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Cotati roundabout opponents vow ballot fight


Another ballot-box battle may be on Cotati’s horizon in the wake of the City Council’s unanimous approval of a $3.5 million plan to narrow the city’s main street and install two traffic roundabouts instead of stoplights.

Opponents of the plan had promised, even before the council vote shortly after midnight Wednesday, they would mount a drive for a referendum to bar roundabouts anywhere in the city.

On Thursday they said they would keep their word. “We’re definitely going through with it,” said Patricia Minnis, who owns a downtown jewelry store.

“We’ll get the signatures and put it to vote,” said Minnis, a former councilwoman and one of many merchants in opposition.

Council members said the plan, called Village Mainstreet, would reshape the city for the better.

“I think we have an opportunity here for a legacy project,” Councilman John Dell’Osso said shortly before the vote at 12:15 a.m. that capped a public hearing that lasted nearly five hours.

“The roundabout concept can work,” Mayor Janet Orchard said, acknowledging that it initially had given her “a lot of heartburn.”

Later Thursday, she said she couldn’t comment on the initiative effort. “It’s a bit premature, I don’t have enough information yet,” she said.

The plan approved by the council, conceived after more than a decade of discussion on revitalizing Cotati’s downtown, would reduce Old Redwood Highway to two lanes from four at the city’s chief entrance from the north, between Highway 116 and La Plaza.

An alternative plan, retaining a four-lane roadway, would cost $4.7 million and require two years of construction, twice as long as the two-lane plan.

Two lanes would be safer for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and emergency responders, and also would encourage people to stop and shop downtown, supporters said,

The roundabouts, one block apart, would maintain a smooth flow of traffic, as opposed to the stop-and-go pattern with traffic lights, officials said, The narrower roadway, they said, also would reduce traffic speed to 25 mph, as opposed to 40 mph under the four-lane plan.

“We can have success … like those other places,” Councilman Mark Landman said, referring to business hubs in Sonoma, Healdsburg and Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.

Jeff Meston, a retired Novato fire chief working as a city consultant, said the two-lane plan would result in “speedier response time” by firetrucks. “I feel comfortable the plan makes sense,” he said.

The discussion over the design has been colored for months by the objections of Oliver’s Market officials, who had planned to move the store downtown from East Cotati Avenue, but said they wouldn’t if the two-lane roundabout plan went through.

Tom Scott, the company general manager, at the meeting indicated a willingness to perhaps go forward, especially if traffic capacity at the north end of the project is increased. The council directed city staff to consider how that might be accomplished.

“It’s very important we get some clear vision of where we’re going with this,” he said.

Later Thursday, Scott said “We’d really like to make something work,” but that issues of timing and cost now present “some big challenges.”

Environmentalists, bicycling advocates and some longtime residents heartily endorsed the roundabout plan. Eris Weaver said the two-lane plan was “so much more appealing” on “environment and aesthetic” considerations.

But sharp criticisms also were voiced, including from downtown music store owner Neville Hormuz who questioned why officials advocating the plan would “manipulate and lie to the public.”

As initiative advocates make move forward, supporters of the two-lane plan said they are thinking about how to respond.

“I think something should be done to sort of educate people on the choices,” said Claire Fetrow, owner of the Hub Cyclery and one of the few merchants to have publicly favored the Village Mainstreet plan.

Just before Thursday’s vote, Landman appealed to Scott for his help, saying, “We need Oliver’s to support Cotati now.”

Referring to the potential ballot measure, he said: “I’m asking you to stand with the city and say you don’t support that.”

Scott responded on Thursday afternoon: “I think we stand with Cotati, and I think we stand with Cotati on this by sitting on the sidelines.”

21 Responses to “Cotati roundabout opponents vow ballot fight”

  1. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Film@Eleven:
    wow, that’s quite the piece of highly spun, vindictive propaganda.

    One could only give thanks that you’re not a paid political figure or…
    one of Cotati’s public servants.

    No one could be that cruel…

    I guess anyone that could do this to Cotati small business’, might be.

  2. Film@Eleven. says:

    The citizens of Cotati who oppose the group that is seeking to prohibit roundabouts in our downtown will tell city officials that we, too, are considering a ballot initiative in the event that the city changes course from that upon which they have set sail.

