What if Santa Rosa had the opportunity to convert a blighted and a long neglected area of the city into an attractive open space for exercise, recreation and alternative transportation?
That opportunity has arrived.
Caltrans recently announced that it does not plan to develop the extension of Highway 12 through southeast Santa Rosa. This has opened a window of opportunity for the conversion of the designated highway easement into a 2-mile greenway from Farmers Lane to Spring Lake.
Instead of the current eyesore — high dry weeds, discarded mattresses and garbage — we could create a 52-acre local treasure for young and old to enjoy and maintain.
What would it look like, and who would benefit? Through the creation of bicycle and pedestrian paths, residents would be able to get out of their cars and make safe trips to work, school and shops throughout Santa Rosa.
Since there are five schools in the area, the greenway would provide safe routes to and from school on foot or bike, reducing school related traffic.
The greenway would connect with Spring Lake, Howarth and Annadel parks, making them more accessible. It would also provide a regional link between southeast Santa Rosa, downtown, SMART, Prince Memorial Greenway and west county trails.
Since there will be a high priority on returning the greenway space to its natural state, teachers could conduct science projects in which their students study native species in their natural environment. An area might also be set aside for a scenic wildlife corridor.
By opening and restoring the three creeks that cross the property, students could study the fish and amphibians in those streams or participate in activities to restore these natural habitats, perhaps encouraging the return of spawning salmon.
By providing land and water for community gardens, the greenway could meet the demand for plots to grow fruits and vegetables. Community gardens could provide opportunities for education and meeting our neighbors.
For recreation, the greenway could provide opportunities to get outdoors, play, walk the dog, enjoy the views and get more exercise. Seniors and disabled residents could join group exercise classes and make new friends.
Building on established programs for public art in our city, the greenway could feature a sculpture garden or provide an ongoing gallery for works of art by local artists and a small arena for performances of music, dance or theater.
Besides offering new possibilities for exercise and recreation, studies of similar greenways in other communities show that they are an economic asset to the cities in which they are located, attracting tourists and employers who appreciate the quality of life.
Since Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have made commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through conservation and renewable energy sources, a proposal that offers alternatives to automobiles, encourages healthy exercise, promotes vegetation and protects wildlife advances those objectives. Part of the greenway might also provide space for solar or wind generated power.
How can we make this happen? Thanks to widespread opposition to the extension of Highway 12 in Santa Rosa and the efforts of a coalition of local residents, the Southeast Greenway Campaign, Caltrans has abandoned its freeway plans. Although access to, or acquisition of, the corridor is yet to be negotiated, important steps have already been taken.
In 2011, a team of experts from the American Institute of Architects conducted a study of the Highway 12 extension that included a series of public meetings to receive community input. Their final report, "Imagine a Greenway to Spring Lake and Beyond," reflects the community's vision and provides a concept plan for the project. You can view the report on line at www.SouthEastGreenway.org
Since then, the Southeast Greenway Campaign has conducted community outreach, presented at local events and held public meetings. We are now studying similar projects in other communities, meeting with other organizations, reaching out to neighborhoods and mobilizing support and resources to acquire and develop the Southeast Greenway. Join us and make it happen.
Tony White is a retired history professor, a long-time resident of Santa Rosa and a volunteer with the Southeast Greenway Campaign.