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GULLIXSON: Holdup at the station
Long-awaited project at Santa Rosa cannery faces ax in state redevelopment fight

  • A housing project that incorporates the walls of the century-old cannery in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square has been delayed for various reasons since 2007 and now is threatened by the governor's decision to eliminate redevelopment agencies. (Press Democrat file, 2007)

The construction of the SMART train is moving ahead full throttle. But when the train is up and running sometime in early 2016 and passengers start arriving at Santa Rosa Railroad Square, what are they going to find?

At the moment, the view to the west is pretty dismal.

The propped-up brick facade of the old cannery building and the Railroad Square water tower resting on the ground are testament to the city's threadbare dream of having a thriving transit-oriented, mixed-use project on that site by now.

Specific plans for a food and wine center, a culinary academy, a fitness center, etc. are long gone, casualties, for the most part, of the Great Recession. But one segment of the grand plan — a 93-unit housing project that seeks to preserve the 1908 walls of the cannery — is still alive. That is unless Gov. Jerry Brown and his people at the state Department of Finance snuff it out entirely. A decision is expected by Saturday.

In brief, the housing project is threatened by the governor's decision to eliminate — in abrupt fashion — all redevelopment agencies statewide and seize the money for schools and other purposes. And so far, it is not looking good for the $5.5 million in funds designated for this project.

"They are bayonetting the wounded and stealing their watches," John Stewart, the developer of the Cannery project, says about the process.

The Department of Finance, which is in charge of deciding what few redevelopment projects survive and can proceed because of an "enforceable obligation" to do so, has already given the city project a thumbs down. But Santa Rosa believes it has a good case. So does Rep. Mike Thompson, state Sen. Noreen Evans, Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, former Mayor Ernesto Olivares, county supervisors, neighborhood leaders and host of others who have been pressing state officials to rethink the decision.

Evans, Chesbro, Supervisor-elect Susan Gorin, Santa Rosa City Manager Kathy Millison and others met with finance officials in Evans' office on Monday in a last-ditch effort to change their minds.

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