By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cotati officials who in 2011 happily settled on a controversial $3.5 million redesign of the downtown have altered their course following a ballot initiative that banned roundabouts from the city.
The passage of Measure U in November killed off the Village Main Street project, which would have narrowed Old Redwood Highway to two lanes and installed two roundabouts on a half-mile stretch that is Cotati’s commercial center.
Now the city is hurriedly trying to design a smaller project to achieve some of the same goals of making the downtown a more inviting area for residents, businesses and shoppers.
“It will include some of the elements that were in the prior project, but it’s much scaled back,” said City Manager Dianne Thompson.
The city must submit a new project proposal by February to keep a $1.1 million Metropolitan Transportation Commission grant that was to help pay for the Village Main Street plan. Measure U backers say that’s the sensible path — if the new plan does not add to the city’s debt.
“If they’ve got the money, why lose it,” said Rick Stewart, owner of Arch’s Glass. He said street resurfacing and landscaping, and signal lights to control traffic would be worthwhile improvements.
If it returns the MTC money, the city will be ineligible for additional grants for road and transit improvements for three years, Thompson said.
“I think that would just be an incredible loss for the community, not only to lose the money for downtown improvements but also to be disqualified for future grants,” said Councilman Mark Landman.
The money from the transportation commission — which has also awarded the city $1.5 million for a commuter train depot — can only be used for streetscape and pedestrian and bicycle features.
The council in December agreed to pay Omni-Means, an engineering and planning firm that designed the earlier plan, an additional $69,000 to redo the project proposal.
About $530,000 — from the city’s now disbanded redevelopment agency — has been spent on the project already for design work and planning, engineering and environmental studies, Thompson said. The new Omni-Means contract is to be paid with the city’s gas tax reserve funds, she said.
Landman and Thompson said the city lost out on a chance to remake its main street and bolster its economy with the passage of Measure U, which won with 57.5 percent of the vote.
“I think there was a lot of potential in that plan that people couldn’t see,” Landman said. “We had an opportunity to have a downtown that was as good a destination as any in this county, and that’s a vision that’s lost.”
“It’s a missed opportunity for significant economic development for the city,” Thompson said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or email@example.com.)