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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dutra Asphalt Plant vs. Petaluma's Shollenberger Park

Dutra vs. Democracy
By Dennis Rosatti and Bill Kortum
Sonoma County Conservation Action canvassers have questioned many voters in the West County about the placement of Dutra’s proposed asphalt plant at the entrance to our beautiful County.

Many letters have been sent to the Board of Supervisors, particularly to Efren Carrillo, urging denial of Dutra’s application.

During our eighteen years of door to door canvassing, we have seldom witnessed such an overwhelming opinion regarding a project of this nature.

In 1998 voters countywide mandated by a supermajority the scenic corridor designation below Petaluma to protect the main highway entrance to Sonoma County. Now the county considers a change in the scenic corridor to industrial to accommodate the Dutra Asphalt Plant. When the voters mandated a scenic corridor to protect the corridor’s landscape, they precluded a change to industrial.

Expressing the voters’ green mandate, the Sonoma County electorate has used the ballot box to protect their coast, take control of land use in our community separators, protect the scenic corridor below Petaluma, produce super majorities to establish voter control over urban growth boundaries around each city, fund SMART rail, and express concern for agriculture and our beautiful scenery by creating and twice financing the Open Space District, which will spend more than a billion dollars over 40 years to protect our visual landscape. Sonoma County is receiving growing statewide recognition for what the voters’ green mandate has accomplished.

While deeply disappointed, we respected Supervisor Carrillo’s recent straw vote to allow Dutra Corporation to present a modified plan as an attempt at fairness to the process. But even with a modified plan, the County cannot whitewash an asphalt plant. The EIR finds regional asphalt plant capacity more than adequate, so why should the County accommodate a company with such a history of violations in our voter-mandated scenic corridor?

The visual, noise, smell, toxic air and plant impacts on Shollenberger Park are very real to residents of Petaluma. The Dutra assault on voter-mandated protections and community values would cause consternation in the West County. Imagine a Dutra asphalt plant siting proposal across the road from Ragle Park, or at the highway 12 entrance to Sebastopol. It would be simply inappropriate, as it is in Petaluma.

The disregard of voter mandates protecting the Petaluma site has drawn little supervisoral attention. Petalumans voted by a super majority for their urban growth boundary with the promise that the County would not change zoning within the boundary. The asphalt plant would require five zoning changes. On this and other issues, a unanimous seven votes by the Petaluma City Council asked the County to deny the Dutra location. If Efren Carrillo votes for Dutra, his vote would tread on the will of a city council and a super majority of voters in Petaluma and countywide.

Thanks to the leadership of Sebastopol Mayor Sarah Gurney, who saw the significance of Petaluma’s unanimous vote of protest, the Sebastopol City Council took issue with the County Board of Supervisors’ initial straw vote endorsing the plant. Sebastopol was followed by four other cities with similar criticisms. Supervisoral disregard for the Petaluma City Council and the General Plan of Petaluma erodes the necessary working relationship between city and county elected officials serving together on mutual boards.

The Board of Supervisors, through staff and public hearings, periodically update our county General Plan. The ballot box is not in the process. Supervisors retain the power to alter the plan to accommodate changing circumstances. However, in the Dutra case, the scenic corridor, with 20 years of voter control, precludes the supervisors from altering the land use to accommodate an asphalt plant. Changing this voter-mandated designation to accommodate an asphalt plant requires countywide voter approval.

Voters in the West County put Efren Carrillo into office in 2008. He inherits, therefore, their 1998 vote to protect the scenic 101 corridor from Petaluma to the Marin County line. Out of respect for the will of his voters, Supervisor Carrillo should not challenge the scenic corridor mandate of his constituency.

It is small wonder that voters in the West County, and the rest of the county, are concerned that the supervisors will allow an asphalt plant to be placed directly across from Shollenberger Park on the Petaluma River. Not only would this be in violation of the public will, it would clearly present a visual and odiferous challenge to visitors, and to all of us, entering the Gateway to our scenic Sonoma County.

Bill Kortum, President Emeritus, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Petaluma
Dennis Rosatti, Executive Director, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Camp Meeker

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