Plans and money to improve Roseland neighborhood in Santa Rosa remain elusive

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Sonoma County’s largest Latino leadership organization reminded local government officials they have not been able to fund a marquee housing project and permanent library in Roseland during a Friday luncheon focused on the neighborhood’s future.

The event, hosted by Los Cien, brought more than 200 Latino community leaders together to examine the future of Roseland. Before and after its annexation into Santa Rosa in November 2017, the neighborhood has lacked investment and engagement, and government officials who spoke Friday acknowledged their past failures and future struggles.

“To be honest, I feel just a little sheepish standing up here, because I represent a government that has not stepped up the way it should to serve all members of the community,” said Margaret Van Vliet, executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

Van Vliet presented an update on the Roseland Village project, which is intended to bring 175 apartments — 75 of which are to be restricted to low-income residents — into the heart of Roseland on Sebastopol Avenue.

The development would slot into 7 acres that currently house a Dollar Tree discount store, the temporary Roseland library branch and parking lots. Plans for the project, which also includes a public plaza, food court and permanent civic building, will go before the City Council on Tuesday for an appeal hearing stemming from a dispute with a nearby property owner.

Roseland Village, which will cost tens of millions of dollars, continues to lack full funding, Van Vliet said, but work to build the infrastructure and roads needed to support it will begin later this year while officials continue to seek additional development dollars.

“Despite a flurry of public meetings and surveys and different things over the last few years now, there’s really been very little activity on-site, leaving what I imagine is a feeling of empty promises where dilapidated buildings and the Dollar Tree still stand,” she told the audience at the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa.

At least Lana Adlawan, public services manager for Sonoma County Library, had some good news to share: The library district recently signed a six-year contract for a new home for the Roseland branch, which has been sharing space with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Sonoma in an old furniture store on the future site of the Roseland Village development.

The library served more than 26,000 people and hosted more than 300 events last year despite only being open 27 hours a week, mostly in the mornings, Adlawan said. The move to a building on 470 Sebastopol Road, which includes a salon and the former offices of the Highway 420 medical-marijuana delivery company, will give the library nearly twice as much space and allow it to expand to 42 hours per week, she said.

The library only has enough money to pay for the first year of its six-year lease, she said. A few hundred thousand dollars from the city and county will help fund its operations in the short term, she said, but a permanent Roseland branch will cost millions that lack an obvious source.

Another cannabis company, Phenotopia, is planning to open in the shopping mall across the street, and community leader Nohemi Palomino listed the proliferation of dispensaries in Roseland as one of residents’ many concerns.

Palomino said residents also were concerned about high rates of unemployment, pay disparities that particularly disadvantage Latinas, and a lack of affordable child care. Palomino also challenged local governments to find new ways to engage members of the community, perhaps by going door to door and talking to families.

Santa Rosa wants to help Roseland residents get involved, but outreach efforts launched by city officials prior to annexation lost momentum after the October 2017 fires, said Raissa de la Rosa, the city’s economic development manager. She outlined efforts the city had taken to connect with local businesses owners, described Roseland as a “second downtown” for Santa Rosa, and said it was important for residents to get involved, even if only to clear up their own confusion about politics.

“No question is stupid,” de la Rosa said. “It’s true: We need folks to come and say, ‘I don’t understand why,’ because it makes us stop and think.”

Stephanie Manieri, a Santa Rosa school board trustee representing Roseland, said residents had been left out of the social decision-making process for a long time, a dynamic that helps explain why neighborhood residents haven’t engaged with local government. She noted that southwest Santa Rosa will not have a chance to elect a City Council member until late 2020 but said the neglect of Roseland predated this delay.

“It’s this compounding effect of historical negligence that doesn’t allow us to see why we should care,” she said. “Why should we care if others are making decisions for us and we haven’t been represented?”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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