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Annexation of Roseland

Columnist: Mike Martini
June, 2014 Issue
Columnist

Mike Martini
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The simple truth is that older existing residential areas don’t generate the revenue it takes to provide them services.

 
 
 
I read with interest recent articles and opinion pieces written about the annexation of county islands in Roseland. The articles quoted elected city and county officials, while the opinion pieces were written by policy wonks. I’ve yet to see a letter or comment from residents or a neighborhood group.
 
As council member and mayor of Santa Rosa, I had numerous meetings with then-county Supervisor Mike Reilly to discuss annexation of the area. For the record, I always thought annexation was a good idea. Anyone driving through or flying over the area would assume it was already part of the city of Santa Rosa.
 
As it turned out, it mattered little what I thought and mattered a lot more what the residents of the area thought. A good number of them had no interest in being a part of the city. Rather, they had considerable pride in their community and felt its island status reflected their independence. That sentiment may have changed with the Andy Lopez tragedy. A number of people are now suggesting annexation would help solve a feeling of disenfranchisement on the part of area residents.
 
There are only two questions that need to be addressed in the discussion. The first needs to explain what annexation means and the second needs to decide if it makes things better or worse for area residents. It shouldn’t matter if it’s better for the county or city coffers. We should be sensitive to the city’s ability to meet the residents’ expectations or do a job better than the county can while not diminishing services to existing city residents.
 
It was my experience that the city rarely initiated annexation proceedings. Rather, it responded to a request for annexation. The majority of requests came from development interests that needed city services; the others were existing neighborhoods experiencing failing water/septic systems or toxic contamination.
 
For developers, it was easier as they were developing large parcels that had little or no existing development. They still had to go through a rigid process, and residents of the annexation boundary had the right to force a vote that could (and sometimes did) terminate the proceedings. When the land was developed, it was done to current code and required no investment by the city.
 
The requests by existing neighborhoods were way more complex. Neighbors were rarely unanimous in their support and often wanted services without annexation. County islands exist throughout the city, and the sentiment in those islands continues to be largely in opposition to annexation.
 
It’s wrong to assume that annexation would lead to better infrastructure, better public safety services or help with toxic cleanup, municipal water connections or sewer service. The city has no other resources than the county has.
 
The simple truth is that older existing residential areas don’t generate the revenue it takes to provide them services. The city knows this and the county knows this. If they did generate enough revenue, the county wouldn’t be so anxious to give up the area and the city wouldn’t be so resistant to taking it on.
 
The other truth is that government, municipal or county, can’t improve a neighborhood. The successes we’ve seen in Railroad Square, Burbank Gardens, West End and Apple Valley have all come about because of dedicated and passionate neighbors. Many of those would suggest the city was more of a hurdle than a help.
 
The city and county are engaged in political gamesmanship. Finger pointing on the part of the county cries out that the city has taken in prime real estate and an auto mall while leaving the rest behind. The city counters that the county allowed urban style development without urban building codes. Documents describing service and infrastructure shortfalls have been prepared. The city has carved out $1.2 million toward the annexation. This isn’t a lot of money when it comes to the infrastructure and service needs in the area, but it is something. It could address intersections or park improvements. The money isn’t going to any of those things; it’s going to more studies and a raise to the director of planning to do the same job he already has.
 
Annexation or not, the issues in Roseland remain. Don’t think for a minute that annexing the area into the city of Santa Rosa addresses these issues and lets us—county and city—feel we’ve done anything to address the anguish left after Andy Lopez’s death.

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