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Raissa De La Rosa finds that her job title with the City of Santa Rosa isn't as readily understood as some, like "Mayor" or "Police Chief." Those are ones we all know.

But what, exactly, does the "Economic Development Specialist" do?

In an economy that has cities cutting costs, she doesn't have financial aid to offer so much as advice, encouragement and ideas.

"It's creating links and connecting dots where people don't normally see them," De La Rosa said. "It takes strategy and vision, which I think this city has."

The most visible idea that De La Rosa has helped bring to life, since she came to work for the City of Santa Rosa in 2005, is the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race, now a world-class event.

"The very second day that I started here, somebody handed me a piece of paper and said, &‘There's this meeting tomorrow which, by the way, you will be running. It's for this Tour of California. We need you to find out what it is, hear the pitch and decide if it's worth doing,'" she recalled.

"So my third day, I was introduced to the Tour of California. It was just a concept that they had," De La Rosa said. "AEG, which is the company that owns the tour, was looking to get host cities. And it looked like a worthwhile project."

The Los Angeles-based entertainment and sports company, which simply goes by the initials AEG, did decide to bring the race to Santa Rosa. And Sonoma County has grown in reputation since then as a destination for cyclists around the world.

The seventh annual Tour of California race last month came with a celebration that spread over much of downtown Santa Rosa and spread to nearby wineries, spawning related rides and runs for ordinary folks not necessarily in the same class as the tour pros.

"There's been a change. Downtown is busier. Cycling as a way of life dawned on the average person slowly here, but I believe it certainly changed our culture. It's been very good to us, in terms of our economy, and our brand as a destination," De La Rosa said.

Working with the Tour of California has been the "best introduction to this community I could have had," she says now. "I don't believe the city had ever done anything quite so large. We didn't have the model we needed for having all these departments working together, outside their traditional scope."

De La Rosa soon found allies all over the city, starting with the cycling community.

"Raissa understands that cycling provides a direct improvement of the quality of life in the city. She sees the social, cultural and economic value. She gets it," said Greg Fisher, marketing director of Bike Monkey Events, which produces the annual GranFondo ride with Santa Rosa's star cyclist, Levi Leipheimer.

Before long, De La Rosa connected with arts leaders and events organizers impressed by the success of the Tour of California.

"Before the Tour of California, there were no big bike events downtown," said Ty Jones, independent producer of some of the city's major events, including the Handcar Regatta, which ran for four years in nearby Railroad Square.

"I love Raissa," he added. "She knows what her goals are. She's trying to get more people to come into the city. She's very direct. She doesn't micro-manage, but you're not going to run over her, either."

Not every experiment De La Rosa tried has proved successful. Last year, she brought food trucks to downtown at lunchtime one day a week. Faced with loud opposition from downtown restaurants, she had to abandon the plan after an eight-week trial.

"I was very cognizant, probably contrary to what they think, of trying not to offend the brick-and-mortar restaurants," De La Rosa said.

Despite the controversy, the food trucks were a popular success with the public, she added.

"I couldn't believe where people were coming from. They drove miles just to have this experience here in Santa Rosa," De La Rosa said. "We did surveys, and the responses from users from all over the county were really good. People came from Petaluma, Windsor, Cotati, Rohnert Park."

Food trucks continue to be popular at other sites in Santa Rosa, outside of the downtown district, she said, such as the D'Argenzio Winery's "Wine Down Thursday" parties.

De La Rosa's education is as varied as her list of local contacts. She graduated from high school in Athens, Greece, where her mother taught in an American school. She later attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the San Francisco Art Institute.

While her history with the City of Santa Rosa is relatively recent, De La Rosa, 45, brings extensive experience to the job. A native of San Francisco, she worked as an events manager at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from 1992 to 1995, and director of the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason from 1995 to 2000.

The job that taught her the most, perhaps, was her stint as cultural funding program manager for the City of Oakland from 2000 to 2005, working for Gov. Jerry Brown, then mayor of Oakland.

"That was amazing. That was really taking a program and completely revamping it. Jerry Brown ran in part on an arts program, and he pumped a lot of money into the arts and into the downtown area. It was a great time to be there," she said.

"The Oakland arts scene really coalesced into a powerful voice in the community. It was really fun to see them pull together."

Pulling people together is what De La Rosa likes to do most. Even if attracting new business is difficult in a poor economy, she still offers support to those already here and gets different people working together to bring visitors and newcomers to the city.

De La Rosa's work has made her a public figure, but she likes to keep her private life quiet. She lives in the Russian River area with her husband, Chris Hamilton, a general construction contractor, and their two daughters, ages 7 and 12.

Taking her daughters to school in the morning requires De La Rosa to drive, but she keeps a comfortable bike with fat tires in her office cubicle at the City of Santa Rosa Annex, across the street from City Hall.

"In town, I ride," she said. "There's a much more social atmosphere downtown now. I don't think that's solely because of cycling, certainly. I think there are natural changes that any community goes through. We're lucky in Santa Rosa that the changes have been positive."

Even though the closure of the city's redevelopment agency last February is a setback, limiting the financial support the city can offer, De La Rosa remains optimistic.

"There seems to be a lot more pride here now. There's a lot to be proud of," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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