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A new year and a new direction

Jack Balshaw 1/1/2003


The New Year's here and with it an almost new City Council (3 new faces plus 1 re-elected). Hopefully these new faces will help the council focus in a new direction. We've had six years of our leaders being more concerned with the appearance of governance rather than governing, with planning for what to do rather than doing what needed to be done, and for generally being guilty of paralysis by analysis, (not attacking a problem until all possible studies have been completed). I hope the pragmatism of the newly elected members will allow them to move ahead briskly.

The Washington / McDowell "fix" is still too new to completely evaluate but it obviously didn't eliminate the problems and more obviously won't be able to provide a sustainable solution to the traffic problems that will plague that intersection in the years ahead. The need for more cross-town traffic relief is too glaring to ignore. The previous council had decided to ignore traffic needs until the General Plan was done. That was wrong and can't continue.

The General Plan is another problem. It's been two years since the contract was signed and over three years since the discussion of a new General Plan was initiated. The delay has been such that the beginning year of the 2002 to 2025 General Plan has been changed to 2004. Two years slippage in two years is a dubious achievement. In my opinion the complexity that has been built into the proposed General Plan is more to inhibit development rather than guide it. I hope the new faces insist on much improved progress.

The General Plan staff is making assumptions without open policy input from the council. Our historic growth rate has been cut by three fourth without, to my knowledge, any official council input. The new members of the council can't just sit and wait until staff brings something to them for comment. The City Council needs to have periodic briefings and provide periodic input into the process. As it now stands, we have an invisible General Plan process. Millions have been spent without the public being aware that a process is even going on since several public "workshops" were held two years ago.

The city's finances will be crucial in the coming year. The first thing the new council members need to find out is how much money is actually available for fixing and maintaining the city's infrastructure. While the situation regarding aid from Sacramento may be fluid, the indications that there are many millions of dollars in carry over money available for street repair needs to be looked into. Some straight talk is needed on this subject.

Councilman Moynihan has shown his ability to force the council to address financial/infrastructure problems (street repairs), now he needs to focus on how to make the city's financial operations transparent and open to the public. The newly approved multi-year contract to have a consultant restructure the city's financial operations and processes shouldn't be used as an excuse to keep the process incomprehensible to the public until the contract is finished. We're sure to be asked to approve some type of tax or bond measure for street repair in November of 2004. The council can't wait until budget time in June of that year to involve the public in addressing the problem.

I not only wish the new council well but also believe they will show they have a strong presence in city matters. Staff needs time to get some things done, but not forever. The General Plan needs to be developed but not to the detail of consideration of the impact of global warming on Petaluma in the next 20 years. Traffic congestion needs to be reduced but not just by developing a whole new way of measuring it to average in bicycle and pedestrian travel times.

I will be looking for pragmatic solutions from the new pragmatic council members.


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