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Hope for blighted Petaluma parcel

  • Joe Garcia, code enforcement officer of the Petaluma police department, walks past a historical structure at Cedar Grove Park, Thursday March 6, 2014 in Petaluma. The structure will be saved and be declared historical. Several buildings on the site near the Petaluma River will be destroyed. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

In the late 1800s, revelers from San Francisco traveled north to dance, eat, drink, even play baseball or bowl at Starke's Park, a small amusement park nestled between the railroad tracks and the Petaluma River.

Today, that land, now called Cedar Grove Park, is an unhealthy squatters' paradise of abandoned, graffiti-covered buildings, overgrown trees, discarded bedding, clothes and appliances. There are 50-gallon drums full of unknown substances, junked computer monitors, human waste, years of accumulated garbage and broken windows.

In the middle of it all are two historic structures. And underneath it all is a potential archeological trove of Native American relics.

Petaluma Cedar Grove Park

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Now, after several years of complaints about the deterioration of the property, Petaluma officials said there finally may be progress in cleaning it up.

That comes in part thanks to neighbors on nearby Rocca Drive, who have grumbled for years about fires, noise and crime in the 8-acre parcel behind their homes.

"It finally looks like it will be cleaned up," said Joe Garcia, the city's code enforcement officer. "It's a beautiful site and we'd love to see it developed, but there are just so many problems with it."

Petaluma police and code enforcement officials said the property has been a problem for years, rising to a priority when neighbors complained.

A decade ago, developers Work Force Housing Associates planned a housing development of more than five dozen single-family homes. After the firm lost the land to foreclosure a few years later, it was bought by an investment group called Cedar Grove Park LLC that included John Barella, former owner of North Bay Construction. Cedar Grove had plans to develop the property.

But those haven't materialized, and according to Garcia, the investors bailed out, leaving Barella responsible.

The property has been a magnet for trouble for years, Police Lt. Tim Lyons said. In the 1990s, Holmberg Roofing owned part of the land and narrowly escaped being shut down by the city after neighbors' complaints.


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