By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Opponents of a plan to remake Cotati’s downtown into a narrower street that includes roundabouts have told city officials they will pursue a ballot initiative unless they change course.
The initiative would bar the city from building roundabouts anywhere within its limits. Its backers want the city to adhere to a concept it previously outlined, a four-lane street controlled by traffic lights.
Some in Cotati said a fight over a ballot measure would be bad for the city.
“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 a 1997 initiative that produced hard feelings that lasted for years.
But its supporters said it’s the only way to sway city leaders who favor the plan, which passed easily through the design review process and the Planning Commission.
The City Council takes it up Wednesday.
“They can either represent and do what the citizens and the small business and property owners want, or they can put it on the ballot,” said Patricia Minnis, a jewelry store owner who this week filed a letter with the city alerting it of the intention to pursue a referendum unless it changes course.
She said she acted on behalf of merchants 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.
“If the actual citizens get to decide, there’s no fairer way to do it,” said Neville Hormuz, owner of Loud & Clear, a music store on the half-mile stretch of street.
The redesign project has been controversial since it was unveiled in October as part of an effort to revitalize Cotati’s main street.
It won wide support from people who said it would preserve Cotati’s small-town appeal.
But Oliver’s Market officials said it would restrict traffic. They said they would not move downtown, as they had planned, if the two-lane plan went forward. A chorus of other business people said it could put their livelihoods at risk.
Oliver’s Market officials, who launched the successful 1997 referendum against the Lucky Supermarkets proposal, said they aren’t connected to the plan for an initiative.
“We’re not playing a role, and we’re not taking a stand either way,” said the company’s general manager, Tom Scott.
Initiative supporters would need 588 signatures — 15 percent of the city’s registered voters — to qualify it for a special election. It needs the support of 10 percent of voters, or 392 signatures, to qualify for a municipal election, one of which is scheduled for November. The measure could cost as much as $24,000 to put to voters, the price estimated for previously proposed special elections.
Vice Mayor Susan Harvey said the measure would be divisive and that there has been ample chance for residents and others to shape the plan. “There’s plenty of opportunity for people to provide their input and that process works,” she said, “There have been public input meetings.”
It’s unclear whether a city could be prevented by voter initiative from building roundabouts.
“There are court cases that can go different ways,” said Fredric Woocher, an election law expert whose Los Angeles firm, Strumwasser & Woocher, works on referendums.
He said legislative decisions, such as general plan amendments, for example, are subject to referendum. Other decisions, those considered to be administrative or executive, are not. “They’re not always easy questions to figure out,” Woocher said.