Want to build a retail complex in Petaluma?
The process is now clear. First, you hold countless meetings with city officials, neighbors and other community groups. Next you spend large amounts of time and money completing all of the necessary environmental and planning documentation and wait months for final approval by the City Council.
Then, when everything appears to be complete, you write a fat check to the Petaluma Neighborhood Association — and perhaps some other groups — to prevent an appeal or a potential lawsuit that's certain to delay the start of construction and drive up costs.
In some parts of the country, it's known as a shakedown. In Petaluma, it's becoming the price of admission.
This is the case even for a project involving Friedman's, the locally owned and operated hardware store that got its start in Petaluma in 1946 and has been looking for an opportunity to return to its roots. Given that many Petalumans have been eager to see the return of a large-scale hardware store to town, one would think that having Friedman's as the anchor tenant in the Deer Creek Village project would be a good fit.
The 344,000-square-foot shopping center targeted for vacant land at North McDowell Boulevard and Rainier Avenue had already been approved. Nevertheless, the builders, Merlone Geier Partners, ended up agreeing to a $191,000 settlement with the Petaluma Neighborhood Association to prevent a lawsuit that would slow the project down.
Two years ago, the same group obtained a three-way settlement with the city and developers of the Target-anchored East Washington Place shopping center. That deal netted the two primary leaders of the Petaluma Neighborhood Association — Paul Francis and Matt Maguire — $100,000 in cash in addition to $50,000 for legal fees. Their only obligation concerning how the money would be spent was that it couldn't be used to stop the Target project.
In addition, the developer paid $32,000 for the city's legal costs and put $40,000 toward traffic improvements on East Washington or in the nearby East D Street neighborhood.
At least in this case, there's no cash payout involved.