Greenway plan divides southeast Santa Rosa

Linda Davis enjoys an idyllic slice of country life in the city.

The retired teacher lives in an east Santa Rosa home that backs up to a field she has used as a horse pasture for the past 19 years.

The arrangement has allowed her to walk out the back door of her home near Spring Lake Regional Park and into her own private 7-acre oasis where deer, rabbits and skunks share the land with her two horses, Minuet and Little Black.

But the land isn’t hers. It is right of way owned by Caltrans for a now-abandoned project to route Highway 12 around Farmers Lane and up over the park.

If supporters of the Southeast Greenway see their vision realized, Davis’ horses, along with four more kept by another woman on an adjacent field, may be sent packing.

“Selfishly, I love the rural look of the area. That’s why I bought this house,” Davis said. “But I understand we can’t just keep it for me.”

Davis and Cheryl Dolzadelli, who leases the 7 acres right next to Davis’ pasture, are two people who could be most affected should the 57-acre, 2-mile-long ribbon of Caltrans property be turned over to the city and Sonoma County Water Agency as proposed.

But they’re just two of the hundreds of residents who could be affected by the sweeping changes envisioned for the property, changes that could mean far more than a mere bike path from Farmers Lane to Spring Lake.

Affordable housing, market-rate housing, shopping centers, school parking lots and groundwater wells are also being discussed as possible future uses of the property.

Sorting out what types of uses should go where is a communitywide conversation that the Santa Rosa City Council kicked off last week by agreeing to come up with a general plan designation for the property, which currently doesn’t have one.

It was clear from the meeting that the yearlong process could be a complex, messy and contentious one, but also one with the potential to transform a strip of weedy wildland into a verdant corridor inviting people to get out of their cars.

“A lot of cities would really give anything to have the opportunity that’s presented itself here,” Vice Mayor Chris Coursey said.

To date, the City Council has heard largely from supporters of the well-organized Southeast Greenway Campaign, which has been pursuing for seven years a vision of transforming the property into a combination of alternative transportation corridor and nature preserve.

The supporters have been patient, determined and strategic in their efforts to encourage the council not to let the property simply be sold to the highest bidders and developed by free market forces.

They were out in force again at Tuesday night’s meeting, a silent show of political force in their pine-green greenway T-shirts.

“As stewards of this earth, we can let the land rise up to the glory of its full potential that can benefit the many and not just a few,” Thea Hensel, co-chair of the committee, told the council.

Hensel and others noted that identifying general plan designations was an important step necessary to help the project move forward, including with fundraising and negotiating the transfer of the property to the local groups involved in the effort.

But the meeting was noteworthy also because it represented the first time that a significant number of neighbors showed up to oppose what a greenway would bring - in some cases, literally - to their backyards.

Peter Masi, whose property backs up to the future greenway in the Castle Rock neighborhood, pointedly noted that all manner of unsavory activities take place along the Prince Memorial Greenway.

Loitering, graffiti, drug use, sex acts and vandalism are all on full display along that downtown greenway, he said, noting that a former City Council member was even mugged on it just steps from City Hall.

“I don’t want this in my backyard. You can’t guarantee me this isn’t going to happen in my backyard!” Masi told the council.

Most of the people who spoke against the greenway idea are residents of neighborhoods east of Summerfield Road, a section that under the proposal would be owned by the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Water Agency officials want to potentially install water supply pipes under property, while county parks officials see it as a perfect new entrance to the park. Jim Nantell, Regional Parks deputy director, said the greenway could become a new “front door” to the park, which he feels is lacking in the circuitous route through residential streets along Newanga Avenue park users now take.

But some residents of the area are opposed to the property being used for a new park entrance, arguing that the greenway could achieve all its connectivity goals, just in other areas.

“Our issue and our question is, why should it continue beyond Summerfield Road when there are already multiple access points to the parks?” asked Greg Badano, who said he is an avid cyclist.

Davis, the horse owner, says she is not opposed to a path through the greenway but hopes that it will be relatively narrow.

City officials said they planned to spend about $300,000 to hire a land-use consulting firm that would perform much of the planning work, which would involve community meetings next year.

A preliminary city report on the potential land uses for the property envisioned the majority of the property being dedicated to parks and recreation uses. City planning staff concluded that the area near the Farmers Lane interchange makes sense for retail. An area near Montgomery High School could be designated as institutional with the idea of allowing the school to use it. And some areas could be set aside for higher-density housing, according to the report, which is officially titled “Existing Conditions, Opportunities and Constraints Report.”

Coursey expressed support for several kinds of housing, including affordable housing, market-rate housing and mixed-use projects, citing Yulupa Avenue as a possible place for such uses. He said including housing could fulfill a community need and help the city pay for the other improvements.

The level of detail in the city’s report and the public notice to surrounding residents about the general plan amendment process appeared to have triggered the show of opposition. Some said they felt the process to date had been “secretive.”

“I don’t think the general public is aware of what’s going on in this plan,” Masi said.

Council members tried to assure critics that the process was just getting underway and that their ideas and concerns would be valued.

“I’m enthusiastically in favor of having a full, proper community conversation,” said Councilwoman Julie Combs, a strong supporter of the greenway committee’s efforts.

But the presence of such vocal critics gave come council members pause.

“There are happy faces in this room, and there are angry faces in this room and that makes me nervous,” Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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