By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The proposed bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 may become the first project blown away by the changing political winds in Santa Rosa following a dramatic City Council meeting that put the plan in peril.
The possibility of losing a project dear to cycling advocates outraged Mayor Susan Gorin, who denounced her colleagues as shortsighted, and reduced Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi to tears.
Next, click on agenda item 11.2. The presentation begins at hour 2:14 of the video, and council members’ comments begin at hour 3:30.
“It’s painful that this wonderful project’s in jeopardy and I can’t do anything about it,” said Jacobi, who lost her reelection bid and was overcome with emotion Tuesday night as she read a series of resolutions aimed at pushing the planning process forward.
Technically, several measures backing the proposed span and authorizing additional studies passed on 5-2 votes Tuesday, which should have been cause for its advocates to celebrate. Councilmembers Jane Bender and Ernesto Olivares, who is likely to become the city’s next mayor, voted against it, citing concerns about the cost and timing.
But Councilman John Sawyer, who shared the concerns of Bender and Olivares, cast a vote for the project — and said he was only voting “yes” for the sole purpose of reconsidering his vote at next week’s meeting, when new council members take office.
By then, Sawyer and Olivares will have two new allies on the council, Jake Ours and Scott Bartley, and if the item was revisited, the group would have the votes to halt the proposed bicycle and pedestrian bridge.
It is not certain that will occur, but Gorin was exasperated by the possibility, making a lengthy, impassioned argument outlining the economic and social merits of the project and chastising Sawyer for his tactic.
She said the $100,000 in redevelopment funds was a “drop in the bucket” compared to the value the bridge could bring to the lives of college students, the city’s reputation as a cycling destination and economic development for the city.
“This is penny-wise and pound-foolish! I am shocked, I am absolutely shocked!” Gorin said, turning to face Sawyer, her voice quavering with emotion. “I’m going to be extremely disappointed if you vote for this for the purpose of reconsideration.”
If Sawyer had voted against the project, it still would have passed on a 4-3 vote, with Gorin, Jacobi, Gary Wysocky and Marsha Vas Dupre backing it. But by voting in the majority, Sawyer retains the right to ask the item be reconsidered next week. Members who vote in the minority have no such right.
After the meeting, Sawyer defended his maneuver, saying it was the only tool available to him to “kill the project.” He said he supports the concept, but can’t justify either the $100,000 in redevelopment funds needed now or the staff time required to shepherd the project forward.
“I am not convinced at this time that this is the best use of that money,” Sawyer said. “It’s a good project, it’s an elegant project, but not today, not now.”
He called it “putting the cart before the horse” to move forward a bridge project that is supposed to create a linkage to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system, noting the location of the rail station has not yet been finalized.
“For goodness sake, we don’t even know where they are going to build the station yet,” Sawyer said.
SMART’s board has made it clear they prefer to have a second station in Santa Rosa on Guerneville Road near Coddingtown Mall, but a final decision has not yet been made.
The City Council’s votes followed a lengthy presentation by Steven Grover, the Berkeley architect who wrote a 200-page, $117,000 feasibility study showing a curvaceous suspension bridge crossing the highway at different locations from SRJC to the west side.
He estimated the construction costs for the bridge itself around $10 million, and said “soft costs” such as design and community outreach would be about 30 percent more, or $13 million total.
City staff have said the total cost could approach $20 million, a figure they said accounts for the possibility of inflation, potentially increased construction costs, and a network of trails linking the bridge to other transportation options.
Grover said there is a strong need for the bridge because the two locations for cyclists and pedestrians to cross Highway 101 — at College Avenue and Steele Lane — are not safe, a situation that will only worsen in the future, he said.
Vice Mayor Gary Wysocky noted that Grover’s report made that finding even before the In-N-Out Burger opened off Steele Lane, which he said has contributed to “gridlock” at the intersection. Gorin also told a story of trying to cycle through the Steele Lane underpass and having “my life flash before my eyes” as drivers honked and refused to share the road.
Highway 101 has created an “impenetrable barrier” through Santa Rosa and an overpass is sorely needed to repair that damage, she said.
She also sought to frame the issue as an opportunity to spur economic development in the areas around the mall. She noted that Codding Enterprises, co-owner of the mall, is “wildly enthusiastic” about the bridge and the possibility of creating transit-oriented development in the area.
“I think we could fill this chamber with cyclists and business folks and the Codding family to echo the importance of this project for Santa Rosa and we may have to do this. But we will do it,” Gorin said.
She then warned Sawyer about using a “tactic that will come back to haunt future councils. I would suggest you not do that.”
Sawyer suggested that it was Gorin and her allies who were the ones playing politics by using the “same kind of tactic” to push the item through before they lost their majority.
Gorin denied it, saying it was merely a “coincidence” that the item came before the council now and followed two years of hard work by staff and consultants.
“To suggest the timing is political is totally wrong,” Gorin said.