Presented by the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter Newsletter, The REDWOOD NEEDLES
By Jenny Blaker, Sonoma Group Land Use Committee
There is something about the small, semi-rural town of Cotati (population ca. 7,000) that instills a deep loyalty and ignites strong passions in its residents. For years, its citizens have striven to preserve Cotati's "small town rural character" and this is reflected in its General Plan and symbolized by the field of sheep with the craggy oak trees and rustic barn right outside the steps of City Hall.
At any rate, the citizens of Cotati get involved. As the editor of the local newspaper recently remarked, City Hall in Cotati is packed even when the agenda is about as exciting as cold rice pudding, whereas the rows at neighboring Rohnert Park, with which Cotati's boundaries dovetail, are usually all but empty.
Cotati is about to face what may be one of the biggest challenges in its history, and the outcome will have regional impacts. Marin developer Monahan Pacific Inc., has chosen Cotati as the site for a 35-acre telecom business park, with Nokia, the Finnish cell phone giant, as its anchor tenant. It plans to make Cotati "the Jewel of Telecom Valley".
If they succeed, they will create over a thousand jobs for Nokia alone, build ten 2-3 story buildings covering 592,000 sq.ft., including retail buildings along Highway 116 to Sebastopol, and create 1,950 car parking places. Retail buildings west of Highway 101 would drain focus and dollars away from the downtown core and, if rented at market rates, would threaten local businesses and open up the possibility of "chains" and "big boxes" along the 116.
With unemployment at 2.5 percent and with Petaluma importing high-tech workers from all over the US and the world, who will take the new jobs and where will the employees live? The project has been shape-shifting ever since it was presented to the public at a stormy meeting in May, and it currently contains 50 residential units, but these will not solve the problem in an area already squeezed for housing and with rapidly escalating prices. What will be the impact on traffic on Highway 101 and local roads, on infrastructure, on police and emergency services, on water and sewage capacity? This project would fuel growth not only in Cotati but in the region, especially as Nokia would act as a magnet for other telecom companies.
One of the non-monetary costs will be to this part of the wetlands of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, "the second largest freshwater wetland in coastal Northern California" (Laguna Foundation.) Cotati/ Rohnert Park is at the headwaters of the Laguna, which stretches 14 miles northwest to the Russian River. Although the creeks upstream have been urbanized and straightened, they are still home to ducks, herons, egrets, and turtles. River otters have been spotted here in the winter and since the Laguna is on the Pacific Flyway, so have over 40 species of resident and migratory birds.
The Monahan Pacific site (aka South Sonoma Business Park) is further downstream, in the 500-year floodplain, and contains vernal pools scattered over the 35-acre site. Vernal pools are one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystems in the world. 90% of California's vernal pools have been destroyed or degraded as a result of urban development and agriculture. This particular site was proposed as a potential preserve site in the Santa Rosa Plain Vernal Pool Ecosystem Preservation Plan in 1995 (site 19, Alder Avenue). The pools here are home to the southernmost population of the endangered Sebastopol Meadowfoam (Limnanthes vinculans). The California Tiger Salamander, a species of special concern (pending a decision whether to include it on the federal endangered list) has been recorded in the vicinity. The site also contains Valley Oaks, one of Sonoma County's most prized, and declining, species. Over 95% of California's wetlands have been destroyed.
What You Can Do
At the time of writing (December 2000), the draft Environmental Impact Report is due to be available for public review for a 45-day period starting in mid-November. Please call Citizens for a Sustainable Cotati at (707) 780-6316 for up-to-date information, or Cotati City Hall at (707) 792-4600 for the status of the EIR and dates of public hearings. Citizens for a Sustainable Cotati welcomes your help and support! Contact us at P.O. Box 7233, Cotati, CA 94931, or phone (707) 780-6316.