A Message from the Mayor
On my desk in the mayor's office, right under my computer monitor where I can see it every day, is a postcard:
Dear Chris Coursey, it says in neat schoolgirl print, Today we prayed for you in Sunday School.
I'm not much of a praying man, but I'll take all the support I can get. So I look at - and appreciate - Holly's postcard every single day.
So far - knock on wood - it appears to be working.
Life as mayor, which began back in mid-December as we headed into the wettest winter ever, is good.
As well as challenging, frustrating, uplifting, rewarding, gratifying, maddening, mystifying, disappointing, exhilarating and exhausting.
And today's only Monday.
Seriously, this job is all of that and more. Mostly, though, it's a chance to make a positive difference in our community. And since that's what motivated me to run for office in the first place, this job is exactly what I hoped it would be.
There are tough days, no doubt. On June 6, Santa Rosa voters rejected our City Council's rent-control ordinance by a thin margin at the polls after the most expensive political campaign ever waged in Santa Rosa. That stung - not so much because our policy was reversed, but because thousands of our neighbors were counting on that policy to relieve them of the fear and anxiety of living in our volatile rental market. They were counting on rent control to bring some certainty and stability to their lives, and it was taken away.
That was a tough day.
But there are really good days, too. On June 7, I got to preside over a triple wedding at the Downtown Market in Courthouse Square. Beautiful brides and nervous grooms stood up in front of friends, family and hundreds of strangers and professed their love for each other. The vice-mayor and I lead them through their vows, and the whole community cheered their unions. We toasted their future with sparkling wine and the crowd - many of whom had no idea they were headed to a wedding that evening -- shared the couples' first dance.
That was a great day.
Yes, some days are better than others in this job. It goes with the territory. Even when you do something right, there's always someone waiting in the wings to tell you it's wrong.
But that's just politics. And given the state of political discourse in our country right now, it's to be expected.
As mayor, I focus my energy more on policy than politics. On the policy side of the ledger, Santa Rosa has been making some big strides. You already know about some of our decisions, because as the largest city in the North Bay and the fifth-largest in the Bay Area, what we do here gets attention. But a lot goes unnoticed, too. That's the point of this little newsletter: to keep you up to date with what's going on in your city government.
Let's start with what I call "The Trifecta of Big Ideas on the Back Burner." Whether you support these projects or not, the consensus of the community and the overwhelming majority of several city councils have agreed for more than 20 years that three key initiatives would be good for Santa Rosa. But, for one reason or another (or another or another or another), none has made it to the finish line. Until this year. In 2017, we will finally see the completion of
- Courthouse Square - Every urban planner, architect, landscape designer or other expert on city infrastructure who has looked at downtown Santa Rosa over the past 30 years agreed on one thing: Good things will happen when the bifurcated Courthouse Square is reunited. After decades of studies and design, the City Council in 2016 approved a final design and construction funding, and the new Courthouse Square debuted this May. Just as predicted, good things are happening. The Downtown Market has become a can't-miss street party every Wednesday evening in the Square. A boutique hotel is under construction in the historic Empire Building and the entire block on the west side of the Square. A restaurant, a brew pub and a nightclub are under construction on the east side. I believe this is just the beginning of the renaissance of downtown Santa Rosa.
- Roseland Annexation - When a group of kids from Roseland Elementary School visited City Hall recently, I described unincorporated Roseland as "the hole in the donut" of Santa Rosa. An 11-year-old girl took issue with that. "It's not the hole in the donut," she said. "It's the jelly in the donut!" She's right. Roseland, the most diverse and vibrant neighborhood in our city, needs to be recognized and appreciated as an official part of Santa Rosa. The annexation of Roseland has been on the agendas of the City Council and Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for more than 25 years, but financial disagreements repeatedly sank efforts to make it happen. Spurred in large part by the shooting of 14-year-old Andy Lopez (not in Roseland, but in another unincorporated part of Southwest Santa Rosa), a financial deal was hammered out in 2016. The annexation process is underway (a hearing before the Local Agency Formation Commission is scheduled for Aug. 2) and, with luck, the jelly of Roseland will officially be part of the donut of Santa Rosa by the end of the year.
- SMART - This isn't a city project, but it has huge implications for Santa Rosa and the North Bay. And, before I worked for the city, I worked for SMART, so I include it here. As I write this, the commuter rail project is in the final stages of testing and permitting by the Federal Railroad Administration. Excursion trains are running. And soon (fingers crossed) a full schedule of commuter trains will be running between the Sonoma County Airport and downtown San Rafael. SMART will not only provide an alternative to Highway 101 traffic jams, but it will provide a transportation backbone around which we can build transit-oriented development in downtown Santa Rosa and around the Coddingtown station. It will make Santa Rosa more attractive to younger residents and the kind of forward-thinking companies that will employ them. Whether you ride the train or not, it's going to be good for your city.
