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.
"It's a vital and necessary investment in our city and its success," Councilman John Sawyer said.
The full council agreed on several items they dubbed "low hanging fruit" early last month, but held off on more expensive and controversial proposals. They signed off on the rezoning of two business parks to increase the kinds of uses allowed there and speed up the process of moving in new businesses.
They also agreed to produce some promotional material about development opportunities in industrial areas that can access the newly resumed freight service, as well as opportunities at the current K-Mart site on Cleveland Avenue.
But the council balked at spending up to $100,000 in environmental studies for the 12-acre site once eyed by Lowe's.
Last week, however, staff returned and said it had found the $305,000 necessary to complete the work not only on the Lowe's site but several others. These include the Prickett's nursery at the intersection of Highway 12 and Calistoga Road, the Montecito Shopping Center in Rincon Valley and 3rd Street between E Street and Brookwood Avenue.
Other measures included: tinkering with the zoning requirements for supermarkets; changing zoning restrictions for wineries and wine tasting facilities; increasing the areas where medical services are allowed by right; and making permanent the temporary measures taken by the prior council.
"This list will create jobs. It will improve the economy of Santa Rosa," Bartley said.