    Our initiative would seek to bar the city from permitting any future jewelry stores anywhere within its limits, and would further require the immediate revocation of any existing business permits for jewelry stores within Cotati. We have serious concerns about the primary role of jewelry stores as dispensaries of conspicuous consumption. We also feel that the anti-roundabout initiative is an unnecessary act of self-aggrandizing desperation, not based upon facts in any way whatsoever.

    Our supporters want the city to adhere to their currently-approved concept of a two-lane street with roundabouts for Old Redwood Highway.

    Unfortunately, the fight over either ballot measure will be bad for the city.

    According to an article in the Press Democrat: “I think it’s going to divide the town in half, like it did when people were fighting against having Lucky come in,” said Cheryl Nixon, owner of Friar Tucks, a popular tavern. She was referring to the 1997 initiative that produced hard feelings that have lasted for years.

    We realize that either one of these initiatives holds the potential for reigniting the civil war that existed in Cotati during those dark days of yore.

    As unfortunate as that is, we feel that it’s the only way to deter the anti-roundabout group who oppose the already-approved plan, which passed easily through the design review process, the Planning Commission, and the City Council, who approved it unanimously last Wednesday evening.

    Our actions will mimic those of Patty Minnis, the Cotati jewelry store owner who filed a letter with the city alerting it of her intention to pursue a referendum.

    She appears to be acting on behalf of a small special interest group of merchants, land owners and residents who are against the plan, which would narrow Old Redwood Highway to two lanes and install two roundabouts between Gravenstein Highway and La Plaza Street. Our group is concerned that this is, clearly, a tragic case of “Profits Over Progress”.

    Regarding the anti-roundabout initiative threat, one of those merchants has been quoted as saying, “If the actual citizens get to decide, there’s no fairer way to do it,” which our group couldn’t agree with more.

    While our proposed new law, if passed, won’t affect jewelry stores in downtown Cotati, as there aren’t any, it will also apply to any currently located in rundown strip malls.

    We acknowledge that the two-lane with roundabouts design has been controversial since it was unveiled in October as part of the city’s effort to revitalize Cotati’s main street.

    It is clear that this design enjoys wide support, and would preserve Cotati’s small-town appeal.

    As reported in the Press Democrat, Oliver’s originally said the city’s plan would restrict traffic. They said they would not move downtown, as they had planned, if the two-lane plan went forward. But then, in the spirit of compromise, they designed a two-lane configuration with roundabouts that was completely acceptable to them.

    A musically-gifted chorus of five business people has said it could put their livelihoods at risk. They are still looking for three additional members so that they can develop an octave in their vocal opposition to the plan.

    In a telling gesture, as reported in the Press Democrat, Oliver’s Market officials, who launched the successful 1997 referendum against the Lucky Supermarkets proposal, has said they aren’t connected to the plan for the anti-roundabout initiative.

    “We’re not playing a role, and we’re not taking a stand either way,” said the company’s general manager, Tom Scott.

    We will need 588 signatures — 15 percent of the city’s registered voters — to qualify our anti-jewelry store initiative for a special election. We will need the support of 10 percent of Cotati voters, or 392 signatures, to qualify our initiative for a municipal election, one of which is scheduled for November. We realize that our selfish agenda could cost the taxpayers of Cotati as much as $24,000 (the equivalent of approximately 15 oz. of gold) to put to voters, but, frankly, we’re just not that concerned about it.

    We are unclear whether Cotati could be prevented by voter initiative from prohibiting jewelry stores.

    We will be placing signs around the town reading: “PROTECT COTATI NO! JEWELRY STORES” in the near future. We also expect our website, http://www.nojewelrystores.com, to be operational soon.

    We are confident that we can count on your support.

  3. Michael Sheehan says:

    With regards to roundabouts, perhaps they make great sense in parts of Europe, as some have stated here, especially if they slow German tanks on the attack. But I digress.

    My concern is about placing the roundabout at Gravenstein and Old Redwood Highway. With a stop light now located at Commerce and Old Red, it seems heavy traffic during commute hours could actually back up into the roundabout, causing a huge mess. Will that stop light situation be addressed?

