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I write in response to the Close to Home piece by my former colleague, Janice Cader-Thompson, regarding the city of Petaluma's approval of the Deer Creek project, which will be anchored by a Friedman's home improvement center ("Petalumans were doing the City Council's job," Monday).

Cader-Thompson, of course, is one of the individuals who got Friedman's and Merlone Geier, the property owner, to pay more than $190,000 for an assortment of amenities in town in exchange for not tying Friedman's up in court for the next two years. The two settlements have come under withering criticism as shakedowns. Cader-Thompson apparently feels that the best defense is a good offense.

She touts the list of goodies she and her cohorts got Friedman's to agree to fund, including a lighted crosswalk in the nearby residential neighborhood, new landscaping, and a new fence for her neighborhood (not across from the center). She also claims to have protected a heritage oak that was going to be protected anyway.

The separate settlement by Cader-Thompson's ally, Paul Francis, included another lighted crosswalk, repaving a bike trail, funds for tree planting, $10,000 earmarked for Heritage Homes — which has turned the money down — and $25,000 for the River Heritage Center.

Cader-Thompson then roundly criticizes the City Council majority that voted to approve the Friedman's project for failing to require these amenities.

What she fails to mention is that neither she nor any of her neighbors ever asked the city to condition approval of the project on lighted crosswalks, additional landscaping, a fence for Cader-Thompson's neighborhood, repaving a bike trail or any other such amenities.

Instead, what both Cader-Thompson and Francis focused on was trying to kill the entire Friedman's project. And those efforts were aimed at the Rainier cross-town connector and interchange project, which Cader-Thompson opposes.

On Feb. 23, Cader-Thompson's attorney attempted to derail the Friedman's approvals by sending the city a 21-page letter with 22 exhibits arguing that the Rainier project is infeasible and will never be built. Her main argument was that the city has no way to fund Rainier.

I disagree. Actually, Petaluma has never been closer to achieving the first phase of the Rainier project. The cost of the full Rainier project is still included in our recently reduced impact fees. The Friedman's and Target projects will together pay $12 million in traffic impact fees alone, and I think all of those dollars should be earmarked for Rainier.

The city also needs to defend the $7.5 million in redevelopment funding for Rainier that the state is trying to grab. Petaluma has strong legal arguments to retain those funds.

The Friedman's project is being required to donate to the city the land on the east side of Highway 101 needed for the cross-town connector. A draft EIR for the Rainier cross-town connector will be released for public review later this fall.

Rainier cannot be built until the Highway 101 widening proceeds through Petaluma because the Rainier undercrossing will be built when the two bridges that jump over the railroad tracks are replaced. But the Highway 101 segment through Petaluma is now the next segment of the highway to be widened.

<TB>In sum, approving the Friedman's center was the right decision for Petaluma. I remain fully committed to making the long-awaited Rainier project a reality.

Four unauthorized occupants were arrested for burglary and conspiracy in Anderson Valley vacation home.

<TB>Friedman's made a business decision to pay the private litigants to go away, but this question remains: If these amenities were so important, why didn't Janice and her friends ask for them up front instead of waiting to shake down the developer for them in exchange for dropping meritless threatened lawsuits?

<i>Mike Healy is a member of the Petaluma City Council.</i>

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