The Santa Rosa City Council last week made one of those decisions that affirms a community's belief in its own future. In approving a project that provides housing and support services for disadvantaged young people, the council chose determination and compassion over pessimism and dread.
There were witnesses. A standing-room-only crowd that included some of the county's most prosperous and influential people sat (and stood) through a long public hearing for one reason only: They wanted to do the right thing. They wanted to stand up and say it's not OK that 1,200 kids are sleeping in alley ways and under bridges.
If their example becomes a model for the future, well, good for us.
This began as a neighborhood controversy like many others before it. A local nonprofit, Social Advocates for Youth, wanted to transform the former Warrack Hospital into emergency and transitional housing and support services for young people 18 to 24 who are homeless or aging out of foster care. It would be called the Dream Center.
Some neighbors didn't like the idea.
The proposal won unanimous approval from the city Planning Commission in January, a decision that was appealed to the City Council. On Tuesday night, the City Council upheld the Planning Commission, and the vote once again was unanimous.
Only a handful of opponents showed up to speak at the public hearing. They said they feared the people brought to their neighborhood by the Dream Center. They wanted more studies, and they promised a lawsuit if the council approved the project.
In an unusual turn for a neighborhood controversy, more neighbors testified in favor of the project than spoke against it. SAY worked hard to mobilize its supporters, many wearing bright yellow T-shirts that read: "Say YES to dreams."
Among the dozens of people speaking in support of the center were prominent business, nonprofit, church, government and civic leaders, including Connie Codding of Codding Enterprises, Bill Friedman of the Friedman's Home Improvement stores, Steve Page of Sonoma Raceway, Willie Tamayo of La Tortilla Factory, Vic Trione of Luther Burbank Savings, former police chief Tom Schwedhelm, judges Gayle Guynup and Arnold Rosenfield and former mayor Jim Pedgrift.
In the world of local government, this is what a full-court press looks like.
In retrospect, opponents may have erred when they questioned SAY's credibility. Having enjoyed widespread community support for more than four decades, this is an organization with friends.
Many speakers used their time to testify on behalf of SAY's credentials as a organization that keeps its promises.
They also praised SAY's year-long effort to respond to neighborhood concerns — reducing the number of housing units to 63 and agreeing to conditions to limit noise and require background checks for tenants.
"What I see is an applicant that has tried really hard to reach out to the community," Mayor Scott Bartley would later say.
The opponents were left with what isn't the most persuasive of arguments: Let's keep kids homeless so this abandoned hospital can remain abandoned.
For SAY, this gift from Sutter Health remains a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There's no way a nonprofit could afford to purchase and re-purpose the former hospital at market prices. (The hospital at the intersection of Hoen Avenue and Summerfield Road was mothballed in 2008, a victim of the changing economics and the changing technology of health care.)