Not many cities in the Bay Area have sheep grazing across the street from City Hall. But few cities are like Cotati.
The city, which purchased the Veronda-Falletti Ranch in 2008, has recently partnered with Split Rail Family Farms of Penngrove to reintroduce a flock of sheep to the old farm on West Sierra Avenue.
City officials say the animals are a reminder of Cotati's agricultural past, while some residents think the city has bigger problems to tackle and sheep farming is an unnecessary distraction.
"Having the sheep around allows us to restore an active agricultural use to the land as we pursue planning for a long-term use," City Manager Dianne Thompson said.
When the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District helped Cotati purchase the ranch for $3.1 million, including $165,000 from the city, the property came with three sheep, which have since died. Reintroducing sheep helps keep the weeds down and could be part of a demonstration farm on the property in the future, Thompson said.
The ranch has been part of Cotati's agricultural history since 1913, when the Harr family bought the property from the Cotati Land Company and turned it into a chicken ranch. Pete and Elizabeth Veronda, the parents of Jennie Falletti, who still lives on the land, bought the property in 1938 and continued to raise chickens until 1953, when Pete Veronda died and the family introduced sheep.
Within the next year, city officials plan to embark on a community process to decide on the long-term vision for the property, which could include a demonstration farm, a park and a historical museum.
According to the grazing license, Split Rail Family Farms is allowed to keep its sheep on the ranch rent-free in return for taking care of the animals.
"It's a benefit for our sheep to have free food," said Jane Kennedy Caruso, owner of Split Rail Family Farms. "I think there is potential to start a demonstration farm. The community is up for this kind of project."
Critics said the city should focus more attention on economic development and attracting new businesses. Recent city budget projections show serious fiscal challenges in three years when a sales tax measure expires.