PD tells SMART, "Leave development to cities"
With $4 million of SRJC bond money in his pocket, Michael Salinger wants the City of Santa Rosa to be in charge of building a proposed Food & Wine Center in Railroad Square. [See below: "City's business is development, says Salinger"]
The Press Democrat agrees: "SMART should focus on trains and the 2006 election - and let cities take the lead in development near the stations." An editorial Sunday warned local voters may reject SMART's 2006 railway bond measure, unless it lets the City run the project:
"SMART will come under fire if its decision kills the proposed food and wine center in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square. Proponents of the center are concerned that investors may give up - after years of negotiating with the city - if they have to start anew with SMART.
This would be a loss for downtown (ironically, the center grew from a process to make Santa Rosa more lively and amenable to transit- and pedestrian-oriented development). It would also be a loss for SMART if it's seen as a spoiler." (3/13/05, "Not so SMART/Rail agency should focus on trains and leave development to cities")
The editor said "investors" who have negotiated with the City for years may not want to start over again with SMART. But there's no indication anyone invested anything but their time and influence at City Hall. And in fact, Salinger's SRJC Culinary program may be the only potential investor of actual money.
The PD also said the F&WC is the product of "a process to make Santa Rosa more lively and amenable to transit- and pedestrian-oriented development". That process presumably included the Council's 1996 Downtown Partnership Committee, the recommendations of the 1998 R/UDAT Report, and the efforts of the Council-funded CityVision (now Santa Rosa Main Street) to implement it.
But the process never had anything to do with Santa Rosa as a whole--it was always of, by, and for the Downtown/Railroad Square property and business owners, investors, and developers. The current dispute demonstrates it was never about transit-oriented development either.
The editor wrote, "Members of the SMART board argue that they can increase ridership by creating a mix of jobs and housing near train stations. Yes, they can. But so can city councils -many of which are already building transit-oriented development projects in their downtowns.
"To question the commitment of cities to this type of development will likely gain SMART enemies among local elected officials and voters. Voters, who don't like government waste, will question why an agency formed to run a railroad would divert staff time on negotiating directly with developers over land-use decisions, when this is something that cities currently do. "
But SMART hasn't questioned any city's commitment to transit-oriented development. It hasn't even publicly questioned the SR Council's visible commitment to the Downtown/Railroad Square commercial interests. SMART apparently just wants to control its own 5 1/2 acres in Railroad Square, and ensure development is compatible with a future railway.
So the PD's warning isn't about alienating voters in 2006. It's a threat that if SMART queers the F&WC deal, then Downtown/Railroad Square business, the City, and the region's major daily may not support the 2006 bond measure.
The SMART directors are scheduled to confirm on Wednesday their tentative agreement to develop the site themselves. Maybe we'll see how they react to thinly veiled threats from local government and business.