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By Tony Adler
Why is it that things always change for the worse?
I made my home in Cotati in 1964. I lived in rural splendor on the west side; my 1950s dwelling stood next to a beautiful Victorian with a pointed tower. A centuries-old live oak shaded my backyard, providing homes for colonies of birds, one following another as the seasons changed. There were many squirrels, and hawks and vultures rode the wind currents above the sheep field across the street. People kept horses on their property, and cow pastures abounded.
Downtown Cotati had the charm of the Old West; to visit Lipton's dry goods store was to journey back to the turn of the century. Plank floors creaked underfoot; displays of clothing were mixed with shelves stocked with hardware, tack, coal oil and even dynamite. On the counter were copies of The Farmer's Almanac and bottles of laudanum for treating various bovine maladies.
Arthur's Market in La Plaza had a wooden boardwalk with wagon wheels as part of the balustrade. As with Lipton's, the floors were redwood planks, and the atmosphere fit the town so well. Vito Palikas built the bandstand in the park, as well as all of the park benches. Nothing was furnished by the city, and no building permit was sought or even needed. The free show on the bandstand was called Free Store, and the skits went on for a good 90 minutes. No insurance, no hassles and no crime or violence.
Cotati was a great place to live. It was the village of music, and many of the most popular bands came to play at the Inn of the Beginning. When Lipton's store closed, it was taken over by a myriad of craft stores, and in the back was the Raspberry Theatre, where patrons sprawled on plush couches and watched movies for a nominal fee, as a young woman, now a prominent Santa Rosa attorney, sold homemade chocolate cookies.
When the city council started to balk at such happenings, they were all put out to pasture and replaced by a council of students from Sonoma State University. As Rohnert Park began to sprawl around us, Cotati became an island of progressive stability, determined to stay small and set an example of good will and sanity for the rest of the county. Even our police department and city staff were enlightened; in the drive for ecology, all of our police cars were converted to natural gas. The chief made headlines when he decided that his personal police car would be a Mazda.
But our days of wine and roses have become a nightmare of greed and psychosis. For the past few years, Cotati has fallen into the hands of a parvenu city council completely under the thumb of a city staff in lockstep with developers bound on plunder and destruction. The people have only one true representative on the council, and her vote carries no weight. We have run the gamut of city managers from the sublime to the ridiculous. There have been so many that it is hard to remember them all. Some were sacked, including a trainer for a Werner Erhard cult who was apparently fired from his previous two positions; he received a wonderful golden parachute.
Our present city manager, Terry Stubbings, seems to be leading the council around by the nose.With limited experience as a city manager, Stubbings is paid the amazing salary, including benefits, of $138,000 per annum. She has asked for and received $24,000 to hire a consultant to, among other things, determine if her staff needs a raise. She and the planning staff, led by a resident of Sebastopol, are intent on spending $700,000 over the next three years on consultants and traffic engineers to destroy our venerable downtown and turn it into a Southern California clone. Perhaps something akin to Palmdale, where Stubbings hails from and where court records indicate she has filed for personal bankruptcy twice in the past 10 years.
Attempts have been made to zone many residential neighborhoods for commercial development, though some of these efforts have been temporarily checked by citizen outcry. Other homes and businesses are still in danger. The parvenus have turned a once pristine wetland over to developers who are in the process of building a big-box Lowes store. They also have designs on annexing land on the Gravenstein side to sprawl out into green pastures. That's not all folks: Stubbings wants to double the crew in the planning department.
Our ship of state has a captain at the helm who seems to be drunk on power and is sailing us toward the dangerous shoals of bankrupt-sea. Her crew are bottom feeders who see nothing in life but the value of cash. With the recent Supreme Court decision on the rights of municipalities to confiscate homes and businesses for commercial use, I fear that Cotati will indeed be cast into the corporate shredder to emerge sanitized and commercialized; a mall for junk-food emporiums and chain stores with living quarters on the third floor.
These grandiose plans have left most Cotatians with a bitter and disheartened feeling. Why should our town be taken over, and our traditional lives shattered, to fill the pockets of developers and carpet baggers from Southern California? What ever happened to individuality?
Tony Adler is a longtime resident of Cotati. He served seven years on the Cotati Police Department and 11 years on the Police Advisory Commission. The Byrne Report will return next week.
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From the July 6-12, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.
© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.