A snack vendor who only wished to give his name as Manuel waits for the light to change on Sebastopol Road at the Roseland Village Shopping Center on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (BETH SCHLANKER/The Press Democrat)

Roseland sees some improvements after joining Santa Rosa more than a year ago, though much work remains

The neighborhood was annexed by the city in November 2017, just a month after the Tubbs fire devastated the city and redirected its attention to aiding Coffey Park and Fountaingrove.

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W ith a long black ponytail swaying behind her as she walked, a waitress at La Fondita moved through the crowded Roseland restaurant and set two piping hot bowls of seafood soup in front of a pair of hungry patrons. Mariachi music played in the background as diners ate their lunch, sharing conversation and the occasional laugh.

Store manager Ivan Reyes’ parents began working in the area more than two decades ago, upgrading from a taco truck to their brick-and-mortar restaurant on Sebastopol Road in 2003. After years of working alongside his parents, Reyes, 25, of northeast Santa Rosa, said the business and neighborhood have become a second home.

“Since we started, we’ve been in the heart of Roseland,” he said. “This community has given us so much.”

His family’s business is one of dozens lining Sebastopol Road, a popular stretch known for its wide selection of late-night Mexican food. During the day, droves of cars and pedestrians travel the artery as families make their way to and from schools and shops.

Despite all the activity, the fast-growing, predominantly Latino neighborhood has long been considered an overlooked area, a former minority-majority county island that has lacked political representation and good roads.

Roseland residents also have complained for years about a lack of transparency, response and accountability by law enforcement — a sentiment underscored by the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in the nearby Moorland neighborhood in 2013.

They had reason to think change was imminent in November 2017, when Santa Rosa folded the remainder of Roseland into its city limits. It brought in 620 acres — more than double the 300 acres it annexed from Roseland in 1997. With the latest addition came Sonoma County’s pledge to pay the city nearly $15 million over 10 years, plus a smaller ongoing “revenue-sharing payment” after that. The money and annexation amounted to promises of more robust public services and heightened community development for the nearly 7,400 Roseland residents adopted into the city.

After joining the city more than a year ago, Roseland’s residents and businesses can see some signs of change: Police officers are patrolling the streets instead of sheriff’s deputies. New efforts are underway to engage businesses. Road-paving projects are planned for this summer, and new electoral districts have been drawn up to boost Roseland’s representation on the Santa Rosa school board and City Council.

But with most neighborhood improvements years out, residents remain skeptical, questioning how substantial planned upgrades will be and how long they will take to be realized.

Annexation took effect as Santa Rosa was in emergency response mode in the wake of the devastating Tubbs fire that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 22 people in October 2017. The fire sucked the air out of efforts in Roseland as the city rushed to aid Coffey Park and Fountaingrove neighborhoods.

Since we started, we’ve been in the heart of Roseland. This community has given us so much.Ivan Reyes, La Fondita manager

Though the city has made some strides in Roseland since late 2017, Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said it’s been frustrating to watch the neighborhood slip from the city’s focus. He said the city has not been as welcoming to Roseland as he would have liked.

“I’m pretty sure we’re not quite there yet,” Schwedhelm said of the city’s outreach to Roseland. “Whether it was a promise or not, that’s what our plan was: ‘Whatever the rest of the city has, you’re going to have that.’”

Among the most immediate changes following the Nov. 1, 2017, annexation was a shift in who fielded 911 calls from Roseland residents, moving the responsibility away from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and CHP to the Santa Rosa Police Department.

“The sheriff’s department was dealing with criminal issues, and the CHP was doing traffic issues,” Santa Rosa police Capt. Rainer Navarro said. “We’re doing it all.”

The transfer meant community members could expect to see officers stay closer to home, as the city police patrol beat that includes Roseland is smaller than the 60-square-mile zone county deputies patrolled.

Currently, eight Santa Rosa police officers are assigned to regularly work the beat, which was shrunk and readjusted to include Roseland following the annexation, Santa Rosa Lt. John Cregan said.

