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Coddingtown Target store backed

Santa Rosa Planning Commission OKs store after contentious discussion about jobs


Coddingtown mall got the go-ahead Thursday to build a Target big-box store following an unusually contentious and emotional Santa Rosa Planning Commission meeting that exposed a deep ideological divide over what kind of jobs the city should encourage.

Gottschalks building at Coddingtown. (PD FILE, 2012)

The extraordinary meeting featured one commissioner rebuking his colleagues for delaying a job-creating project, another accusing staff of stifling valid inquiries, and a third claiming Santa Rosa is in the “Stone Age” compared to how other communities consider development projects.

The 6-1 vote allows the mall to demolish the two-story former Gottschalks building and replace it with a 143,000-square-foot, single-story Target, which would be Santa Rosa’s second Target store. Commissioner Curtis Byrd cast the lone no vote.

Chairwoman Patti Cisco said the decision from her perspective was a straightforward one that shouldn’t be clouded by debates about wages and benefits, which she said were outside the commission’s jurisdiction.

“This project is a retail project that is replacing an existing retail project in an existing center,” Cisco said.

But that didn’t stop the employment issue from flaring anew. The commission on June 14 approved a use permit for the Target by a 4-0 vote. But two weeks later, on a 3-2 vote, the commission voted to reconsider after it was revealed that a Target executive provided inaccurate employment information to the commission.

The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, a union-backed group that advocates for better wages and benefits for low-income workers, said the episode showed why community impact reports that analyze a range of project impacts should be required for major developments.

Commissioner Caroline Banuelos, frustrated with legal guidance that said she could not vote to require such a report, nevertheless explained that she believed such reports can be vital planning tools that help communities make better decisions about projects, including their economic impacts.

Whether jobs come with good benefits is an issue of which Banuelos said she is painfully aware.

The 52-year-old social worker said she recently had her hours cut at the nonprofit where she works with the homeless, and she can no longer afford her insurance premiums and co-pays, causing her not to see a doctor in almost a year, she said.

“I’m sharing this with you and it’s very personal because that’s what’s at stake here,” Banuelos said.

Another important reason is because taxpayers end up shouldering the healthcare costs of those with no health benefits, she said. Even people holding down two part-time jobs can find themselves without medical benefits, a situation she says applies to a young couple with a new baby she knows, she said.

“Is this really good for the benefit of our community. Really? Is this what you think? That any job is better than no job? It’s not,” Banuelos said.

Tell that to some who doesn’t have one, retorted Cisco.

“No dollars is not a living wage,” Cisco said. “I think a job is better than no job.”

Cisco said the community needs a variety of jobs. She said it was ironic that the Living Wage Coalition is trying to delay a project that will bring the very kinds of jobs needed by the people for whom it advocates.

Bringing good-paying jobs is a “lofty and important goal,” Commission Peter Stanley said, but requiring an applicant “on the fly” to provide more information than city policies require would be unfair.

Living Wage Coalition co-chairwoman Bonnie Petty tried to counter claims that a community impact report would be beyond the scope of the commission’s purview.

“It is most definitely a land-use issue if the Target store causes closures or other impacts that simply move the blight of empty stores from Coddingtown to another location,” she said.

But all the evidence indicates that a Target will not only create 200 to 250 new jobs, but also help revitalize a struggling Coddingtown, creating or preserving even more jobs, Commissioner David Poulsen said.

He said he was “very disappointed” with the delay and additional cost the reconsideration created. He chastised his fellow commissioners claiming to be in favor of business but then “stopping jobs from coming into this community at a time when people are struggling. Well, shame on you!” he said.

Like Banuelos, Byrd also expressed frustration with the advice the entire commission received from Assistant City Attorney Molly Dillon. He said the letter was “to corral us and to stop us and prevent us from asking questions and seeking information” about an important city issue.

“And that is stifling and that is very, very, very frustrating,” Byrd said.

Byrd said he believes it is reasonable for a commission to seek answers to questions such as whether the project will result in higher tax revenues for the city and more jobs, or whether those would simply come at the expense of other local businesses, resulting in “no net gain.”

