As Petaluma residents, many of us are familiar with that fact that our water supply is limited. Many people have replanted their ever-thirsty lawns and gardens with native, drought resistant plants. There are incentives offered by the City of Petaluma to replace standard toilets with high-efficiency toilets that use less water. In 1998, the City of Petaluma instituted a water conservation program, which saves approximately 66 million gallons of potable water each year. Despite these conservation efforts, a 2006 Water Supply and Demand Report states that the City will experience a shortfall of water starting in 2007 due to the cumulative growth anticipated in Petaluma.
With regard to the East Washington Place development, a recent Environmental Impact Report (EIR) states that this development would have a significant and unavoidable impact on our water supply. The proposed development would generate a demand for water – in the order of 18.9 million gallons a year – that would exceed our existing entitlements from Sonoma County Water Authority (SCWA) and resources. In order to mitigate this impact, the EIR recommends that the developer should pay a water capacity charge to help fund programs necessary to meet future water demand. These programs would include water recycling, conservation and possible emergency use of groundwater.
However, the problems with this mitigation measure include the following:
- By tapping into the City’s emergency resources, i.e., pumping out groundwater for consumption, the risk of ground subsidence increases, which in turn raises the risk of future flooding in low-lying areas.
- Water recycling programs result in recycled water – which can be crudely described as “toilet to tap” water. Current programs to recycle wastewater do not remove a number of harmful substances, including thalates, drugs, hormones, detergents, pesticides, fire retardants and other chemicals that are “flushed away”.
- Until the City of Petaluma formally adopts and provides a funding mechanism for a water program sufficient to ensure an adequate water supply, the suggested mitigation measure is not even possible, according to the EIR.
- How will water be supplied to existing customers without tapping into emergency wells? If a development uses an amount of water equivalent to 500 homes, the developer is required to provide a Water Supply Assessment (according to SB610) proving that we have an appropriate supply of water for the next 20 years.Potable water is a precious and finite resource, and we in Petaluma have little to spare. It is crucial that the City of Petaluma gives this unavoidable fact due consideration when deciding all future growth in our city.
East Washington Place Concerns:
Regency Centers, a Florida based retail development firm, has submitted a plan proposal to the city of Petaluma to build a 286,000 sq. ft. “big box” strip mall on E. Washington Street at the site of the former Kenilworth School. East Washington Place would be one of the largest shopping centers Regency has ever developed. This large-scale development will have enormous impacts, not only on the surrounding neighborhoods, but the E. Washington Street corridor and the whole of Petaluma, as well.
Regency Centers has made statements that are misleading to our community, by denying the fact that there will be significant environmental and economic impacts to our city. Studies have shown that similar large retail projects have had continued negative impacts on communities like ours all over the country.
Large retail centers, such as the one proposed above, can expect 10,000 car trips a day on average, with increased traffic on weekends. Petaluma residents are already well aware of the traffic woes that our city experiences, particularly cross-town traffic on East Washington. This project will only add to the problem.
Water- The City of Petaluma has stated there is not a sufficient amount of water supply to accommodate future growth in Petaluma.
Water Runoff- Parking lots, also referred to as “Toxic parking lots”, will pollute and contaminate the Petaluma river. During storms, rainwater no longer soaks into the ground. Instead, water rushes across paved areas in torrents that erode riverbanks. This in turn, causes flooding and the destruction of critical habitat. Tom Schueler of the Center for Watershed Protection has stated, “There is no other kind of surface in a watershed that produces more contaminated runoff and delivers it to a local water body faster than a parking lot.”
Noise- Neighbors of the proposed development would experience excessive noise that could interfere with sleep. They would be exposed to increased levels of ambient noise, which may make them more prone to stay indoors, decreasing the usability of outdoor areas. Noise complaints could include semi-truck deliveries, beeping forklifts, and idling engines at all hours of the night (when most large retailers do their restocking).
Tax Base Revenue- A major misconception in the motivation behind building the development at the Kenilworth site is that it will create new tax revenue for the City of Petaluma. This is merely a perceived benefit. A study of 116 cities in Northern California found that the presence of stores operated by Target, and other big box chains, did NOT in fact correspond with increased local sales tax revenue. This is because consumers only have so much to spend; sales gains in one location are mirrored by losses to locally owned businesses. Our locally owned businesses DO in fact contribute substantially more to Petaluma’s tax base revenue because they are truly an integrated part of our community. The BIG cost of BIGBOX- Large retail shopping centers such as the one proposed by Regency Centers will cost Petaluma tax payers approximately $150,000 annually in infrastructure, road maintenance, increased police needs, and other services each year. Big box stores produce a loss of $468 per 1,000 sq. ft. This means that a 125,000 sq. ft. Target will cost approximately $59,000 each year beyond what it has contributed in revenue to the community. Decreased Property Values- Home owners beware! Another issue Regency Centers has neglected to address is the effect this development will have on existing property values. Nearby homes will lose value due to the added traffic, noise, and night glare. Even more significant are the effects on commercial properties. As our downtown and existing shopping centers lose sales, they will also decline in value and ultimately produce less tax revenue.
East Washington Place’s Current EIR Concerns:
(The following concerns can be found on pages 2-3 of the City of Petaluma’s Current East Washington Place Environmental Impact Report Summary)
E. Unavoidable Significant Impacts
The proposed project would cause unavoidable significant impacts with respect to air, noise and traffic, as follows:
Impact AQ-1: The project would result in development that exceeds the intensity anticipated in the latest clean air planning assumptions.
Impact AQ-3: The project would generate new emissions that would affect long-term air quality. A majority of the emissions generated by full build out of the project would be produced by traffic.
Impact AQ-5: The project would expose sensitive receptors to unhealthy levels of TACs emitted by traffic on Highway 101.
Impact NOI-2: Residential land uses are proposed where the existing ambient noise level resulting from vehicular traffic on Highway 101 exceeds 60 dba Ldn, the City of Petaluma’s General Plan Policy for residential outdoor activity areas. Noise levels also exceed 60 dBA Ldn, the City’s discretionary goal for noise levels in residential outdoor activity areas.
Impact TRA-2: The proposed project would add about 52 AM peak hour vehicles to the Lakeville Street/Caulfield Lane intersection in the year 2025.
Impact TRA-5: Freeway Operations. The project would contribute traffic to freeway segments operating unacceptably at LOS F in 2010 and 2025.
Impact TRA-15: The proposed project would result in the removal of 21 parking spaces in the skate park parking area and the reconfiguration of the existing 17-parking spaces adjacent the swim center to provide 18 spaces.
Impact UTIL-1: The proposed project would generate a demand for water that would exceed existing entitlements and resources.
Impact UTIL-3: The proposed project would contribute to a cumulative impact associated with a lack of adequate water supplies to meet the cumulative demand under the existing or 2025 General Plan.