The patrol area spans about 5 square miles, running along Sebastopol Road and Highway 101 on its northern and eastern flanks and extending down to Bellevue Avenue and west to South Wright Road. Policing the additional swath of land required more resources to serve the new area while maintaining the same level of service to other Santa Rosa neighborhoods, Navarro said.

Ten positions — including a sergeant, four officers and two dispatchers — were added to the city’s budgets to help offset the increase in calls brought on by the new area. The additions fall in line with recommendations made in a 2015 study of the county-to-city transfer, naming the extra police hires as the single largest operating cost associated with the annexation.

Fire services remained unchanged. Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal said his department already staffed the Roseland Fire Protection District. However, an additional fire inspector was hired.

Within the first year, Santa Rosa dispatchers fielded roughly 4,200 calls for service in the annexed area, said Keith Hinton, a manager for the police department’s technical services division. The number represents 3 percent of the 140,200 calls for service the department received citywide in the same time frame, and was roughly the volume the department anticipated, he said.

The calls included requests for help with homeless people in the area, ranging from complaints of encampments to welfare checks. The problem is one officers deal with throughout the city, Navarro said.

At any given time, about 25 homeless people can be found in and around Roseland, including some who live in the area permanently, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, one of the largest service providers in the county.

It’s a fraction of the 75 people evicted from a homeless encampment behind the Dollar Tree store on Sebastopol Road last April, though the group was said to be as large as 140 at one point. Santa Rosa police have been connecting homeless individuals to outreach workers, Holmes said.

The department prioritizes finding resources for homeless people over making arrests, Cregan said.

“We’re one of the first calls that they make, oftentimes before they take any sort of police action,” Holmes said. “They definitely leverage our partnership to help individuals dealing with homelessness.”

Reyes from La Fondita said he’s grateful for Santa Rosa police, whose regular presence in the community provide him and other business owners a sense of protection. But when a homeless woman entered the restaurant earlier this year and began yelling at a cashier and customers, employees faced a 20-minute wait before an officer arrived. By that time, employees already had convinced the woman to leave, he said.

“I’m not sure if they saw this as an unimportant matter, or they saw this as a less-priority call,” Reyes said.

Among the police department’s biggest focuses has been re-establishing and strengthening ties to the area, something that helps officers better understand what community members need, Navarro said. That included partnering with Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, which runs the Roseland Community Building Initiative, a coalition of residents who work together to spearhead changes in their neighborhood. Their talks have helped glean information on how the department can better patrol Roseland, Navarro said.

The department’s school resource officers also have started making regular trips to area high and middle schools, he said.

To meet the needs of Spanish-speaking residents in Roseland and elsewhere in the city, the police department has offered officers basic and intermediate Spanish classes, a program that started prior to the annexation, Cregan said.

More than half of the department’s 180 officers are at basic proficiency, meaning they can conduct traffic stops and determine what type of crime occurred when interacting with Spanish speakers, he said.

A 2013 Roseland-area study found about 3 out of 5 of its 18,918 residents identified as Latino, with more than half speaking Spanish at home and about a third born outside of the United States.

“We’re really focused on moving ahead and because of the relationships that we’ve had with the community partners, I think that’s helped us a lot as we’ve made this transition,” Navarro said. “Is it perfect? Probably not, but we’re continuing to work with our community partners to do what we can.”

Residents expect the city will provide a better level of service than the county did.

As part of the county annexation payments, the city will receive $6.6 million over 10 years for road improvements in Roseland. New surfaces for sections of Rose, Sunset and Westland avenues are scheduled for later this year, and Roseland roads in the future will be included in the city’s annual slurry seal program to protect streets deemed in good condition, said Jason Nutt, transportation and public works director. He said the county funding, plus Roseland’s inclusion in the city’s capital improvements program, would bring the quality of the neighborhood’s roads up to, if not higher, than the average Santa Rosa street.

“I can’t tell you of any other neighborhood receiving this kind of paving attention,” Nutt said.

He said the paving work on Sunset and Westland had been delayed due to “staff prioritization associated with fire recovery efforts and the benefits of combining with similar pavement projects to achieve a better project delivery cost point.”

