By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Tensions flared Monday evening during discussions about a long-range plan for land use as well as roads, trains and other transportation systems in Sonoma County and the Bay Area.
Representatives of the Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission held the meeting at Santa Rosa’s Finley Community Center to discuss what the region could look like in 2040 and to get input on transportation, housing and other land uses.
A vocal group of about 20 tea party activists interrupted the speakers and audience with charges that the government can’t be trusted.
A woman pushed a sign that read “protect property rights” close to Santa Rosa Councilman Gary Wysocky, who was in audience.
“Get out of my face,” Wysocky said.
“Get out of my council,” she said.
The meeting nearly came to a halt when a group of people began talking out of turn.
“I would characterize it as yelling,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Terry Anderson.
Police were called to the West College Avenue center after reports that someone had been struck with a chair at the 5:45 p.m. meeting. The report proved unfounded, Anderson said.
Anderson helped facilitate the meeting for a while and took people into the hall when they refused to let others speak.
Two other officers also were on hand.
“We’re here to try to keep people from violating the law that says you can’t disrupt a public meeting,” Anderson said.
The activists appeared to oppose public transportation and to hold a general mistrust of government.
“We’re tired of being pushed around,” said Mary Anne Black of Petaluma. “They want to force us, but I don’t want a bike path in front of my property.”
During the discussion a woman raised her hand and said: “When do you stop planning and just let people survive?”
She declined to give her name.
Outside the meeting, Steve Birdlebough of Santa Rosa, a retired lawyer and Friends of SMART member, said he supports a regional plan for transportation.
“It’s hard to get an idea in edgewise when you’re working with that mentality,” he said.
Sandra Lupien, outreach director with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said she wants the plan to support alternate forms of transportation, such as bicycle trails that connect rural communities with towns.
“We want to see potholes filled, too,” Lupien said.
Organizers shortened their presentation about the plan at the start of the meeting after people protested that there wasn’t enough time for public comment, said Joan Chaplick, principal with MIG, a Berkeley-based planning firm involved in the project.
“It’s been lively,” Chaplick said.
Many comments show people don’t understand who holds power over land use decisions, said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
“I’m glad it’s generated this level of interest, but it’s unfortunate that there’s clearly a great deal of misinformation about the plan,” Goodwin said.