GUEST OPINION: Santa Rosa mayor impugns our commitment to Railroad Square project

  • 3/23/2011: B1:

    PC: Tom Potter, left, and Eric Wehrer, of Scott Architectural Graphics Inc., paint a new Railroad Square sign on the Highway 101 overpass at Fourth Street, in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

During the Santa Rosa City Council meeting on May 7, Mayor Scott Bartley voted to support the Museum on the Square project, as it segued from a mixed-use commercial and residential project to commercial only. The change was apparently driven by market forces that made the rental component infeasible. A decision was made to proceed with a scaled-back project but one that could be accomplished today in the realities of this still very flat market.

We support that choice and believe that developer Hugh Futrell will do first-rate work. However, during the same meeting the mayor said: "Somebody asked me why this is different than the Canners' project. This project, Mr. Futrell has invested a significant amount of his own money to make it happen. You have to respect that. So I think it's worth a try. I'm obviously in support."

This statement leaves us incredulous since we've spent more than $7 million over the past 13 years on the Cannery site (3 W. Third St.); Plant 5 (60 W. Sixth St.) and the SMART-owned property. A breakdown was provided to Santa Rosa city staff in October 2011. All these funds are our own money not public funds.

The magnitude of these costs should not be new news since:

<BL@199,12,11,10>On Nov. 20, 2008, as chairman of the Planning Commission, the mayor reviewed and approved the entitlement of the Cannery at 3 W. Third St. for 93 residential units. He knew we had acquired the property; deconstructed the seismically challenged 1908 structures at 3 W. Third St. and 60 W. Sixth 6th St. (Plant 5); preserved certain historic walls; were actively cleaning up the soil and ground water; and had commissioned architects and numerous engineering firms.

<BL@199,12,11,10>As late as Feb. 1, we spent two hours in Bartley's office briefing him on the project status. In particular, we advised him that we had spent $1.5 million just to qualify the city to make a joint application for the state's Prop 1C grant. He expressed no opposition to the project.

<BL@199,12,11,10>He was also told that we were suing the state, at our expense, to stop it from sweeping the city's $5.5 million earmarked for the affordable housing on Third Street. The suit was filed on Feb. 8, a week after our meeting.

<BL@199,12,11,10>On Feb. 28, the mayor was sent a comprehensive briefing package as part of a study session for the City Council and Housing Authority directors. That document cites the above facts.

<BL@199,12,11,10>On March 5, the above background material was included in a two-hour study session with the City Council and Housing Authority Board. The mayor chaired the meeting.

It's in this context that we are appalled and, frankly, mystified by his inexplicable statement. Given his extensive personal involvement and knowledge of our more than decade-long work at Railroad Square, it has the appearance of selective amnesia.

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