“Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”
— Malcolm Gladwell, “Blink”
Nobody can accuse Santa Rosa of not meeting its obligation to deliberate thinking when it comes to the reunification of Old Courthouse Square. City leaders have been deliberating this issue for so long, if it were a criminal trial, the defendant would have long ago confessed and locked himself behind bars for fear of further jury circumspection.
After 18 years, it’s time to make a decision.
The Santa Rosa City Council came tantalizingly close to doing just that on July 15. But it put off a vote until Councilman Jake Ours could be in attendance — possibly to break a 3-3 council deadlock on whether to move forward with the favored design, one that calls for restoring Hinton and Exchange avenues on the sides of the square.
In other words, the city could be on the verge of the worst outcome — more deliberation, more studies, more visitation of ideas and debates that need no more visitors.
Let’s not. The city’s leaders need to trust their instincts on this and move forward.
“We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it,” Gladwell warns in “Blink.” “We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and depending as much time as possible in deliberation.”
But one of the central points of this best-selling book is that “decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”
It’s too late to act quickly on Old Courthouse Square. But there’s still time for the City Council to act intelligently and instinctively. While there’s plenty of debate on whether to restore the side streets and how they should look, the fact is the vast majority of the evidence and expert opinion — from urban planners, designers and architects — about the problems that hamper downtown Santa Rosa point to the same conclusion: Old Courthouse Square needs to be restored.
Nobody prefers to dine, shop or socialize near a steady stream of cars. At the same time, the primary opposition to reunification has more to do with driving habits than it does with the vibrancy of the city’s core. For the majority of drivers who use Mendocino Avenue, downtown is something to get through, not to. Which is exactly why reunification is needed.
This isn’t new. Elected officials know this. But there’s another reason the city needs to move ahead: Because there is no Plan B, and something has to be done soon.
Things are not the same as they were last decade when this idea started to gain momentum. At the time, the city had a number of major projects in the works, including an 11-story mixed-use project — with 183 condominiums and retail space — on Third Street and the major transit-oriented development at Railroad Square.
There was even discussion of a possible performing arts center near City Hall. But all of these projects are gone. In the meantime, downtown has lost a number of retail spaces, many of which have been replaced by banks and other financial institutions.
When the beloved Traverso’s moved to Fountaingrove in 2009 it was replaced by a bank. Before that, when the House of Humor moved from the corner of Mendocino Avenue and Fifth Street, it was replaced with a title company. When the Sweet Tooth candy store at 643 Fourth St. closed, it was replaced by a financial services firm. Another prime retail spot on Mendocino Avenue near the Sift Cupcake and Dessert Bar recently became home to a bail bondsman.