Thursday, May 27, 2004


Mayor Wright asks CAB to endorse Courthouse Square reunification

The Council voted unanimously 5/25 to apply for a $3 million State grant to reunify the Downtown's Old Courthouse Square--if private donors can come up with $1 million in matching funds by July 16, the deadline for the City to apply for the grant.

The Council-funded Santa Rosa Main Street, that replaced the Council-funded CityVision group; The Downtown Association, and the Community Foundation Sonoma County are running the fund drive. The Community Foundation is receiving the donations.

The Press Democrat reported (5/26, "SR council supports Courthouse Square plan"),

"To boost Santa Rosa's chances, Wright won council support to ask the 21-member Community Advisory Board to weigh in with how their areas feel about the reunification project. The board, formed earlier this year, is a product of a charter amendment endorsed by voters in 2002 that called for formation of a group to provide city leaders with communitywide input on various issues.

'Being able to say the entire community supports this would be an additional plus,' Wright said."

On its face, Mike McCoy's story suggested Mayor Wright thinks that if a majority of the Council-appointed CAB supports the Council's vote, it will demonstrate that "the entire community" supports reunification of the Downtown Square.

But PD columnist Chris Smith reports a more ominous take on Wright's action. He commented today (5/27, "The mayor's surprise has 'em guessing"),

"A bunch of people, some of them fellow City Council members, were taken aback by what Mayor Sharon Wright did just before the council voted to pursue grant money to reunite Old Courthouse Square. Though Tuesday's unanimous vote culminated a long process of studies, debate and public hearings, Wright proposed to now solicit more public input.

Specifically, she asked the council to put the issue to the 21 neighbor- hood delegates on the city's new Community Advisory Board. The other council members went along, though some said afterward they're not sure what purpose is served by involving the CAB at this late stage.

Wright's move surprised people on and off the council, the more conspiratorial among them wondering if she's hoping to stir dissent that could kill the mend-the-Square grant request when it comes before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Others said they believe Wright's intentions are pure, but that asking the CAB's opinion of reunification now could throw a wrench in the works if the panel comes out less than enthusiastically in favor of it.

Wright said she simply wanted to involve the new board of citizens in a meaningful community issue, and she believes its support will strengthen the city's hand when it goes after the grant money."

If the Council-appointed CAB endorses the Council's action, it will not demonstrate that any given number of Santa Rosa's 154,000 residents supports reunifying the Square. The CAB members have no constituents, apart from the Councilmembers who appointed them.

But the sentiments Smith reported may be accurate.

If the CAB members don't rubberstamp the Council action, their response could indeed hurt the Downtown business community's efforts to fund its controversial plan to reunite the square. And more important, it might suggest that at least some of the CAB members have opinions of their own.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Kelley/Martini testify to gut the Endangered Species Act: who are they working for?

Representative Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, is Chairman of the House Resources Committee. He'd like very much to gut the 1973 Endangered Species Act of some provisions that protect threatened and endangered plants and animals like the California Tiger Salamander and their habitats.

So would some prominent and politically powerful local developers, whose projects in the Santa Rosa Plain have been stalled by the ESA. Supervisor Paul Kelley, and SR Councilman Mike Martini--Executive Director of the countywide developers' lobby, the Sonoma County Alliance--are helping them. The question is whether Kelley and Martini are working for all the citizens of Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, or only the affected developers.

Kelley and Martini testified before Pombo's House Resources Committee in Washington 4/28/04. The Press Democrat reported the next day {4/29, "Kelley, Martini urge panel to relax Endangered Species Act"),

"Kelley and Martini spoke to the committee at the request of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, chairman of the panel. Their comments came during a hearing on a bill by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, that would give the Interior Department more flexibility in designating habitats critical to the survival of endangered or threatened species.

Under current law, critical habitat is supposed to be designated when a species is listed as endangered or threatened, although that often is delayed. Cardoza's bill would prevent the government from designating habitat until a species recovery plan is developed, and then only if it is 'practicable, economically feasible and determinable.'

The listing of the salamander has become a major political issue in Sonoma County, with some local officials and many development interests claiming it has blocked numerous projects and increased the costs of others by requiring expensive environmental studies.

In an interview after his testimony Wednesday, Martini said projects within Sonoma County have been held hostage by the lack of a strategy to provide alternative breeding sites for displaced salamanders.

He said local governments and developers need guidelines for how to increase the salamander population while allowing projects to move forward."

Environmentalists disagree. The PD continued,

"But local environmentalists expressed concern Wednesday that any dramatic change to the act would result in abandonment of the more than 1,200 plants and animals now listed as threatened or endangered.