    I also experienced roundabouts first hand while attending school in Boston, where the drivers are perhaps the most aggressive in the US. The aggression surrounding roundabouts at certain times of the day was a sight to behold, where even glancing at another motorist who was trying to merge was seen as a sign of weakness and used as a go-ahead to cut you off. With so many bad drivers right here, I wonder if a roundabout at a busy intersection like Gravenstein makes sense.

    Any thoughts?

  4. Charlton Heston says:

    On behalf of the N.R.A. (National Roundabout Association), I’m here to remind you:

    When roundabouts are outlawed, only outlaws will have roundabouts.

  5. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Money Grubber – “Yes, two cars cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” You ought not to try that, Ricardo. – Wow! Very insightful!

    “Try, instead, to watch the roundabout as you approach, SLOW DOWN as you are supposed to and enter the roundabout circle as you are intended. Its called a simple merge just like when you enter the freeway. Drivers simply adjust their forward speed to accomodate other drivers.”

    Don’t really need a driving lesson on how to use a roundabout, though if one is required, that should be a red flag to all. The YouTube videos I watched speak for themselves. The heavier the traffic flow, the more chaotic and dangerous they become.

    “It operates on the MERGING concept…” right, and we see how successful that principle works on almost a daily basis here in Sonoma County, people merging and changing lanes.

  6. Greg Karraker says:

    Money Grubber:

    Your aversion to facts is stunning. The current RAFD fire chief had three decades of experience in San Francisco, and I believe is in his fifth year up here.

    In his opinion, a total lane width of 24 feet is necessary to ensure passage of fire equipment, not in the best of circumstances, but as a worst case scenario.

    So please tell me why a fire chief from Novato, who has never driven a piece of fire equipment on the street in question, knows more about Cotati traffic than the real chief, who is thoroughly familiar with existing conditions.

    Please tell me why the city won’t give their own chief the courtesy of being able to voice his professional opinion in public, but makes him take a speaker card like every other peon and wait in line.

    And finally, tell me that you really believe that a paid “consultant” is under no pressure to support the opinion of the people who are signing his check.

    Actually, one more thing: if you’re going to question the qualifications and integrity of a very good man, you should have the decency to start using the real name that Mr. and Mrs. Grubber gave you at birth.

  7. Kay Tokerud says:

    The ‘Glorious future’ utopians are coming out strong in favor of the traffic clogging anti-car plan. Cotati is on the chopping block if you look at the MTC’s and ABAG’s One Bay Area plan. Cotati has no Priority Development Areas according to their map that was presented at their last propaganda workshop at the Glaser Center. The One Bay Area plan is attempting to dictate where housing (smartgrowth only of course) will be built for the next 25 years.

    They have the carrot and the cities are the mules. $200,000,000.00 in Federal Transportation grant money is under their control. Santa Rosa is actually trying to stand up to them and has written a letter protesting the plan because it would effectively deny property owners not located in Priority Development Areas the right to develop housing on their properties.

    Councilwoman Susan Gorin is in favor of the plan as she is on the board of ABAG. By the way, the city council majority voted that she not be appointed to ABAG. She was installed by other unelected board members. She loves smart growth and thinks having international groups like ICLEI directing ABAG, the MTC and all member cities including Santa Rosa and almost all other cities in the bay area is just fine. She doesn’t care much for the citizens’ property rights.

    Cotati probably won’t see any growth and may even be planned to be completely phased out in the future. They want people to move off the rural lands and into high-density urban environments. One Bay Area will do that if we let them.

    Refusing to maintain county roads, reducing lanes and putting in confusing traffic circles are all part of the plan to get you into those big-box housing units downtown. Be smart, don’t locate your business in Cotati, or even better, show up and fight the One Bay Area social engineering plan at the Finley Center on January 9th. They have to let you in, don’t be fooled. Bring your video cameras, it could get interesting.

  8. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Betcha the taxpayer subsidized ‘Gateway’ Redevelopment retail will have great access, ingress, egress, signage and parking. Probablly no ’roundabouts’ hindering their access.

    Orchestrate the decline of the old in order to make way for the new…order.

    How do you like it so far?

  9. John Lennon says:

    Oliver’s is such a awesome local buisness, a “real” non corporate “whole foods” that buys locally and provides good jobs. Its a liberal pipe dream here in Sonoma County.

    Put another one in Santa Rosa please!!! Leave Cotati

  10. John Lennon says:

    Those pro-roundabout videos are just propaganda, complete with fake manipulated statistics, studies, and BS.