At La Fondita, customers and employees are reminded of the slow trudge of improvement whenever they look across Sebastopol Road to the massive parking lot next to the Dollar Tree. There sits the future site of the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center, which will include 175 new apartments, a public plaza, a mercado-style food hall, and potentially a permanent home for the Roseland library and the local Boys & Girls Club.

What could be the most important Roseland development is also one of the most delayed, due to the amount of money needed and long-standing environmental contamination issues on the land.

The multimillion-dollar complex in the heart of the neighborhood represents a level of investment that has historically been rare in Roseland. There also are new tax advantages for investing in Roseland created by the 2017 federal tax reform bill, which city development officials hope will make the neighborhood a more enticing destination for additional development in the future.

On the local level, the city is developing a program specifically tailored to Roseland businesses, said Rafael Rivero, an economic development specialist focused on that neighborhood. This program is being drafted, and the city plans to hire a consultant to help collect data, surveying local business owners about what they need, Rivero said earlier this year between bites of a La Fondita burrito.

City data showed at least 213 Roseland businesses had registered with the city since 2017. They had to pay a city business tax — new for Roseland entrepreneurs — that ranges from $25 to $3,000, according to Raissa de la Rosa, the city’s economic development manager.

Businesses aren’t the only ones with a higher tax burden. Roseland property owners also are subject to an additional city stormwater assessment based on land use and value, lot size and amount of paved surface.

The city sales tax rate is higher than in the county — a gap that will increase when a city-only sales tax hike takes effect in April. Santa Rosa also charges a 5 percent utility tax on landline, internet, electric and water bills that Sonoma County doesn’t levy.

In the future, Roseland could be much more present in discussions about tax measures and other aspect of local politics.

Political representationSeveral months after Roseland joined Santa Rosa, the city switched to electoral districts for the City Council, including a seat centered around Roseland that will go up for election in November 2020.

Nobody has filed to run in the newly formed District 1, according to city campaign filings. Stephanie Manieri, a 23-year-old Roseland resident who in November won a seat on the Santa Rosa City Schools board, which also switched to district elections, hopes that someone from the neighborhood steps up to hold that position, as opposed to someone who moves in from outside the district.

Manieri said that even though she and her fiancée both work steady jobs, they still face a difficult path buying a home in Roseland. She expressed uncertainty about how much new economic development will take place in Roseland, and whether whatever stimulation occurs will be enough to lift up businesses and residents in one of Santa Rosa’s poorest areas.

“It’s not affordable at all, even the cheapest ones,” she said of the local housing market. “We can’t afford to live in our community.”

Manieri said redevelopment projects like Roseland Village are “great,” but she also worries Roselanders will be pushed out by wealthier newcomers seeking housing and business opportunities — a concern that officials like Rivero acknowledge is shared by other Roseland residents.

“I already see gentrification happening in this community,” she said. “I’m concerned that redeveloping Roseland will exacerbate the gentrification that’s already occurring.”

One new Roseland redevelopment project is Tia Maria — a sister cafe of Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg. Tia Maria opened in late 2018 as a spot for “conchas and coffee” at 44 Sebastopol Ave.

Will Seppi, the president of the cafes, identified the location while driving around one day. He said there was “no doubt” that this venture into Roseland could be seen as gentrification but said he believed the benefits far outweighed any negatives.

“We took a dilapidated building and did a ton of work to it to get it back to a condition that people would feel comfortable coming into,” Seppi said.

While the Roseland cafe is managed by an employee who already was with Costeaux, he said, the company put an emphasis on connecting with the local Latino community and hired an employee who lives within 200 yards of Tia Maria.

Seppi also pointed to Roseland as a place full of “tremendous opportunity” for future development, such as much-needed housing.

I already see gentrification happening in this community. I’m concerned that redeveloping Roseland will exacerbate the gentrification that’s already occurring.Stephanie Manieri, a 23-year-old Roseland resident who in November won a seat on the Santa Rosa City Schools board

“I think that whole Roseland area is prime,” he said.

Manieri echoed the hopes of so many Roseland residents: that government services and roads improve and businesses see a boost. But uncertainty tempers her optimism.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets. You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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