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It can be lonely at the top
Jack Balshaw 5/7/01

The vast majority of decisions made by the private sector, government, and politics are about money. Almost every decision determines who pays it (money), who gets it and who gets to keep, or use it.   Poor Councilmember Moynihan is finding himself on the losing end of council discussions when he tries to pin down the details of where some city money comes from and what  are legitimate expenditures of that money.  He gets pretty lonely trying to prevail, like one against six.

 This was again brought home during the City Council’s discussion approving a contract for the Washington/McDowell intersection.  When he tried to determine if traffic mitigation funds collected from homes and businesses (especially on the east side where all the growth has been) should be spent on that intersection,he received only convoluted responses from others on the council.  The direct answer is, “Yes, but …”.

 Traffic mitigation fees are collected from all new construction in Petaluma to provide money to mitigate traffic problems that may occur elsewhere in the city as a result of the traffic from the new construction.   This would logically include most traffic signal improvements.  There is no doubt that the growth on the east side has impacted the Washington/McDowell intersection. So, yes, its improvement is a legitimate use of traffic mitigation funds.

 But. But, when work on intersections such as Washington/McDowell is performed to mitigate traffic, the city often uses that as an excuse to use traffic mitigation funds to fulfill other city goals.  In this instance, a significant amount of money will be spent to provide bicycle lanes on both sides of all four legs of the intersection. This may be a commendable goal but it isn’t a traffic mitigation expense. Also, the intersection will be prettied up with landscaping and decorative arches, etc.  Again, not required for traffic improvements.

 The end result is that traffic mitigation funds are used in ways that don’t mitigate traffic, leaving other real traffic needs unfunded.

 There is also a special case in this instance. The Specific Plan that was done for the Ely/Corona (i.e. Sonoma Mt. Parkway) area specifically called for $4.9 million of traffic mitigation fees to be reserved for a “cross-town connector”.  It’s a stretch to call Washington the cross-town connector when Rainier was the location designated on the map when the Specific Plan was approved.  Apparently, the council doesn’t want any constraints on how it spends special funds.

 You might think the $3.4 million contract is a lot of money for the physical work on the intersection, but that’s not the whole picture.  Additionally, there is $317,000 for the city’s general fund overhead, $463,000 for construction management and inspection, $433,000 for the planning and design and $803,000 for the purchase of right of way (ROW).  This “soft” extra work adds up to $1.7 million, fully half again the cost of construction.

 Traffic lanes are being added only on McDowell. All the extra ROW is needed for the bike lanes on all four legs of the intersections. Again not traffic mitigation.

 Councilmember Moynihan is constantly castigated by some council members when he tries to get the facts on the sources of revenues. Councilmember Cader-Thompson is especially shrill in her criticisms.   She accused him of only wanting to stop what “a previous council” had approved. That “previous council” of course was the one where she was part of the majority.  It’s strange that in that position she had no qualms at all of overturning what “a previous council” before her election had approved, Rainier.

 Councilmember Moynihan’s position may be difficult to follow at times as other Councilmembers try to confuse the issue, but he is mostly interested in following the money trail because that’s where the council’s real priorities are most clearly visible.  If you view him as someone interested in the proper expenditure of public funds, you might better appreciate his actions.p>


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