The October fires destroyed so many things in Santa Rosa: homes, cars, trees, hopes and dreams. New homes are starting to rise, families with replaced cars are returning to their neighborhoods, trees are being removed to make room for new ones. There is visible progress.
What now might be done to restore lost hopes and dreams? What else can we do as a community to lift the spirits of our devastated friends and neighbors and help them see a brighter tomorrow? What visible evidence can we give that will let them know they are not alone in all this?
Oddly, it might seem, we can build a wall.
The fires that ravaged Coffey Park also destroyed the decorative walls and landscaping along both sides of Hopper Avenue. Even today their burned and twisted remnants are a daily sad reminder of what once was: a beautiful landscaped corridor where walkers, bikers and drivers could together enjoy the Santa Rosa lifestyle: A city designed for living.
The Coffey Park community of neighbors wants this corridor back. They are working with potential partners, including nonprofits and a Florida contractor who helped clear debris after the fire. Perhaps private donations and individual funding will facilitate a restoration project. However, as weeks turn into months, the ever-present charred walls make this hope a “someday, maybe” unfulfilled dream.
I believe that we can make this dream come true. I believe that a strong case can be made for restoring this important “livability corridor” by Santa Rosa itself.
The original walls were developer-built as a city- required condition for a very real public benefit: creating a “livability corridor” along a major city street. Although the walls were built on the edge of the property line of the original subdivisions, they were built to achieve city-desired goals for the larger regional neighborhood: providing attractive, landscaped corridors for pedestrian, vehicle and bicycle traffic.
The city’s current general plan goals continue to support and encourage these public benefits: “Balance and strengthen the visual quality of major corridors that link neighborhoods”; “Provide a more pleasing visual experience while moving through the community”; “Create ‘livable streets’ as an important aspect of quality urban design”; “Provide street trees to enhance the City’s livability and to provide identity to neighborhoods”; and “Promote park-like landscaping along regional and arterial streets.”
These are the very words that are embodied in the goals and policies endorsed by the City Council and residents alike. Beautiful new Hopper Avenue walls with fresh green landscaping built by the city on the edge of its property would fulfill these goals and policies.
Hopper Avenue is a city street for the public’s benefit. The Hopper Avenue corridor of decorative walls and tree landscaping was a city streetscape for the public’s benefit. It seems appropriate that city funds, already collected and available through park and traffic impact fees, should be used to create a new and beautiful Hopper Avenue “livability corridor” of which we all can be proud.
How can we show Coffey Park residents that the whole city wants to make their hopes and dreams rise again? We can build a wall.
Bob Harder is a civil engineer and was formerly the deputy director of engineering for the Santa Rosa Water Department. He lives in Windsor.