'it fills me with dread,' said Peter Ashcroft, chairman of the Sonoma Group of the Sierra Club. 'The fate of the California tiger salamander should be based upon top-quality biological science and not political horse trading.'"

Sierra Club member Suzanne Doyle commented in a 5/11 PD Close to Home piece ("A matter of biology, not politics"),

"The fate of the California tiger salamander is being decided right now by a closed-session strategy team in Santa Rosa. The team includes representatives of the federal and state agencies that are charged with protecting endangered species, landowners, city and county interests and a single person representing the environmental community."

"Apparently, pressure on the agencies is driving the team. A group made up of developers, builders, Sonoma County and the cities of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list the salamander. The state Department of Fish and Game is being petitioned for reinstatement of the salamander on its endangered list but must be anticipating a flood of lawsuits if it does.

What we are seeing is only a small part of a nationwide attack on the Endangered Species Act. Lawsuits are making it impossible for the cash-starved agencies to do their job properly and in a timely way. Landowners' legitimate anger at delay and uncertainty is being channelled to attack the ESA, one of the world's most successful species protection laws, rather than to demand an adequate level of funding for the agencies."

And Kelley and Martini replied to Doyle. A 5/17 Close to Home piece ("Salamander conservation strategy team's beliefs, goals misunderstood") began:

"As elected officials, we take our responsibility to our constituents very seriously. Sometimes this proves challenging -- especially when environmental and economic concerns are at odds. Regardless of the difficultly, we, along with the people we serve, support the spirit of the Endangered Species Act. Perhaps that is why we found a May 11 Close to Home, 'A matter of biology, not politics' by Suzanne Doyle, a member of the Sonoma Group of the Sierra Club, to be so disappointing.

We believe that the article demonstrates a misunderstanding of our personal beliefs and of the goals of the California Tiger Salamander conservation strategy team. With the help of Wayne White, of the Sacramento Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this team was formed nearly two months ago.

We are working together to minimize the economic impact of the salamander's listing and to maximize the opportunities to protect and recover the salamander. The team approach is especially noteworthy given the track record of the Endangered Species Act -- which does a good job of listing threatened plants and animals but not helping species recover.

When forming the conservation strategy team, we made an effort to be all-inclusive -- asking for input from the appropriate regulatory agencies (five in total), affected cities, the county, other affected government agencies, private landowners, the environmental community, a Sierra Club representative and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation."

"By supporting the efforts of the 'strategy team,' we believe we are participating in an effort that serves as an example of how we can work together for the betterment of the salamander and the citizens of Sonoma County.

Paul Kelley is a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Mike Martini is a Santa Rosa City Councilman." (emphasis added)

Who do they mean by "we"?

I understand them to mean that Supervisor Kelley and Councilman Martini, in their respective capacities as elected officials, participated in the formation of the California Tiger Salamander Conservation Strategy Team, and are members of and/or working with it.

The North Bay Business Journal reported 3/1 ("Taking on the salamander/Business group uses carrot-and-stick approach with Fish & Wildlife Service to move project along"),

"A local building industry-supported group is working feverishly to convince federal regulators to allow construction projects on the Santa Rosa Plain stalled by protection of the California tiger salamander to proceed this spring. The Santa Rosa-based group, called CTS Fund II, is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which listed the amphibian as endangered locally last spring, on a strategy for recovering the salamander while allowing construction to proceed on certain housing, park, and municipal water pipeline projects."

"Backed by $20,000 in monthly donations from 10 small and large local developers, CTS II has hired Idaho-based former FWS staffer William Lehman to create a site-specific low-effect habitat conservation plan (HCP)."

"If the strategic species preservation plan doesn't progress quickly enough, there's always the legal challenge to the listing itself. On February 19, 32 developers, landowners, building trade groups, and municipalities from Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties -- the two areas in which the salamander is listed -- sued the Department of the Interior and the Fish & Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court. They seek to overturn the listing in both counties."

According to the NBBJ, the "carrot-and-stick" approach of the Strategy Team and the lawsuit was created and funded by the members of CTS Fund II. The City of Santa Rosa is a lesser plaintiff in the developers' suit.

The question, then, is whether the County and City authorized Kelley and Martini to represent the Supervisors and Councilmembers--and if not, then why are they claiming to be acting in their official capacities, and who are they actually working for?

According to the City Attorney (5/20), the City Council joined in the lawsuit, and has supported the Strategy Team. The City's representative is Public Works engineer Colleen Ferguson, and Councilman Martini is not a member of the Team.

Ferguson has since created a webpage in the Public Works area of the City's site for the Strategy Team, now renamed the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team. Go here to read its Meeting Notes.

