Santa Rosa says it has a jobs plan, too

Barack Obama last night laid out plenty of ideas for creating jobs, but here's one you didn't hear him pitch — tweaking zoning rules to boost economic development.

While it may not by on the president's radar, that's precisely the approach the Santa Rosa City Council is taking to generate jobs locally. And much like Obama's plan, it is not without its skeptics.

Last week, sandwiched between various higher profile topics, the council signed off on a series of rezoning efforts aimed at economic development and job growth.

Councilmember Bartley said the effort should improve Santa Rosa's image as a place where excessive and often conflicting regulations make it difficult to do business.

"We run individual applicants through the mill only to spit them out well chewed up at the end without their project and that says don't come to Santa Rosa," Bartley said. "We're going to clean this up."

But some have questioned whether the cash-strapped city should be shouldering costs traditionally borne by developers, and whether the effort will pave the way for controversial projects such as the Lowe's Home Improvement rejected in 2009.

While he supported many of the efforts, Councilman Gary Wysocky said he was less comfortable with rezoning specific properties at the request of developers or their agents.

"It just seems to me like it's hand-out city," Wysocky said.

The effort approved by the council last week is a continuation of a process begun under the previous council to streamline some permitting processes for businesses in the city by making more types of uses allowed by right, eliminating the need to apply for additional permits.

Now the council is going further, and agreeing to proactively rezone some properties that owners and real estate brokers have said are ripe for development if only the city would remove certain zoning restrictions.

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