By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Newly appointed mayor Carol Russell sees brighter days ahead for Cloverdale, and also is confident that passenger train service eventually will make its way into town.
She’s not willing to predict when trains will roll into the city but says “I have every faith we will be sitting on that train in a few years.”
Russell, Cloverdale’s representative on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board, admits “I blew my top” four years ago when funding shortfalls threatened to derail plans to extend train service all the way from Larkspur in Marin County to Cloverdale.
An angry Russell said then that Cloverdale voters were strong supporters of the SMART sales tax ballot measure, approving it by a 3-to-1 margin. The city has had a train station since the early 1990s and believes the train would be an economic boost.
The New York native’s rare show of temper and her cry that there should be “no taxation without transportation,” helped solidify the goal of building a 70-mile line all the way to Cloverdale.
Russell said this week that construction is much more complicated than people understand, or may have been led to believe. SMART officials are now predicting the southern leg of the line won’t be ready until late into 2016.
“Nothing will make me happier than to be there when the first trains chug along,” she said.
The thing that makes her happy in the meantime is seeing more signs of life in the downtown.
“Cloverdale is in a very nice place these days,” Russell said of some of the new businesses and attractions downtown. A retired businesswoman who founded an employment staffing agency in San Francisco, Russell says “workplace development is my field.”
A member of the City Council since the 2006 election, she sees economic development as interwoven with attracting intelligent, active, talented people of all ages. “Where the talent goes, the economy grows,” she said, adding that Cloverdale has a quality of life and population that are welcoming.
A movie house, a couple art galleries, new restaurants and a cluster of new businesses near the history center and performing arts center are among the things that excite.
“It’s so thrilling to see people busy and happy and doing Christmas shopping; it makes me delighted,” she said Monday.
There was a time during the lingering recession that life downtown was less lively. “These people have all filled up empty storefronts,” she said while acknowledging there are still vacancies. “I’m not saying it’s all peaches and cream.”
Despite a more positive financial picture in the short run, city finance officials say challenges still exist for the intermediate and long term. Projections show an expected deficit in the general fund this budget year, growing to $2.3 million in four years.
One of the things that could help stem the flow of red ink is re-enacting a utility tax that expired in 2006. A poll commissioned by the City Council showed barely a majority of voters in favor of it.
“It was a greater percentage than I thought,” said Russell, indicating she is open to putting the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.