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Santa Rosa leaders decry redevelopment losses


City services most Santa Rosa residents take for granted — from litter removal downtown to attracting new businesses — could soon cease unless new ways to fund them are found.

That grim picture was outlined for the Santa Rosa City Council during a briefing Tuesday that addressed how the loss of redevelopment will affect the city's downtown program, economic development efforts and services to poorer neighborhoods.

"We knew that this conversation was going to come, and it doesn't make it any less painful," Councilwoman Susan Gorin said.

Before the elimination of redevelopment, the city had the "largest and most diverse economic development program in the North Bay," Dave Gouin, the city's director of economic development and housing, told the council.

Following redevelopment's demise as part of a plan to help solve the state budget deficit, the city will have $2.4 million less for its economic development and neighborhood revitalization programs next year.

"Redevelopment can no longer support our downtown program," Danielle O'Leary, the city's economic development manager, said.

That includes litter removal and public event support, cooperative advertising for businesses and special events, and improvements like street furniture and decorative lighting.

An array of economic growth efforts also face significant cutbacks. They include efforts to retain existing businesses, attract new ones, and encourage people to shop locally, O'Leary explained.

The funding drop will force the department of six full-time workers to be reduced to two, leaving a "significantly reduced citywide economic development program," she said.

Council members batted around several ideas for how to salvage some of the services, including paying for them out of the general fund, revamping the city's parking programs, and encouraging downtown businesses to do the work themselves.

Councilman Jake Ours suggested buying brooms for downtown businesses and property owners and telling them "this is a new city program – you sweep."

Councilman Scott Bartley noted that efforts to institute an assessment district downtown called a Business Improvement Area "landed with a thud the last time we tried it."

He also noted that according to a city survey, property and business owners preferred seeing programs eliminated over paying for them themselves.

"That's disheartening to put it mildly," Bartley said. "As society everybody wants everything, but none of us want to pay for it."

Raising parking revenue by charging more for people to park during peak hours – a concept known as progressive parking – was floated as a way to raise revenue.

Gorin noted that businesses and residents "are not going to appreciate it," but they might come around if they can be convinced it will help the downtown.

Councilman Gary Wysocky, who also supported progressive parking, stressed that the redevelopment loss wasn't happening in a vacuum, but rather in response to state budget challenges that have been brewing for some time.

"I guess it's a day of reckoning and it's time to stop kicking the can down the street, but unfortunately that does entail some human costs," Wysocky said.

Most council members agreed that a program to help the city's poorest neighborhoods was valuable and some way should be found to keep it.

Mayor Ernesto Olivares said the program – which offers a variety of education and code enforcement programs to clean up neighborhoods – is one he wants to continue because it helps "an underserved and vulnerable population."

"Who speaks for them? It has to be us," Olivares said.