For some cities, the path to a healthy economic future has its share of obstacles. In Petaluma, CA, on May 27, 2011, the largest obstacle was Mayor David Glass himself, reportedly trespassing on a field owned by a developer who plans to build a shopping center anchored by Lowe’s Home Improvement. The developer, Merlone Geier Partners of San Francisco, sent a formal complaint letter to the Petaluma City Council, City Manager and City Attorney. The company also filed a police report on the incident.
According to the developer, Mayor Glass, Janice Cader-Thompson, a former City Councilwoman, and a third man, who was identified only as a biologist, trespassed onto the property. Ms. Cader-Thompson stood in front of a tractor that was attempting to mow the field. Shortly after, she was joined by Mayor Glass, who stood “in front of, or adjacent to” the tractor.
Like many things in Petaluma, the whole story is worse than it sounds.
Let’s fast-backward to give you the full context: Intent on improving the stalled economy of this Northern California city, Petaluma hired Ingrid Alverde to serve as the new economic development director. Hired on May 23, 2011, with a salary/benefit package well over $100,000, she soon learned how serious the city is about helping her succeed.
She brings considerable cred to the job of attracting new business, having solved many of the same problems for the city of Poway, CA, a city of 47,000 near San Diego. In Poway, her approach was to halt “retail leakage”. Before she took the job in Poway, residents drove to other towns to shop. Today, because Alverde helped attract Home Depot, Costco, Kohls, and other businesses to the city, residents spend more at home.
Unfortunately, both she and Petaluma should have looked at each other more closely before signing her employment contract. In Petaluma, the locals are all but standing in front of the heavy equipment to keep a new Lowe’s store from being built.
Oh, wait, they are standing in front of the heavy equipment.
The root of this brouhaha? In an email response to a local newspaper, Ms. Cader-Thompson said, “I am also requesting a wetland delineation of the entire site.” I don’t know this for certain, but any time wetlands are mentioned in this part of the world, the welfare of a tiny salamander is almost always involved.
But back to Ms. Alverde: On May 27, 2011, only four days after she was told where the paperclips, coffeemaker, and ladies’ room are, the Mayor made his position on big-box retailers crystal clear. His anti-development, pro-retail leakage position will certainly give Ms. Alverde some spinning to do as she cold-calls other businesses and invites them to business-friendly Petaluma.
According to the new economic development director, much of her work will be based on Petaluma’s economic development plan. This study was completed last November for a cost of $140,000. In the same gee-it’s great-to-be-here interview, she said, “It will be the beginning of my work plan. My goal is to dig beyond the strategy and see what is the barrier (to businesses).”
Well, at least that part of the mission is accomplished.
Update: In an emailed response to a reporter’s phone message, Mayor Glass said that he stood “in or near the right of way adjacent to the property” and asked the landscaper about his plans for mowing.
Now I feel better. For a minute, I thought he was meddling with a developer’s right to mow his own property, an act that was authorized by the Petaluma City Council on March 21.