  11. Money Grubber says:

    Greg K.,

    You said:

    “to let fire equipment get through traffic would take one 16-foot lane, plus one eight-foot bike lane.”

    The answer to the bike lane problem is simple. It gets re-routed.

    As for the consultant, I don’t see a problem with that. The acting, paid, on staff fire chief may have less expertise than the retired consultant.

    The retired consultant is also far less prone to provide answers that cater to political pressure.

    I once watched a presentation by a Sonoma County fire official. He asked for questions and was dumbfounded when a member of the audience stood up and introduced himself as a retired fireman of 30 years from San Francisco. The retired fireman set the paid, active fire official in line. It turned out that the active fire official was merely parroting the political line. I have to say, that man was dumbfounded to the point where he sat down for lack of words. His “rank” and “authority” meant nothing to another man who had experience was unafraid to speak openly and honestly without political pressure.

  12. Money Grubber says:


    Americans are unfamiliar, for the most part, with roundabouts because stop signs were and have been the standard intersection tool.

    Not sure where the traffic videos that you viewed were from or when they were filmed, but once the drivers understand the technique, roundabouts are far more efficient than stop signs.

    Yes, two cars cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

    You ought not to try that, Ricardo.

    Try, instead, to watch the roundabout as you approach, SLOW DOWN as you are supposed to and enter the roundabout circle as you are intended. Its called a simple merge just like when you enter the freeway. Drivers simply adjust their forward speed to accomodate other drivers.

    Thats ALL a roundabout does. It operates on the MERGING concept rather than the stupidly inefficient stop and go method.

  13. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Money Grubber – “Roundabouts are more efficient than stop signs because nobody has to stop and then go. That makes intersections quieter for lack of braking and accelerating.”

    I went to YouTube and watched a few ’roundabout’ videos and can tell you that it isn’t exactly true that ‘nobody has to stop’. The approaching vehicle that comes up to a roundabout does in fact have to stop when there is already a vehicle in the roundabout nearing the point of entry of the approaching vehicle. Two vehicles can’t occupy the same space at the same time.

    If you dig deep enough at the YouTube videos, a few were quite entertaining with two vehicles approaching the roundabout with a vehicle already in the roundabout. Looks like the second vehicle sometimes forgets that the vehicle ahead might have to ‘yield’ and stop! ‘Near misses’ can be pretty common, depending on just high high the traffic flow.

    Maybe the traffic flow won’t be an issue like I think; people like me can avoid the mess and aggravation and shop at Safeway instead of Oliver’s, and Home Depot instead of Lowe’s. The city of Rohnert Park is probably in favor of the Cotati roundabouts; it’s needs the sales tax.

  14. Social Dis-Ease says:

    when you make an appointment with a commercial real estate broker to look at a retail piece like the ones being damaged by this ‘project’.
    What is likely to be the first thing out of their mouth after shaking your hand?


    The Cotati merchants know it.
    Commercial real estate people know it.
    Business brokers know it.
    Oliver’s knows it.
    Big retail players know it.
    A child selling lemonade knows it.
    ICLEI knows it.
    Cotati City Hall must know it.
    Real estate speculators know it;
    although banks and real estate investors don’t like ‘non-conforming’ pieces in Redevelopment areas-for good reason.

    Less traffic, less business, doesn’t seem hard to understand.

    Again. If 10-20% of customers decide 10-20% of the time that it’s too inconveinient to frequent a certain part of town, that could be the difference between black ink or red ink.

    It would seem that Cotati City Hall’s favorite color is red.

  15. Greg Karraker says:

    Unlike Money Grubber, Juvenal, City Manager Diane Thompson, or the entire Cotati City Council, I have recently had three separate conversations with Rancho Adobe Fire Chief Frank Treanor, and I can tell you his exact concerns with the traffic-choking plan the city is hawking:

    The problem is not with the roundabouts. It never has been. It’s the lane width of the soon-to-be narrowed stretches between them. In the chief’s professional opinion, to let fire equipment get through traffic would take one 16-foot lane, plus one eight-foot bike lane.

