The Cotati City Council unanimously OK'd the Village Main Street plan for the redevelopent of Old Redwood Highway in Cotati, between La Plaza Park and Highway 116, citing vehicle, pedestrian and bicylce safety as the number one concern.
The concept has been and drawn standing room-only crowds to over the last nine months — largely because it would reduce the busy arterial from two lanes in each direction, to one, and include two roundabouts — one at the intersection of Old Red where it meets George and William streets and one at the new St. Joseph Way — where Oliver's has development plans.
The two lane redesign beat a four-lane proposal dubbed City Boulevard, that like the two-lane plan, would have incorporated new bicycle lanes, on-street parking and tree-lined medians. The four-lane proposal departs from the Village Main Street concept. The plan voted in by the City Council reduces driving speeds to 25 mph, costs rougly a million dollars less, has a shorter anticipated construction time and shortens pedestrian crossing times.
City engineers and staff said both alternatives would accoomodate the same amount of traffic — 2,400 cars per hour and 24,000 trips per day.
Cotati residents, concerned citizens and area residents packed City Hall Wednesday night to voice concern over reduced traffic capacity on the throughfare, a hasty planning process, harm on local businesses during the anticipated one-year construction and cost of the project. Paid for by redevelopment monies and a federal traffic grant, the Village Main Street option has a pricetag of $3.5 million over one year, and the City Boulevard carried a $4.7 million cost with a two-year horizon.
Some said the project should "go to the voters."
Roileen Miller, who owns Miller Driving School, located on Old Redwood Highway, said that the adopted plan will hurt her business, and is "not unique" to Cotati.
Greg Karraker, who spoke Wednesday night, urged the council to "take a breath and reconsider."
"The whole town is watching," he said. "The real issue is waste — this plan has been put together in just a few short months."
Longtime critic of city business, George Barich, also a former member of the City Council, spoke for three minutes, voicing concern that the Village Main Street option is not consistent with the city's Downtown Specific Plan, that the city doesn't have the money to pay for it and that the planning process hasn't been public enough.
Tom Scott,, which has plans to relocate to the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Hwy. 116, said the popular market isn't opposed to roundabouts. For Scott and Steve Maass, it's traffic capacity and delivery truck access that has ignited the most concern.
"Oliver's has been involved in getting a good development downtown to help anchor the Northern Gateway," Scott said. "But the store may not be economically viable in the new location."
Scott said there's a discrepancy in estimated traffic capacities, and the business has invested significant time and money into the project already.
"We're already going to have to completely redesign our project," Scott said. "We want to be a part of the solution. But right now, it's about time."
Scott said the current lease on the East Cotati Avenue location expires in the middle of 2014, and they need to be "well into this process by then."
Neville Hormuz, who owns Loud and Clear Music on Old Red, spoke out against the roundabouts for the third time.
"We're going to be impacted by this project," he said. "It's hard to believe that this is giong to work in terms of capacity without the four-lane design. And what about traffic flow during construction?"
Despite what the council called "valid concerns," and cited fevently the intention to work with Oliver's to keep the business in town, most of the comments throughout the night centered on public safety.
John Barry, 55, who lives just ouside Cotati city limits, said he owes his life to the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District. He said emergency responders saved his life when he had a blocked artery, and had to be rushed to the hospital.
"Please do not impede the flow of traffic," he said. "When it comes to emergency vehicles, seconds count."
Fire Chief Frank Treanor didn't speak publicly, but showed up for the city's presentation that endorsed roundabouts. He's still against the plan.
"We would like to see the four-lane plan — it gives us a better opportunity to get around stopped traffic," he explained. "If we only have one lane to get by in, that may not be passable to get to the north and west sections of town."
Treanor said in addition, the west side of the street lacks fire hydrants.
Scores of speakers voiced support for the two-lane project.
"The two-lane project is consistent with Cotati's fiscal and environmental values," said David Petritz, who presented the council with 60 postcards in favor of Village Main Street. "It would also reduce greenhouse gas emmissions, it accomodates the same traffic flow as the four-lane plan and avoids what we have on Santa Rosa Avenue."
About a dozen speakers said safety was their number one concern.
"I believe that the roundabouts embrace the safety-first vision," said Cotati resident Stephen Gold.
Richard Senghas lives right on Old Redwood Highway. His bedroom window faces the street, he said.
"I'm a bicyclist, a motorist and a parent," he said. "Safety is the highest concern for me and I'm strongly in favor of the Village Main Street."
Claire Fetrow, who owns The Hub Cyclery with her husband, said the two-lane option would add to the character of Cotati, spur new business, increase safety and develop a sense of place for the stretch.
"I feel that Old Red is a speedway in its current configuration,” she said. "We need to work together; this design is going to shape the future of the street."
Marya Glass owns property on the southern portion of Old Redwood Highway, where there already is one lane in each direction.
"The slower pace allows people to slow down and shop, it's safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and emergency vehicles come through here all the time," she said, in favor of the Village Main Street. "It accomodates a growing, changing, thriving downtown."
City Manager Dianne Thompson, Police Chief Michael Parish, Community Development Director Vicki Parker and Damien O'Bid, the city's lead engineer, said touted the two-lane plan, noting that it:
- Build complete streets, accomodating motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, the elderly and disabled.
- Spur economic revitalization, drawing new businesses and investment to the dilapidated stretch.
- Increase the safety of the road, shortening pedestrian crossing times at the two roundabouts, reduce speeds ot 25 mph and reduce the possibility of T-bone intersections by elimination of a left-hand turn lane and signalized intersections.
- Preserve Cotati's "small town character."
"Roundabouts reduce traffic collisions by 51 percent," Parish said.
Council Votes in Favor
The City Council stressed the need to have accurate information about traffic capacity, access of emergency vehciles in the two-lane concept and safety aspects.
"This is an important project and there's been a lot of important concerns raised," said Councilman Mark Landman. "My two main questions have been vetted — traffic capacity and the question of fire access."
He said those are two aspects of the plan he couldn't compromise on.
Landman and other councilmembers said they were satisfied that the Village Main Street plan would actually be more efficient and quick for emergency vehicles to navigate — a point underpinned by Jeffrey Meston, the city-hired fire consultant.
Vice Mayor Susan Harvey and Councilwoman Pat Gilardi both addressed concern about the Downtown Specific Plan. They called it a "working document."
"It's conceptual," Gilardi said. "Analysis comes with interpretation."
"Plans do change when you get into the details," Harvey said. "Oliver's wasn't in the original plan, and other projects will present themselves throughout the implementation of the Downtown Specific Plan."
Harvey said that above all, her decision was based on safety.
"The street needs to be safe for all modes of transportation: motorists pedestrians and bicyclists," she said. "And we need to make sure emergency responsers can get through."
Councilman John Dell'Osso said the public process — largely ongoing since 1998, and which has been ramped up over the last few months, is "the way cities should be run — by its citizens."
"The project makes it safer for pedestrians and motorists and bicyclists," Dell'Osso said. "That's first and foremost."
Councilmembers also stressed the importance of drawing new business to town, incorporating new housing developments, working with Oliver's Market to meet their needs and addressing environmetally-friendly practices.
In the end, they agreed, it's about education.
Editor's note: View documents presented at previous meetings describing in more detail the plans from the city's perspective.