By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa’s City Council is planning to tackle some thorny issues in the next two years, including the annexation of Roseland, requiring labor agreements on public projects and relaxing the city’s medicinal marijuana ordinance.
The council this week wrapped up its effort to set goals for the next two years, giving council members, particularly new ones, the chance to add issues to the long list of council priorities.
In addition to supporting long-running goals such as the reunification of Old Courthouse Square and gang-prevention efforts, council members added a number of new issues they felt should be “strategic objectives” for the city.
The one that got the most support from the public was the annexation of Roseland, the 400-acre county island in southwest Santa Rosa that many now say finally must be annexed into the city.
Resident Bill Haluzak told the council that it is ridiculous to have one side of Hughes Avenue in the city and the other in the county.
“Everyone’s just jammed up with the fact that half of it’s in the city, half of it’s in the county,” Haluzak said. “We need some real direction.”
Even vocal opponents of annexation say they have had a change of heart.
“I support annexation of Roseland. Twenty years ago, I didn’t,” said Duane DeWitt, who said he organized opposition to annexation in 1995 and again in 2005.
That effort petered out when the economy tanked in 2008. But there is renewed interest on the council in revisiting the issue. Gary Wysocky pushed for Roseland to be specifically named, instead of a more general goal of supporting annexation of all county islands in the city.
But city officials cautioned the task won’t be easy or inexpensive.
“Roseland is a very large, complex project that will, if it comes to fruition, go over a number of years, not just a couple years,” City Manager Kathy Millison said.
The effort is so complicated and potentially costly that Chuck Regalia, director of community development, said it will take a year to even put together a plan.
“I want to organize the city’s thinking on what we have to do to consider an annexation of that magnitude,” Regalia said.
The council agreed that Regalia should return by next April with a plan that includes cost estimates for annexation.
Another issue certain to stir controversy involves the adoption of two measures opposed by the building industry. One is requiring development projects to conduct community-impact reports, which cities including Petaluma require, but Santa Rosa does not.
Tony White, a member of the Living Wage Coalition, urged the council to consider adopting such reports, known as CIRs. He noted that when the city considers annexing Roseland, it will undoubtedly examine the social, economic and political impacts on the entire city of such a move.
“Why shouldn’t major construction projects of a certain size also be held to the same scrutiny?” White asked.
A report on CIRs is due in December.
In the other construction issue, Vice Mayor Erin Carlstrom proposed exploring whether project labor agreements were something the city should support. She suggested holding a study session on them by 2015.
Carlstrom is a former member of the Accountable Development Coalition, which advocates for such agreements. They generally require union rules, benefits and oversight for all workers on larger construction projects.
The county considered requiring such agreements for all county projects over $25 million, but the effort fell short last fall. Critics say they drive up costs, cause delays and exclude nonunion contractors.
Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange, has been a sharp critic of such agreements for years. He questioned why the council would consider them at all, especially as part of its goal of promoting a sustainable economy.
“In terms of being good for contractors and the general public, your taxpayers, they are not good at all,” Woods said.
Council members were all over the board on the issue. Jake Ours said he’s long been against project labor agreements. Robin Swinth said she has higher priorities, like the budget and pensions. And Ernesto Olivares, who when he endorsed Carlstrom during the election agreed to consider supporting them, said he’s willing to listen.
“I would like to hear what they have to say,” Olivares said.
Another issue that received significant public support was revisiting the city’s restrictions on medicinal marijuana dispensaries. Craig Litwin, former mayor of Sebastopol, urged the council to lift the patient cap on dispensaries and loosen restrictions on business hours.
Carlstrom urged revisiting the ordinance more quickly, pushing it up from June 2014 to January.
She called for the Medicinal Marijuana Committee to reconvene and volunteered to serve on it. She said the committee’s work “is all but done” and it just needs to renew and formalize its recommendations.
Other issues added to the list of council priorities include: ensuring safe access to future SMART stations; increasing enforcement of trash and graffiti rules; strengthening local purchasing preferences; developing a funding plan to address various ongoing fiscal headaches, including unfunded pension liabilities, the expiration of Measure P’s sales-tax increase and the ever-increasing funding requirements in Measure O.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.