Santa Rosa officials may have found a way to kick-start the annexation of Roseland and save some money in the process.
On Tuesday the City Council unanimously supported its application for a $647,000 grant to help focus future growth in the city's southwest area around areas near transit hubs.
If it wins the grant from the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, city officials say the planning process that follows could speed annexation by engaging residents about the area's future and by completing some of the bureaucratic legwork needed before annexation can happen.
"There is a real good opportunity for community engagement here," Community Development Director Chuck Regalia told the council. "I think it'll give us the opportunity to create excitement about the future annexation."
The annexation of Roseland and other areas south of city limits has been beset by decades of wrangling and delays. A push to add Roseland and its more than 6,000 residents to Santa Rosa gathered steam in 2007 but stalled in 2008 after the city and county differed on how much it would cost the city to take over services to the area, especially law enforcement. The economic collapse has kept the issue largely on the back burner ever since.
City officials who first learned of the grant were initially skeptical because of the staff time involved in such a planning effort, Regalia said.
But once they studied it further, they realized it could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in future environmental review costs, Regalia said.
"It took us a while to get on board with how to think about it, but once we did, it became a real important thing to us," he said.
The Sonoma County Transportation Authority has received $1.4 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to help fund planning for growth around Bay Area transit hubs. The goal is to focus future housing and job growth around such "planned development areas" to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sonoma County has applied for $800,000 to help it plan for job growth around the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and the Springs area of Sonoma Valley. Santa Rosa has applied for the balance of the funds.
The application proposes a two-year planning process covering an 1,800-acre area in the southwest Santa Rosa area focused around the Southside Bus Transfer Center at the intersection of Burbank and Hearn avenues. The "transfer center" is actually little more than two small bus shelters on either side of a cul-de-sac at the north end of Southwest Community Park.
Of the 1,800 acres covered by the planning effort, 1,200 are in the city and 600 are in the Roseland neighborhood's unincorporated county area.
The city will likely hire a consultant to complete the bulk of the planning effort, said Lisa Kranz, Santa Rosa's advance planner. Any future environmental impact report for annexation would likely be able to piggyback off some of the environmental work done for this planning effort, Kranz said.
The savings could be significant, possibly in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars," Regalia said.
Hours before the City Council met Tuesday to discuss the planning effort, some Roseland denizens welcomed the prospect of eventual annexation, while others were concerned whether it would mean an increase in municipal taxes.