A group charged with making Santa Rosa more economically competitive wrapped up its brain storming phase Tuesday vowing to begin turning ideas into action.
Members of the city's Economic Competitiveness Task Force held another wide-ranging discussion about ways to make the city a more economically attractive place, including nurturing the downtown, capitalizing on the return of rail service and recruiting new businesses to the city.
But the real challenge will be reaching consensus about which ideas pursue and how.
"This group is going to have to battle out what we're going to prioritize," Councilman John Sawyer told the group.
That could be a tall order given the number and variety of ideas generated by the 11-member group.
Two weeks ago, the group's members began sharing ideas about what Santa Rosa should stop doing to make itself more business friendly, and what should it start doing. Ideas included eliminating the public art fee, doing more to publicize the city's successes and hiring an ombudsman to smooth business interaction with the city.
On Tuesday, members floated a slew of new ideas, including the hot-button topic of downtown parking, which flared last week over a request by the owner of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall to be allowed to charge for parking. Mayor Ernesto Olivares tabled the deal in favor of a study session May 17 to educate the council and the public about the city's parking district.
Councilman Jake Ours suggested the city's parking policies put it at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting businesses.
"We've already got one leg in the bucket because of our parking," Ours said. "Riled up is not the word. Everyone's throwing bricks at you saying, &‘Fix it!'"
While recruiting new businesses to the city has been one of the stated goals of the task force, some members cautioned against unreasonable expectations.
Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council, called the chances of recruiting a new major employer to the area "slim to none" given the trend away from centralization of operations. The city's energy would be better spent on retention and expansion of existing businesses, she said.
Paul Schwartz, a commercial real estate broker, concurred, noting that some of the county's biggest companies, like Arterial Vascular Engineering and TriVascular, started here with just a handful of people and grew exponentially.
"Those companies didn't come here with a boatload of people, they grew from within," Schwartz said.
The restoration of rail freight service to Santa Rosa also presents business opportunities, particularly for light manufacturing, said business consultant Stephen Gale.
Tanya Narath, chairwoman of the city's Community Advisory Board, said she'd like to see the city focus on reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, support its bicycling community and promote itself as a "green innovation hub."
But Murray, whose organization represents many of the largest employers in Marin and Sonoma, expressed skepticism.
"I don't know a community in America that doesn't want to be a green innovation hub. It's not something that sets us apart," she said.