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[whitespace] Hi-Tech Tango

Cotati business park sparks criticism

By Greg Cahill

DOES Sharon Wright always get what she wants? A few years ago, the current City Councilwoman and then mayor of Santa Rosa told a gaggle of local media types gathered at an informal City Council luncheon that she wanted to give the city a cool new moniker to lure high-tech firms away from the burgeoning telecom valley nestled on the outskirts of nearby Petaluma.

That might also help to entice Nordstrom and Pottery Barn to Santa Rosa as well, said Wright, slipping into her best Chamber of Commerce-booster mode. It didn't matter that the city had no major high-tech firms at the time.

Well, Nordstrom and Pottery Barn aren't on the horizon, but it looks like Finland-based telecom giant Nokia Corp. might be headed for the City of Roses. In a major coup, published reports predict that Nokia is bailing out of the controversial South Sonoma Business Park in Cotati, a major development slated for 35 acres in the heart of Sonoma County's smallest city--and may be headed for the proposed Santa Rosa Corporate Center on Sebastopol Road near Stony Point.

Nokia, the world's largest manufacturer of cellular phones, is searching for a new home for its world headquarters with an eye on Sonoma County. But opposition to the Cotati business park--planned by San Rafael developer Tom Monahan in the wake of a massive hi-tech expansion out of Marin County and by far the largest project ever proposed for the small city with the reputation for the county's most rancorous politics--is growing with the recent release of the project's environmental impact report.

"If you think traffic is outrageous now, consider what it will be like to have thousands more cars on the road in this small area," opined former Cotati City Councilwoman Pia Jensen in a recent letter to this newspaper. "If you think housing and land prices are outrageous now, consider what it will be like when all the new people come into your neighborhood, outbidding one another for the few homes existing currently and the few new ones slated for construction in Cotati. If you think energy, water, and sewer rates are outrageous now, consider what your rates will be like when demand skyrockets for industrial activities and increased population density."

Cotati residents will get their first chance to respond to those concerns next week during a pair of planning workshops designed to inform the public about the potential impacts.

According to the hefty EIR, the proposed business park will result in 2,510 new jobs and increase demand for up to 1,476 new housing units--this in a city of slightly more than 6,000. The project would contribute to "a significant and unavoidable" increase in traffic on the already congested Highway 101 corridor, notes the EIR. In addition, the report states that the cumulative effects of the business park, coupled with 16 other approved or planned developments in the immediate area, would have "considerable and significant" impacts on the rural character of the city.

On Monday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m. a workshop on the project's possible impact on wetlands will be held at Cotati City Hall (201 W. Sierra Ave.). A Planning Commission meeting will follow at 7 p.m.

In a related matter, John King of the South County Resource Preservation Committee last week addressed the Cotati City Council about that organization's pending California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit against the city of Rohnert Park. King told the council and onlookers that Cotati, as well as other communities in and around Rohnert Park, are at "ground zero" in respect to the impacts resulting from Rohnert Park's own ambitious expansion proposals for 4,500 new homes and 5 million square feet of commercial and industrial space.

Attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, who is representing the SCRPS, is reviewing documentation supplied by Rohnert Park officials in response to the lawsuit.

Just rewards

Sonoma County library chief Roger Pearson will receive the ACLU's 2001 Civil Liberties Award for his work resisting pressure to censor the library system's Internet access. The event will be held Saturday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m. Call 707/765-5505 for details. . . . Brock Dolman, director of the permaculture program at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, is the recipient of the Occidental Chamber of Commerce annual Environmental Achievement Award, selected by public balloting.

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From the February 1-7, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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