Friday, February 17, 2006

Council's "Gateways" redevelopment project

A reader commented this morning,

"Geoff, what do you think about the Gateways Redevelopment Project that includes 1,400 acres going through the center of Santa Rosa?"

Here's a quick answer:

One way developer/business interests use local government to make money, is to have their friends at City Hall create a redevelopment area for their private benefit.

The SR City Council works primarily for local developers, and the leaders of the Downtown/Railroad Square business community.

The current Housing Authority/Redevelopment Agency amounts to a second city government for those special interests. The Council recently renamed it the Department of Economic Development and Housing, to emphasize that it's about making money.

The Council created a Downtown Partnership Committee in 1996, which resulted in the 1998 R/UDAT visit. Since the late '90s, the Council has funded two private lobbies (CityVision/Santa Rosa Main Street) to lobby them to improve Downtown/Railroad Square. The Council has obliged by spending millions of federal/state/local dollars, on projects including the Vineyard Creek Hotel, Spa and Conference Center; the Prince Memorial Greenway, and the proposed White House garage/condo complex.

Looks like the Council intends the proposed Gateways project to create major north/south entrances to a "revitalized" downtown; and to make money for their developer/business friends, by overbuilding the Highway 101 corridor.

To learn more about the Council's Gateways Redevelopment Project, go here:

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

County courts seek toothless watchdogs

Got a complaint about local government? Want to do something about it?

No problem. Just apply to be a member of the 2006-07 Sonoma County Grand Jury.

The Press Democrat reported, “For anyone who complains about local government, here's an opportunity to do something about it. The Sonoma County courts are seeking applications for the 2006-07 civil grand jury.”

The civil grand jury, unlike criminal juries, acts on complaints from citizens or initiates its own investigations of how local government agencies are performing. Each June, it issues a final report, which raises issues and demands responses from target agencies.” --(PD, 2/14/06, “Sonoma County seeking grand jury applicants”)

Sounds good, doesn’t it. Local citizens can use the powers of the Sonoma County court system to investigate local government agencies.

Jury forewoman Melinda Cabral said, “It's about public scrutiny. We have the ability to find out things that no one else can find out about. So the public can learn about what's going on in their government.”

And Cabral knows something about local agencies:

Cabral, who was selected to serve last year and stayed on for another year to help with continuity and training, said she has learned a great deal from the volunteer position. That's saying a lot for someone who worked in government for 30 years, including 18 with the Santa Rosa Police Department's records division.

But potential grand jurors shouldn’t plan on shaking up the status quo. The judge in charge himself told the PD the jury is toothless:

’I would hope the agency being investigated takes the comments seriously,’ said Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Boyd, who oversees the grand jury. ‘While there is no force of law behind the report, it can be helpful. We hope they trigger a lot of discussion and interest.’

So potential grand jurors should forget about bringing the Superior Court's authority to bear on the local establishment.

But if you want to try to trigger some discussion, “Applications can be obtained at or by sending a self-addressed envelope to: Sonoma County Superior Court, Attn: Court Administration, 600 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa 95403. Applications are due by April 7.