideas being pursued elsewhere.  Then, hopefully by early next week, you can return to participate in the tax-deductible fundraising for the Fairgrounds re-use renderings.

Food truck near downtown Petaluma

Food truck near downtown Petaluma

Food Trucks: In another update related to Petaluma Urban Chat, we had a good May meeting on the idea of food truck parks.  Not everyone was convinced that the concept was an unalloyed good, but all agreed that the conversation should continue.  And City of Petaluma staff has asked to be kept apprised of our thinking as they try to find an official City position on food trucks.

The tentative plan is to arrange an Urban Chat outing or two to food truck parks.  At present, no outings have been scheduled, but stay tuned for updates.

Petaluma Urban Chat: Looking ahead at Urban Chat, the next regular meeting will be Tuesday, June 9, 5:30pm at the regular meeting place, the Aqus Café at 2nd and H Streets in Petaluma.  I’ll suggest we convene for a discussion of the Fairgrounds effort and perhaps also a chat about urban destinations for summer travel.  (Personally, I’ll be visiting New Orleans for the first time and will be eager to observe the urbanist lessons that came from the redevelopment after Katrina.)

But I’ll suggest that the meeting on the 9th stay casual and short because I have an idea for a second Urban Chat meeting in June.

If Urban Chat is going to offer thoughts on the future of the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds, we really should be attending the Fair to ensure that our understanding of the role of the Fair is up-to-date.

I suggest an Urban Chat outing to the Sonoma Marin Fair on Wednesday, June 24.  The musical group that evening is Tower of Power, the most urban of the acts booked for the Fair.  (Plus, I’m a sucker for a rocking brass section.)

Furthermore, because the Urban Chat plan for the Fairgrounds calls for a strengthened transit connection between the Fairgrounds and downtown, I’ll suggest that the Urban Chat group assemble downtown and ride Petaluma Transit to the Fairgrounds.

We can discuss details at the June 9th meeting.

Fair Street: As a result of the City Repair conversation about 18 months ago, the residents along Fair Street in front of Petaluma High School have put out a questionnaire about Fair Street traffic.  (I also played a small role.)  They will use the results to formulate a possible City Repair project.

If you drive Fair Street often or just want to see what a neighborhood traffic survey might ask, check out the survey here.

And keep an eye on this effort.  It may become a template for other civic activism.

Municipal Committees: Every year about this time, the Petaluma City Council appoints new members to commissions and committees, from the Planning Commission to the Animal Services Advisory Committee.  I suspect other North Bay cities have similar processes.

If you’re excited by the urbanist thinking in this blog, but are unsure where to direct your new enthusiasm, several of the bodies may offer an opportunity.

To be clear, it’s not like any of the bodies have specifically urbanist goals, but there are opportunities to push urbanist perspectives.  On the Transit Committee, I’ve continually advocated for awareness of the opportunities that SMART will provide.  I’m also pushing for an ad hoc committee of Transit and Pedestrian/Bicycle members to look at pedestrian connectivity to bus stops.

But not every urbanist concept is readily accepted.  My suggestion as a member of the Recreation, Music, and Parks Commission that we consider selling portions of a few parks to fund improvements needed to make the parks more popular fell completely flat.

If those kinds of opportunities intrigue, and you’re willing to deal with disappointment of the occasional rebuff, you should look at the appointment possibilities.  Further information can be found here.

Petaluma Transit bus

Petaluma Transit bus

Transit Coordination: My last post was on the need for constant attention to regional transit coordination while also maintaining strong intra-city transit service.  Only hours after publishing that post, I heard good news on the regional coordination front.

Working under their Transit Sustainability Project, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has selected a team of consultants to work with the transit agencies of Marin and Sonoma Counties to develop a coordinated strategy for the coming SMART commuter rail.

One might argue the transit agencies should be able to sort out coordination issues without the need of an outside consulting team.   But one could also argue that couples should be able to make relationships work without a need for marriage counselors.  Sometimes outside observers are necessary to break down walls and to provide new perspectives.  And, by my count, the SMART corridor coordination is a six-agency marriage.  And six unique agency perspectives likely have a greater need for intervention than the two perspectives in a marriage.

The transportation firm Nelson\Nygaard will be part of the consulting team.  The firm is well-known for their cutting edge thinking on modern transportation systems.   I became acquainted with several members of the firm during their work on the Petaluma Station Area master plan and I’m pleased that they’ll be involved in this effort.

I’m excited by the MTC effort and will be eagerly observing as it proceeds.

Measure A: To close with more of a North Bay note, this blog encourages a Yes vote on Sonoma County’s pending Measure A, a five-year quarter cent sales tax increment with proceeds targeted for transportation projects.

In part, my endorsement is the result of many cities pledging 10 percent of any proceeds for transit.  But more important is my continued belief that if we built roads, we need to maintain them.  I still believe we need a parallel conversation about whether we should be changing our approach to new infrastructure because of our frequent unwillingness or inability to fund the upkeep.   But regard of when that conversation begins and where it leads, we should maintain the stuff we already have.

In my next post, I’ll begin a multi-post assessment of a situation that is developing around the two proposed SMART stations in Petaluma.  But before anyone grumbles about the continuing Petaluma-centricity, let me say that the Petaluma situation is only a lens to look at how communities should grow, a subject that has regional and national importance.

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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