Petaluma officials tout a busy year of achievements

March 05, 2020

Petaluma City Manager Peggy Flynn has just completed a whirlwind first year at the city’s helm, highlighted by progress on several housing and infrastructure projects, and victories on key issues like river dredging and fairgrounds negotiations.

But Petaluma’s budget remains threadbare, Flynn said, and the city has begun sobering talks aimed at ensuring longterm fiscal stability.

“It’s been quite an amazing year,” said Flynn, who was hired from Novato a year ago to replace retiring city manager John Brown.

Flynn and Mayor Teresa Barrett spoke Friday at the annual Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce State of the City luncheon, recapping a year that featured several significant achievements.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month said it has budgeted $9.7 million to dredge the Petaluma River this year for the first time since 2003, a major priority that Barrett and Rep. Jared Huffman tirelessly pursued.

“Dredging is a perfect example of the action that we need,” said Barrett of the community advocacy that secured the funding. “We have to look to the future. I don’t think we can wait another 17 years between dredging.”

Flynn’s tenure has been marked by an increase in public outreach, including several workshops on housing, crosstown connectors, fiscal stability, and city goal setting. The city launched a new website and formed a Climate Action Commission to address reducing Petaluma’s carbon footprint, one of the top goals.

Despite the achievements, Flynn said the city’s budget could be in the red in a few years because of growing pension obligations and taxes that are the second lowest in Sonoma County. City leaders are on track to finalize a longterm fiscal stability plan this summer.

Asked if a sales tax ballot measure could be part of the plan, Barrett said “Everything is on the table.”

“Petaluma is on the lower end of how we’re financed,” Barrett said. “We have a city that is incredibly diverse. We’re a full-service city ... We have a lot of services, but not a lot of revenue.”

In the past year, the city has taken steps to approve 2,000 new housing units, including 1,600 near downtown, Flynn said.

“That means more feet on the street for our businesses,” she said.

A big chunk of those housing units were approved just last month in a deal that put Petaluma on the cusp of achieving a second SMART train station, another major priority. The city council approved the Corona Road station along with 110 nearby townhomes and 400 apartment units near the downtown station. Barrett voted against the project saying the Corona development was not dense enough and did not capitalize on the future transit station.

To make the case that the city needs more revenue, Flynn said the police department staff is 23% smaller than before the recession, and emergency calls for service are up 96%. The city’s roads were also ranked last among Bay Area jurisdictions.

“Manging costs is a balancing act,” she said. “We’re trying to be as fiscally responsible as possible. We’ve been turning every rock over trying to figure out how we can address the problem.”

For the first time, talks are underway between the city and the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds board on the future of the publicly-owned fairgrounds property. The fair’s lease expires in four years, and leaders hope to have a succession plan in place this year.

Other unique programs in the city include increased funding for homeless service provider COTS, remodeling the Polly Klaas Community Theater, an electric bikeshare program and a business attraction strategy that has landed popular Puerto Rican restaurant Sol Food.

Also this year, the city plans to revisit a $500,000 study completed in 2011 that looked at renovation options for the derelict, rodent-infested train trestle fronting the downtown Turning Basin, Barrett said.

“It’s like a rat hotel. It’s horrible,” she said. “The community has demanded that we do this.”

(Contact Matt Brown at