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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Target Center and Petaluma in Conflict

The Petaluma “Target Center” Brouhaha
By Connie Madden
A lawsuit has been filed against Petaluma by Regency Centers claiming undue delays in approval for its East Washington Place project and Petaluma’s city manager, John Brown stated staff needs additional time to study implications of the lawsuit and recommended no vote be taken at the next meeting Monday, January 25th while staff completes its review. January 4, 2010 marked the first time Petaluma City Council was able to hear the project “in full” and Council called for further review by the PC and staff. To view the lawsuit, go to

The process was a necessary one, beginning with Petaluma completing its General Plan that serves as “a policy document that embodies the community’s goals and guides decisions about physical development over the long term”.

While GP 2025, 7 years in the making, marks a preference for living wage jobs so people who work here can live here (saving Petaluma medical fees for low-paid workers), a preference for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly projects and density, it also stipulates that large new projects provide a “net positive” to the economy and the community. (See Chapters 9 and 11 of the GP)
During the wait for approval, the project was reviewed by the Planning Commission and time-consuming EIR, CEQA and FEIA reports were created.

However, as a member of the Petaluma Community Coalition, which brought stakeholders in this project together for many hours of discussion, I recall scant reference to these GP preferences. Although Regency prepared a FEIA (fiscal and economic impact assessment) as requested, their FEIA showed only projected profits. There was not enough economic information to show the true costs of this project. Council members could not know what existing businesses would likely be closed due to this project (which current taxes to the city would be lost) or which suppliers to those businesses would be impacted.

Mayor Pamela Torliatt, as quoted in the Press Democrat said regarding the lawsuit “They’re being their own worst enemy if they want to get to a decision” and added the city is responding carefully to the lawsuit. Planning Commission members expressed a similar sentiment late in December when it was noted the project was basically a 1970’s shopping mall design rather than the desired mixed use, would cause heavy traffic congestion and pollution, and there is no guarantee the project would be a success a few years down the line.

Regency “one of the largest operators of grocery-anchored shopping centers. About 90 percent of its shopping centers are anchored by grocers ranking in the top three of their market,” (Wikepedia) could also presumably replace named tenants with others upon approval of the project and many Regency centers include WalMart, which, conceivably, they could invite to East Washington Place if Petaluma Target leaves. Target has stated it is “unduly punitive” for them to be asked to pay a vacancy tax should they decide to move, an agreement built into their Davis project.

It is to be noted that East Washington Place was first presented before a council which did not have a “progressive” majority and a planning commission that generally wanted the project – yet that Council did not approve the project.

Petaluma is a leader in smart growth practices and was acknowledged by Green Belt Alliance in 2007 when they voted Petaluma the top rating in the Bay Area for “Preventing sprawl; Making sure parks are nearby; Creating homes people can afford; encouraging a mix of uses; Encouraging density in the right places; Requiring less land for parking; and Defining standards for good development.”

The decision to approve a project or not to is the prerogative of Petaluma Council - the town has no obligation to hurry its process or change policy to appease Target Corporation. East Washington Place is the interface between the East and West sides of town - and residents and future residents will benefit by the best possible project for now and the 50 or so years the project will be in place.

Petaluma’s General Plan stipulates large new developments shall provide a net positive for the city. But we don't know if this project can do that. December 2009 retail data for the nation shows an unprecedented loss of over 6% from last year. That means a lot of retail stores - including chains - are closing their doors while unemployment rises across the state.

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