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The day growth got out of hand
Jack Balshaw 4/10/02

I remember well the day Petaluma’s growth got out of hand.  It was March 8, 1969.  I went down to breakfast on the morning after we moved into our new house and looked out the window.  A few hundred feet away I could see the framework of a house being built on the next street.  It was then I realized Petaluma was growing too fast.

That next house represented the traffic that would slow my commute to San Francisco. It represented the school overcrowding that would affect my sons who had not yet been enrolled in classes. It represented all the annoying things we think growth brings.

I’ll bet many of you who moved into new homes can remember a similar day.  And those who bought previously owned homes probably thought the same thing, although maybe many months later when you saw new homes under construction.  Whether you moved into Petaluma in 1969, 79, 89 or 99, you know when growth got out of hand.  IT WAS SHORTLY AFTER YOU MOVED IN.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  Except for a few native Petalumans, aren’t we all from someplace else, the proverbial “Elsewhere”?  Didn’t we move to Petaluma as good citizens?  Didn’t Petaluma have room at the inn so-to-speak for us?  Why then is there such an eagerness to condemn growth?  Were we all bad for Petaluma?

I understand uncontrolled growth is bad. I was one of the original seven citizens who fought for growth controls.  But unless the population of this country, this state, this county stops growing, there has to be someplace for people to go.  We can’t expect all of them to go to Elsewhere.  The thrust of planning has to be focused on controlling growth so as to minimize impact, not to stop growth in the hope that then everything will become all right.

The “growth” problem in Petaluma boils down to one thing, traffic.  And the traffic problem boils down to only those streets called arterials –Washington, McDowell, Petaluma Blvd, Ely/Sonoma Mountain Parkway, and maybe D St. and Western. From a traffic point of view that’s the extent of the problem.  From a realistic point of view even McDowell and Ely/Sonoma Mountain Parkway, except for their intersections with Washington, don’t have a traffic problem.

Think of this; any residential street that has no vacant lots will never have more cars, traffic, on it than there is today.  No matter if the town doubles in size, none of those new people will have any reason to use your residential street except to visit someone who lives there.

The net, bottom line, basic problem is that Washington St. has a major traffic problem because it can’t handle the amount of traffic using it, and Petaluma Blvd has one in the downtown area because of the concentration of destinations.

So what is this council’s solution?  Don’t do anything to get traffic off Washington.  Don’t build Rainier, which would help, but maybe widen Corona, which is too far north to divert much traffic from Washington.  On top of that, focus development in what is called the Central Petaluma Area Plan between the river and Lakeville highway.

This latter choice will funnel even more traffic along Washington and into the most congested portion of Petaluma Blvd. This might be good for downtown, but not for our traffic problems.  Add to this development area the area at the fairgrounds called The Hub, and Washington St. will really become congested.  470 apartments plus office commercial development dumping traffic onto Washington right near McDowell is supposed to not make traffic congestion worse?  I can’t believe that.

The so-called growth problem can be summed up simply as the City Council’s refusal to provide an alternate route for much of the traffic that is now on Washington St.  Widening only McDowell at its intersection with Washington is a band-aid and not a solution.  Until our council has the backbone to revisit the Rainier over crossing, there will be no solution to traffic congestion.  And those opposing growth will use “the continuing traffic problems” as their excuse to attempt to turn back the clock to the “good old days”.


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