So if Martini is not a Strategy Team member, and the Council didn't designate him to work with the team, on whose behalf were he and Kelley writing?

It seems fair to presume that Martini may be representing his private employers, the Sonoma County Alliance. If so, it's notable and pertinent that the SCA opened a new website 5/1/04 which disclosed to the public that no fewer than five members of the Council--Bender, Blanchard, Condron, Martini, and Wright--are current SCA members. Supervisors Brown, Kelley, and Smith are also members.

Based on the information currently available, it appears Martini--as both the paid Executive Director of the Sonoma County Alliance, and an elected City Councilman--may have a severe conflict of interest.

Monday, May 17, 2004


Do homeless shelter users give up their Constitutional rights?

According to the Press Democrat, the City Council is expected to approve an 80-bed homeless shelter on Finley Avenue in SWSR tomorrow (4/18/04, Item 11.3), and hire Catholic Charities to manage it (Item 11.4). Nick Baker is program manager for Catholic Charities' Homeless Services Center.

Mike McCoy's PD story today reported (5/17, "SR likely to OK 80-bed shelter/Neighbors opposed to Finley Avenue site worry homeless will wander area, pose threat to kids"),

"Initial plans call for it to house the homeless -- a potential mix of single men, women and families -- between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. weekdays and 24 hours a day on weekends and holidays. An evening and morning meal will be served and residents will be asked to leave the neighborhood via cars, bikes or buses that pass through the area when the shelter is closed."

The story begs the question whether shelter users must give up their constitutional rights, in exchange for two meals and a night's sleep indooors. McCoy wrote,

"At the Finley site, the homeless cleared to live there must either have cars or bikes or agree to leave the area by bus when not in the shelter, Baker said. 'We'll give them a bus ticket if they don't have one or I'll drive them. It's important for us to be good neighbors,' he said.

All shelter residents--single men/women and families alike--will presumably have to leave the area between 9AM-5PM by car, bike, or bus. By what authority will the City and Catholic Charities ban them from the immediate neighborhood for eight hours on weekdays?

It's pertinent that Catholic Charities intends to carefully screen potential residents. The story continued,

"As for worries about dangers their homeless clientele might present, Baker said those who will be living at the Finley center will be screened to determine their suitability to live there.

That doesn't mean they will be barred admittance if they've had problems with drugs or alcohol or even past criminal histories. 'If a person has fulfilled their debt to society and doesn't have a past that would make it improbable that they should be allowed in a coed, family atmosphere, we need to do everything to allow them the opportunity to re-enter society,' he said."

It appears that only the harmless, docile, and reformed homeless will be welcome overnight at the shelter. The City and Catholic Charities will be relocating up to 80 new temporary residents in the Finley Avenue area, but throwing them out during the business day; while those the shelter rejects--the drug/alcohol users and criminals--will be free to hang out wherever they please.

The bottom line is the City and Catholic Charities don't seem to care about the rights of the homeless people they are planning to serve; and the new shelter will leave the most difficult and unpleasant but needy members of the homeless population on the streets of Santa Rosa.

PD praises growth-reducing land-use policies--World to end soon?

A Press Democrat editorial Sunday (5/16/04) said,

"for cities and counties, coming to a stop after periods of rapid growth can take years. This is what has happened in Sonoma County which, new figures show, grew by a meager 0.7 percent last year, making the county the 15th slowest-growing in California."

The Editor didn't say what period of rapid growth he was talking about, or how many years ago it happened. And in fact, there were major residential growth booms here--especially in Santa Rosa--at the end of both the '80s and '90s.

The Editor explained,

"The primary reason for the slowdown in Sonoma County is the sluggish economy and job losses which, unfortunately, have forced some residents to move away and made it difficult for others to move here. But it's also the result of wise land-use policies which, over time, have managed to put the brakes to growth levels which at one point were unsustainable."

The PD's admission that growth levels were unsustainable, at least at one indefinite point, and praise for wise policies that have reduced those levels, qualify as Omens & Portents That May Well Herald the Impending End of the World As We Have Known It. However, the Editor also said growth was inevitable, and called for reexamination of those wise policies:

"Populations numbers will always rise and fall with each economic shift. But what's also certain is that, during times such as these, communities need to re-examine land-use policies to be sure that when growth inevitably picks up again, they will experience the kind of new development that they want and need most."

Sunday, May 16, 2004


County water czar says we won't recognize herbicide damage

The Regional Water Quality Control Board plans to cite the Sonoma County Water Agency for killing grasses and small trees with herbicides along 50 miles of County flood control channel access roads. SCWA didn't obtain a permit to spray within the banks of the waterways themselves. The agency blames the county's pest control contractor.