    The city’s proposed plan is much narrower, but don’t worry, folks, they hired a retired fire chief from Novato, who as a paid consultant, said the skinner street was just fine. While this “consultant” was offering his bought and paid for opinion at Wednesday’s meeting, the city’s real chief, in full dress uniform, stood up, hoping to be heard.

    Did even one city council member have the courage to ask the real fire chief for his opinion? No. They completely ignored him.

    So there’s the real story about who supports public safety and who supports City Manager Thompson’s cutesy little fantasy of a “vibrant downtown.” Because of the council’s consistent refusal to hear the chief’s well-founded concerns about safety, every one of those arrogant fools should be recalled.

  16. Juvenal says:

    @Paying Attention:

    Maybe it’s escaped your notice that fire trucks do not observe the posted speed limits when they are responding to a call–and that police never do… .

  17. Juvenal says:

    There’s nothing to this but that Oliver’s is miffed. Let them stay where they are.

  18. Money Grubber says:

    Paying Attention:

    I don’t know all the details regarding “speedier response time” by firetrucks.

    But all public safety emergency vehicles are ONLY supposed to be “speeding” as fast as the speed limit allows.

    Just an FYI.

    Roads are designed from the drawing board to only be safe up to certain speeds. Any faster, regardless of sirens and lights, is putting innocent people at risk.

    The roundabouts might actually improve the response speed, though, because traffic won’t be congested and stopped as they would be at a stop sign where trucks might have trouble getting through. At roundabouts, everyone keeps moving. The intersections would be clear.

  19. Money Grubber says:

    Firstly, I’d like to compliment the City of Cotati for their public street Christmas decorations hanging from the street fixture poles. Nice work.

    Secondly, when I saw that someone was attempting to thwart the very effective and proven efficient “roundabouts,” I said to myself, it has to be the local merchants who are putting their profits before public safety and efficiency.

    Then, sure enough, I read,”“We’re definitely going through with it,” said Patricia Minnis, who owns a downtown jewelry store.”

    Roundabouts are more efficient than stop signs because nobody has to stop and then go. That makes intersections quieter for lack of braking and accelerating.

    Roundabouts eliminate the need for a traffic cop sitting there sucking up our tax money because no running stop sign tickets are needed.

    Roundabouts act as drunk driver speed bumps because drunks often crash over them and damage their car’s underside rather than simply blowing a sign and hurt / maiming / killing innocent people.

    And, roundabouts have been successfully used in Europe and around the globe for decades and decades. Maybe even a century or more.

    So, take notice, that the woman who owns the jewlery store simply values her profits over YOUR safety. And so do her merchant buddies who are hoping to thwart roundabouts in favor of forcing people to stop and stop and stop in the hopes of drivers deciding to shop in their places of business.

    In fact, due to the arrogance of those merchants, I would go so far as to boycott their places of business. They sure do not care about your safety.

  20. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Trying to reconcile this uncalled for over priced ‘vision’ with common sense will just give you a headache.

    This is 100% ICLEI directive.
    Same ‘vision’ in ICLEI charters across the US. Complete with stack ‘em ‘n pack ‘em mixed use commu-condos adjacent to trains whenever possible.

    In order to usher in the ‘third way’, the ‘great leap forward’, their new ‘ism’, they have to crash the old model.

    This move is socially engineered to do just that. To make automobiles obsolete. To make Free Market/Small Business obsolete.
    To make real estate in desireable hubs under fascist control.
    To undermine real estate speculation principals as well.
    To pick winners and losers in what was previously a capitalistic downtown.
    It is oppressive municipal sabotage, by design.
    Incrementalism, that’s how they roll.

    Forget all the warm ‘n fuzzy ‘green’ propaganda.
    In order to get their ICLEI/MTC/grant money, towns across America are being leveraged to morph their hardscape to one that lends itself to containment and small business/automobile sabotage.

    It is a relentless, multifaceted march…
    our ‘public servants’ are in ‘lock-step’ with ICLEI, not with the constituents.

    Thank you to the group of response-ABLE citizens in Cotati, to RepealSMART, to citizen groups like Santa Rosa Neighborhood Coalition, and everyone that recognizes the times we’re in, and takes a stand.

    May it serve as an example for us all.

  21. Paying Attention says:

    If the lanes go from four to two and the speed limit from 40mph to 25mph – how then can it have “speedier response time” by firetrucks?