Dillon declined to provide The Press Democrat a copy of the letter, citing “attorney-client privilege.” Byrd also said he felt planner Bill Rose was “stonewalling” by not providing him data he asked for about Target’s existing store off Santa Rosa Avenue.

Opponents still can appeal the decision to the City Council.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

8 Responses to “Coddingtown Target store backed”

  1. Larry says:

    After watching the latest Santa Rosa Planning Commission meeting, I think that every city hall insider who is sitting on a board, committee, or commission should have to submit a current resume and financial statement to the City of Santa Rosa with the resume and statement posted online for every citizen to see what kind of people are being appointed and what their finanical situation is relative to their votes on things that affect everone in Santa Rosa.

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  2. GAJ says:

    Does anyone see the irony here?

    “The 52-year-old social worker, (Carolie Banuelos), said she recently had her hours cut at the nonprofit where she works with the homeless, and she can no longer afford her insurance premiums and co-pays, causing her not to see a doctor in almost a year, she said.”

    Let’s see, where could she find a part time job to make up for those hours until things turn around at the non profit?


    Gosh, I’m stumped.

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  3. RICHARD says:

    Remember, ” Alice Miller, redevelopment specialist for the city, explained that in exchange for the 12-year, 3 percent loan, the city would get an easement allowing it to expand a bus stop on Range Avenue, eliminating a dangerous arrangement that requires buses to turn around in a parking lot.”

    Have not seen any expansion of the bus stop.

    And “The loan’s repayment is structured to allow some of the principal and interest to be repaid through an anticipated increase in property tax.”

    They get a loan but don’t have to pay all of it back.

    The city giveth to the rich and taketh from the tax payers. Bad City.

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  4. Grapevine says:

    So the big bad planning commission got to huff and puff and threaten to blow the store down. Everyone on the commission got to display their perceived importance and accomplish nothing except pretend to be worth their salaries.

    Meanwhile the almost unanimous philosophy held by everyone watching this fiasco is that any business is better than no business in bringing in jobs and tax dollars.

    Waste of time and taxpayer resources if you ask me. A planning commission that does not have a clue what it’s doing except bogging things down and accomplishing nothing.

    Did we get these people from Sebastopol??

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  5. Martha Z. says:

    A government appointment to the planning commission should be outlawed until that persons employment skills are made public and posted online. As it is, we get “planners” who are unemployed, or retired so long that their understanding of employment is fuzzy, or minimum wage earners who have no understanding of business. Government job titles mean absolutely nothing.

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  6. Canthisbe says:

    A single mom with two kids is better off working for cheapskate Target than getting the pay The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County would pay her if it followed its own guidelines.
    “A new chart put together by Gary Alexander, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State, shows that Julia, as a single mom with two kids in daycare, would be better off remaining in her $29,000 per year job than she would be in a $69,000 per year job because of the benefits she would obtain from the government. In the lower paying job, Julia would net $57,327 after she received her government benefits, while in the higher paying job, she would net $57,045.”
    That’s how screwed up we are.

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  7. Kirstin says:

    Commissioner Banuelos seems to think beneifts can be obtained solely through employers and are a separate issue from income. In reality, someone who holds down one reasonable full-time job or a few part-time jobs can, if they manage their money well, buy health insurance themselves. There are plans for individuals and families that can be obtained. And some people who are currently unemployed still buy their own health insurance; those individuals may be happy to have a job offered them that pays a wage but doesn’t have benefits.

    Also, the idea mentioned by Banuelos and others that new Target employees at the Coddingtown site would have to commute because there is no affordable housing in the area need to think again. There is decently-priced housing within easy walking distance (it doesn’t have to be government-approved “affordable” housing to be within people’s budgets; the market, if allowed, will take care of that). And I’ll bet that some of the people who already live in the neighborhood will apply for those jobs too. Certainly some will drive a distance to this location, but let’s not make assumptions that are too broad.

    I don’t know where some of these commissioners get their ideas of the marketplace or economics, but it is just amazing to see them make all these demands on private business. Same goes for the Living Wage Coalition. If they want to have so much control over a business, let them go out and found one and run it themselves. But otherwise, butt out.

    The remarks of Commissioners Cisco, Poulson, and the newest addition to the board were sensible and on point. Thanks to them.

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    Caroline Banuelos for City Council

    Please vote for her this November.

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