A Press Democrat story (5/16/04, "County water agency faulted/Too much herbicide sprayed along access roads, state says") said water agency officials "received a handful of complaints about brown vegetation along the creeks and one from a homeowner whose backyard garden adjacent to the creek was wiped out by the herbicides."

County water czar Randy Poole says not to worry: "Some people will say it's disastrous, but it isn't. In six to eight weeks everything will be brown and you won't notice."


Councilwoman Condron promotes her husband's company's credit card scrip

Shortly after the March 2 primary election, the Press Democrat reported (3/4, "SR leaders vow to help replace fireworks funds"),

"City leaders celebrated Tuesday's vote to ban fireworks in Santa Rosa by reiterating their pledge to help nonprofit groups that relied on the sales make up the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. 'We need to go back and assist those nonprofits and find a way for them to make up those funds,' City Councilwoman Janet Condron said.

On Wednesday, she and Councilwoman Jane Bender, among the leaders of the Yes on Measure F campaign, outlined a series of fund-raising options they believe will generate substantial sums of money for the nonprofit groups."

One of those options was the CommunitySmart scrip card program, for which Condron's husband Dan—who retired two years ago as local Public Affairs Manager for Hewlett-Packard/Agilent--was the spokesman:

"Other fund-raising ideas being promoted are encouraging the nonprofit groups to participate in the annual Human Race, which raised more than $1 million for 400 organizations last year, or having them join in a newly created credit card program that will earmark a portion of sales at participating retailers for designated groups. Dan Condron, community relations director for the fledging Community Smart program, said 100 cardholders spending $800 a month at participating grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants could generate as much as $24,000 a year for a single nonprofit group."

Following the election, Councilmember Condron continued to encourage nonprofits to participate in the new CommunitySmart credit card scrip program being promoted by the Nietech Corporation, where her husband Dan is Community Relations Director. A brief Press Democrat Empire item reported 3/25 ("Fund-raising forum set for nonprofits"),

"Now that Santa Rosa voters have banned fireworks, city officials will meet with the 39 nonprofit organizations that previously sold fireworks to steer them toward other fund-raising opportunities."

"The city is offering nonprofit groups an opportunity to earn money by joining Santa Rosa's graffiti eradication program or participating in the annual Red, White and Boom Fourth of July celebration at the county fairgrounds. Another plan would allow nonprofit groups to enroll in a credit card program that provides rebates when supporters spend money at participating businesses."

"Now that voters have spoken, City Councilwoman Janet Condron said the nonprofit organizations will be more likely `to sit down and see how these other (fund-raising) systems work.’'"

PD columnist Chris Smith added 3/25 ("Up from the ashes of the fireworks vote"),

"nine of the 40 organizations that sold fireworks in Santa Rosa have committed to joining the new Community Smart program. It's a clever, local-born program that allows people to generate donations to schools or community groups simply by doing business with participating merchants."

The PD announced Nietech's then two-week-old program in a business story last December (12/6/03, "Scrip enters electronic age"), naming former Councilmember Mike Runyan as a director, and Dan Condron as an employee:

"A Santa Rosa company has launched an electronic scrip program aimed at providing an easy way for consumers to funnel some of their shopping dollars to nonprofit community groups. Called CommunitySmart, the program in its first two weeks of operation has attracted 35 nonprofits, including the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Redwood Empire Foster Parents, and 1,000 participating consumers who register through Summit Bank.

The parent corporation, Nietech, founded by Larry LeMaitre-Roberts and Shawn Rosales, also has attracted Mike Runyan, former Santa Rosa councilman and Food4Less owner, to its board and former Agilent Technologies executive Dan Condron to work with the nonprofits."

The City Council banned the sale of fireworks in Santa Rosa last September, which stopped some small nonprofits from selling Fourth of July fireworks to raise money for their charitable causes. Condron, a Councilmember since 1994 and former Mayor, voted for the ban. Then she was Treasurer of the Yes On Measure F committee, that defeated a fireworks industry challenge of the city ordinance at the March 2 election.

Prominent local political consultant Herb Williams, who has worked on election campaigns for several incumbent Councilmembers, assembled the Yes On Measure F committee, and ran its campaign. He told the PD before the election that supporters would find other fund raising methods for the small nonprofits that were used to selling fireworks.

The PD reported 2/12 ("SR fireworks fight one of costliest ever"),

"Williams said he has a strategy that could halt the industry's winning streak by neutralizing his opponent's most powerful argument. The pro-F side is in the midst of developing other ways for the 39 nonprofits to raise the same revenue they would lose if Measure F is upheld.

