From neighborhood signs (and webpages) that read “Keep Petaluma Eggcentric” and the anti “Big-Box” sentiment it implies, Petalumans, on the whole, have fought to keep the town quaint. Downtown shops are independent and run by locals (though there are a few chain-coffee shops). Tourists flock to and gawk at our muddy river whilst tasting local Sonoma or Napa county wines.
A town that was once the hub of Telecom Valley, continues to primarily favor antique stores and boutique shops. Alone, it struggles to maintain its economy out of the red. Even with the project potentially helping to bring additional tax revenue to the city, fear of losing these little businesses is one reason why many citizens have vigorously fought against it. In their minds, the onslaught of the Big-box commercialization from coming to town would further cripple Petaluma’s spirit.
This prized lot of land, some 400K square feet of prime real estate in the geographic center of town, was the former site of Kenilworth junior high school. It was purchased in 2004 by Regency, a Florida development company for $22 million. This capital went immediately to the school district which began construction of the new junior high at a different location. Shortly thereafter, Target signed on to be the headliner of the new shopping center, to be named East Washington Place (EWP). In the years since, squabbling over uncertainties and misinformation have created an atmosphere that has driven the town’s governing body (Mayor and City Council) to postpone project decisions again and again.
So much so that Regency Centers filed a lawsuit against the city and Target has threatened to pull out of the project altogether. The primary reasons for the City’s delays are, in actuality, few, but undeniable.
A new shopping center will likely create a large increase in traffic, in an already congested area. Further exacerbated by the fact that it would be located in one of the city’s primary bottlenecks. The new center would be next to one of the few ways to get from one side of the town to the other (East – West). And this disparity is already a sore source of grievance for citizens.
But perhaps more frightening but less tangible, is the loss of (retail) individuality. Further introducing Big-Box would harm the town’s spirit of eccentricity. Petaluma takes pride in being unique and bridging the Target-gap between Rohnert Park (RP) and Novato isn’t exactly what a town would strive to be known for.
However, it is argued that because of that gap, Petaluma shoppers are venturing to these neighboring cities for Target. This is causing a measurable “leak” of city tax revenue, reportedly in of upwards of $1 million annually, though Target execs cite a more reasonable figure of $400k increase. The problem with this assessment is that it is practically impossible to solidify its variables.
One strong source of variance comes from the fact that Petaluma already has a long-standing K-mart. It is located in the Petaluma Plaza shopping center no more than a mile away from the potential new Target shopping center. What’s worse, is that it basically has the same retail offerings as what Target would bring. The likelihood that K-mart sales would suffer from a new Target is high. This simply displaces city tax revenue rather increasing it. In addition, apparently Target will not be selling appliances which, if K-mart hurts badly enough and goes under, will certainly drop tax revenue further.
As an anecdotal rebuttal to the previous argument, presently I’ll travel to Target for certain items that indeed K-mart has – usually in the course of frequenting Costco. Both of these stores exist in neighboring cities RP and Novato. And because of this, I could not foresee an in-town Target changing this behavior enough to reasonably say that I’d contribute any more than at maximum $25 of tax per year (~$300 * 9%) to the new Target that would otherwise go to the old. Multiply this by 55K (approximate P-town population) and we’ve got $1.5 million.
Granted this is very, very generous spending at $300 per person per year. It’s probably more like, $100 per year ($9 tax) for no more than half the population, 27K, which is ~$250k. Add on to this, the other restaurants and retail outlets that the shopping center will house and we’ll probably be at $400K.
So is the increase in city tax revenue and new (general skill) jobs worth added traffic, potential loss of spirit, water/energy resource usage, and polution? At present, a majority says yes, but there are many still who say no.
After surveying the options and considering the six year timeline, we must embrace the project. The most irrefutable fact is that it is simply too late to outright reject Regency. Doing so would reap some serious consequences – an expensive lawsuit (tax payers will have to pay for) and furthering the reputation that Petaluma is not business friendly. To embrace is to follow through with decisions already well in-motion.
This is not to say that this is an ideal new development for Petaluma. I’d much rather see something progressive and town-unifying going into that perfectly centrally located Kenilworth Field. But Petaluma has no money and that kind of innovative fore-thought is certainly in the minority.
All we can do is ensure Regency keeps to their word, “Regency is committed to building sustainably… [through it’s trademarked] greengenuity plan” which is specifically outlined in the “green components” of the EWP project plan. And equally important, ensure Regency respects the community it intends to transform, as there are already murmurs to the contrary.
Now if the City’s delays are precisely attempts at that ideal, then we are already on the right course. Hold strong, Petalumans.