Sunday, January 16, 2005

No "Rocky" salute for the Greenway boondoggle

"We celebrate the Prince Memorial Greenway. There IS a creek walk. It exists." So wrote columnist Gaye LeBaron in today's Press Democrat (1/16/05, "Persistence pays off with restoration of Santa Rosa Creek"). She said, "It's hard for some of us to stand on the bridge near City Hall and look down Santa Rosa Creek without raising our arms over our heads in the classic 'Rocky' salute."

She didn't say just who the "some of us" are, but she wrote, "Citizens groups met to talk it over and, by the early 1990s had formed the Committee for Restoring Santa Rosa Creek, led by Bill Carle, Steve Rabinowitsh and Bill Knight." Attorney/businessman Carle is on the School Board, Rabinowitsh is a Councilman, architect Knight is a former Councilman/Mayor, and all have been downtown business boosters.

LeBaron said, "Civilization is hard on a creek. You only have to walk along Santa Rosa Creek, from its headwaters on the McCormick Ranch in the Mayacmas range above Los Alamos Road to the Laguna de Santa Rosa, to see how much better it is where human contact is at a minimum."

"The ultimate assault on nature came in the '60s, when the county flood control agency, with a war chest of government money, decided to bury a portion of Matanzas Creek and Santa Rosa Creek in a tunnel, creating new land on which both City Hall and the Shea Federal Building stand today. Fishermen protested. Garden clubs protested. City officials protested. But it was no use.

If anyone's property flooded, the city was told, the city would be held liable because the solution had been offered. Insurance carriers do not stand firm in the face of such threats. The deed was done.

Where the creek emerged from its tunnel, the agency cut down the trees and foliage, poured concrete into the creek bed, encased the banks and went away. So did the fish, the birds, the bugs and, most assuredly, the people."

That was just one result of Urban Renewal beginning in the '60s, which led to the razing of much of Santa Rosa's historic downtown, including the central courthouse, and construction of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall. The downtown business interests who demanded Urban Renewal got it with a vengeance, and City Hall is still spending millions today to "revitalize" Downtown/Railroad Square for their successors.

Speaking of millions, who's paying for the Prince Memorial Greenway? LeBaron wrote, "Without the Prince money, it would never have happened."

"While enthusiasm was contagious, money was in short supply. Then, in the fall of 1992, came a windfall. An elderly woman who had not lived in Santa Rosa since 1901 died in San Francisco. Santa Rosa and Petaluma city officials were notified that the two towns had come into some money." The ultimate bequest to the two cities was $1 million. "When the cities were notified, in '92, the $1 million, plus the proceeds from the sale of the house, had become more than $6 million - $3 million each for Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

Petaluma's Prince Park is that town's tribute. Santa Rosa hung on to the money, made a stab at buying Kawana Springs for a regional park, and, as the cry for creek improvement grew more shrill, decided on the Greenway."

As I recall, the City reportedly invested about $4 million from the Prince bequest in the Greenway. Lebaron wrote, "Never mind that it will cost at least $23 million when it's finished (none of it city money, officials are quick to point out)".

None of it is "city" money? So where did the other $19 million come from? There's no such thing as free money. If it came through the City from state/federal grants, it's still the taxpayers' money.

Yes, local civilization has been hard on the urban reach of Santa Rosa Creek. And yes, there is a creek walk now. But the Downtown/Railroad Square boosters would be wise to postpone the "Rocky"-style self-congratulation.

Thanks to the powers that be at City Hall, today the Downtown/Railroad Square businessmen have a City-subsidized Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel, Spa & Conference Center, on the bank of a City-subsidized Prince Memorial Greenway. And so far, the combination looks like a multi-million-dollar boondoggle.


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