Those are the big things. But as Mayor, I also get to take part in small things every day that make a difference in Santa Rosa. Over the 2½ years I've been on the Council, we've made hundreds of decisions that affect your life every day, from water and sewer service to police protocols to parking meter rates. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Indivisible City - in response to our president's actions and words against immigrants who are our friends, neighbors, co-workers, the City Council in February reaffirmed our Police Department policies to disregard the immigration status of people contacted by officers, and to declare Santa Rosa an Indivisible City that will safeguard the civil rights, safety and dignity of all our residents.
- Housing for All - The council adopted a Housing Action Plan that, through more than two dozen measures, encourages the development of 5,000 housing units in Santa Rosa by 2024, with half of those units to be affordable to residents who earn less than the median income.
- Increased spending on homeless services by more than 100 percent over the past two years, and established a more pro-active, housing-first approach to dealing with homeless issues in our city. This month, we begin a pilot project aimed at providing alternative shelter and much-needed social services to people living in some of the larger unsanctioned encampments in our city, starting with "Homeless Hill" at the south end of Farmers Lane and moving downtown to the Highway 101 underpasses. Over the next few months, I hope our Council and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will be announcing new city-county collaborations on a variety of homeless services.
- Community Engagement -- Fully staffed our Office of Community Engagement and made strides to better engage the public in city government. We still have work to do in this area, but I am pleased to see our new Community Engagement Director Caluha Barnes working with the Community Advisory Board to reach into our neighborhoods for input and ideas, and I expect to see these efforts expand in the coming year.
- Passed measures O & N in November, reforming the financial provisions of the Measure O public safety tax and extending the life of the quarter-cent sales tax that since 2010 has stabilized the city's general fund revenues.
- Completed Bayer Park and Farm, a hugely popular city park in Roseland that includes a wide array of programs for area children and community gardens that provide healthy produce for neighbors.
- Affordable Housing funding -- Provided $2.75 million in long-term loans to four affordable-housing projects, helping each one achieve the financial footing needed to get construction under way. These projects include 7 units of housing for homeless veterans, 4 sweat-equity homes through Habitat for Humanity, 20 very-low-income apartments for women transitioning out of a substance-abuse program, and a 25-unit subdivision with more than 20 percent below-market for-sale units in Rincon Valley.
- Approved the 185-unit DeTurk Winery Village project on Donahue Street, just a couple of blocks from the downtown SMART station. In addition to providing needed rental housing in a walkable, transit-oriented downtown neighborhood, this project includes 15 units of housing for tenants qualifying as "very low income," with no subsidy from the city.
- "Re-imagined" our CityBus transit system to provide more frequent service along the city's most heavily traveled corridors, such as Mendocino Avenue and Sebastopol Road. Bus routes also were changed to better serve the new SMART commuter train service.
- Climate statement -- Joined mayors from around the nation in re-affirming our commitment to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, despite our president's withdrawal from the agreement.
- Planning Department -- Took a variety of steps to make our Planning and Economic Development Department more user-friendly, whether you're there to get a permit for a small remodeling job or a major housing project.
- Community Connector -- Moved forward with plans for a bike-pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 between Santa Rosa Junior College and Coddingtown. Using state and federal funds made available through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, environmental and design work is underway.
- Passed Measure D in June, which establishes taxes on cannabis businesses in Santa Rosa. Staff worked collaboratively with the cannabis industry to develop this measure, and it was unopposed at the polls. Staff also is working on a comprehensive city policy regarding cannabis as we head into the new world of fully legal cannabis in California.
These are just a few of our successes during the past two and a half years. There have been setbacks, too. And disagreements. But, I'm proud to say, despite the disagreements and differences on this Council of seven very different personalities, we have found a way to work together cohesively and without rancor. In the end, all of us are trying to do what we each believe is best for Santa Rosa, and I believe we all respect that in each other.
In addition to working every day with the Council, I also strive to work every day with you. I serve as mayor to represent your hopes, dreams and aspirations for our city - not just mine. I receive constant input from residents by way of phone calls, emails and daily interactions on the street, at events, in the gym, at the grocery store. All of that input is welcome and I invite you to join in the conversation.
You can always reach me at my office, 543-3017, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Even better -- drop by Courthouse Square at lunch time on the first or third Monday of the month, where I hang out to catch some rays and shoot the breeze with whoever wanders by. Don't forget to pack a lunch!
I look forward to hearing from you soon,
City of Santa Rosa