Saturday, February 12, 2005

Mendocino Avenue to be JC campus street?

The Press Democrat has discovered what Santa Rosa Junior College is doing with the $27 million voters approved under Measure A in March 2002: "Santa Rosa Junior College has been quietly buying up properties on Mendocino Avenue across from the campus ... The college has a vision of an extended campus, landscaped and with buildings architecturally similar to the existing campus. New administrative and business offices would go up, providing services to a student body that has swelled from about 11,000 in 1970 to about 32,000 in 2005."

The JC's actions have already significantly changed the east side of Mendocino Avenue: "In the past 18 months, the SRJC has bought Patio World on Mendocino Avenue, south of Carr Avenue, and the house and duplex behind it. The buildings were demolished and a parking lot created. The school is also trying to buy two other properties."

The JC is negotiating for the old gas station property at Carr and Mendocino, and the next lot to the south: "The buildings would be demolished and used for parking for about five years. Once SRJC's multilevel parking garage is finished, the parking lots would be removed and office buildings erected, [JC Vice President Curt] Groninga said.

The college says it currently has no plans to expand beyond the half-block area."We haven't thought of looking at other properties. But if somebody approached us - and I emphasize the word approach - we would talk to them."

But the new leadership of a long-dormant nearby neighborhood association has a different vision: "the Junior College Neighborhood Association has a dream of a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly east side of Mendocino Avenue, with housing above stores and cafes and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. They fear that the property purchases now under way are only the beginning, and that the SRJC eventually will try to acquire the rest of the properties that face the campus".

The new JCNA leaders say they want to know the JC's plans, and participate in the process: "'We would like to know what their plan is and be involved in the planning before any development takes place,' said Jenny Bard, president of the neighborhood association. 'We want to bring everybody together to plan this corridor and have everyone be part of the process,' she said."

JCNA vice president Victoria Duggan added in a letter to the editor, also in today's PD , "the daily traffic volume on Mendocino Avenue ... is one of the highest on surface streets in the city of Santa Rosa./Adding additional traffic, with parking and/or administrative offices on the east side of Mendocino Avenue without helping to address the problems of inadequate pedestrian crossings is not acceptable to our neighborhood." [2/12/05, "Safer for all"]

Most JC neighborhood residents--not to mention other Santa Rosa and County residents--are probably unaware of either vision for Mendocino Avenue. The JC's plans have not been reported, and the details of the JCNA's vision are unknown.

Laura Hall of Fisher & Hall Urban Design, who advocates the principles of The New Urbanism, has proposed the JCNA support an "urban design plan" for Mendocino Avenue. Some of the JCNA's new leaders and members are bicycle riders, and associated with the countywide bike lobby, and actively oppose construction of the JC's new parking garage.

Carol Benfell's important story today commented, "The issue is what Mendocino Avenue will look like in the future, and who will decide." She wrote, "The city generally sets guidelines for development, but it has no direct authority over the SRJC, a separate governmental entity. The city and the college work cooperatively on projects, said Wayne Goldberg, director of the city's Community Development Department." [2/12/05, "Neighborhood fears SRJC expansion plans/Purchase of properties across from campus raises specter of business park"]

The real question appears to be whether City Hall is ignorant of the JC's plans to expand across Mendocino Avenue--which in effect, will make that major City arterial a campus street--or whether the City is quietly working with the JC, to change the face of the historic JC neighborhood.


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