They have the city's garbage company, North Bay Corp., willing to put up $50,000 a year to help nonprofits that assist in the city's graffiti eradication program. Space is being created for nonprofits
to make money at the annual daylong Fourth of July fireworks show at the county fairgrounds.

'Before this election is over, we will have found ways for the nonprofits to replace all the money they will have lost,' Williams said. 'Once that happens their argument goes away,' he said."

Then the PD printed a debate on Measure F in February (2/15, "SR ban sparks debate"). Councilmembers Bender and Condron, and West End neighborhood leader Carol Dean, wrote the "Yes On F" argument. They said,

"Local businesses have pledged to donate $60,000 to the 39 nonprofits who will help remove graffiti. The Volunteer Center has pledged to work with the 39 nonprofit groups for the Human Race. Last year nonprofits raised more than $1 million for their organizations by participating in the Human Race. Community Smart has a tremendous program to benefit nonprofits through shopping at local stores which in turn donate to a designated nonprofit and requires little or no effort."

At this time, CommunitySmart and Summit State Bank are promoting three kinds of CommunitySmart cards in Press Democrat ads: Community Card, Credit Card, and Debit Card. Their slogans are "Cash Contributions to Sonoma County Schools and Nonprofits" and "Personal Rewards for You" Their ads say "Call or visit Summit State Bank and get your free COMMUNITYsmart(TM) card today."

California's conflict of interest laws and regulations don't apply when elected officials take part in election campaigns. But in this case, it appears that Councilmember Condron--in her capacity as an elected official--promoted her husband's company's product not only as part of the Yes on F campaign, but also after it was over.

Saturday, May 15, 2004


SR's sewage shakes The Geysers area

Santa Rosa's growth and development oriented City Council has spent many millions of dollars to treat Santa Rosa's sewage to almost drinking water standards, then spent millions more to pump millions of gallons of treated sewage 33 miles to The Geysers.

Injection of SR's sewage into The Geysers is causing record numbers of earthquakes. The weekly Seismo-Watch box in the Saturday Press Democrat said today (5/29/04),

"Activity at The Geysers geothermal area continued on its 'seismic rampage,' producing its sixth straight week at the century level. Activity this high has never occurred before and follows the controversial Santa Rosa wastewater injection procedure, which began late last year. Five quakes measured in the M 2.0 range with the strongest registering M 2.6. It was felt at Anderson Springs."

Thursday, May 13, 2004


Downtown interests must raise $1,000,000 by 5/25 to reunite Square

Mayor Sharon Wright says the City Council is "likely unanimous" in its support for a $4 million project to reunite Old Courthouse Square, according to a 5/13 Press Democrat story ("Private funds sought to reunite SR square"). The catch is that private Downtown interests have to raise about $1 million by 5/25, so the City can apply by 6/30 for a $3 million State grant of federal money.

The project is a rare instance of Council hesitation to spend the local taxpayers' money to support its friends in the Downtown/Railroad Square business community. True, the Council subsidizes the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce in several ways, and the Chamber is the leading advocate for the Downtown/Railroad Square property and business owners and developers. And the Council is budgeting $150,000 to fund Santa Rosa Main Street, the private business group that's lobbying to reunite the Square.

The Council also paid for CityVision, the private group that preceeded Main Street following the 1998 R/UDAT visit. The R/UDAT visit itself was a product of the Council's Downtown Partnership Committee.

Main Street President John Sawyer, owner of Sawyer's News on Fourth Street, and acting Director Michelle Gervais, former Executive Director of CityVision, said one anonymous donor has pledged $100,000, and "downtown business interests" have put up another $100,000 between them. They said Main Street plans to raise another $1,000,000 later, to make further improvements to the Square.

The Council just paid for half of a $110,000 unification feasibility study by consultant Rick Williams. He told them reunification would have "general economic benefits", but "they are difficult to quantify."

Supporters want to get rid of the 16,000 vehicles a day that pass through the Square on Mendocino/Santa Rosa Avenues between Third and Fourth Streets, complaining that those people don't stop to spend their money. They point to historic squares in Healdsburg and Sonoma as centers of citizen and tourist activity for those small towns. But Santa Rosa has 154,000 residents in four distinct quadrants, and the original business district hasn't been the center of town for years.

The Council has spent millions on boondoggles like the Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa and the Prince Memorial Greenway, while making it increasingly difficult and expensive to park and shop downtown. We can only hope the Council will not waste any more of the public's money on the Downtown/Railroad Square business interests' fantasies.

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