Plans for a Springs Plaza have been brewing for several decades at least. Whether this idea originated from the desires of Springs residents is unclear. Whatever its origins, our First District Supervisor hitched her wagon to the concept, negotiating with Ken Mattson, owner of not only Post Office building but other real estate across the highway, to develop a Plaza in the adjacent County property, formerly a spur between Boyes Blvd and Hwy 12.
Setting aside the (many) controversies about Mattson projects, we question the wisdom of committing $2 million of public funds towards creation of an underground parking lot and Plaza space in that location; frankly it’s too small and will be more of a parklet than a plaza.
Do we even know for certain that Springs residents support the use of county money for the purpose of a Plaza rather than for other civic improvements?
Over the years Springs residents, through official and unofficial committees, councils and commissions, have identified many improvements they would like to see: trees, benches and water fountains; upgrades to Larsen Park, including bathrooms; a pocket park along Hwy 12 with a children’s playground, benches and trees; sidewalks along the infamous Donald Street Gap; a library (the old Church Mouse location was originally a library); a cultural and performance center that would be a community gathering place; a basketball court; a soccer pitch; stoplights at high-impact intersections; a Plaza, yes, but in another location.
How in the world did this so-called Plaza plus underground parking reach the top of the list? Lack of money has been the County’s excuse for none of the above getting accomplished. Now, apparently, some county funding is available. But is a small patch of grass, tightly surrounded by street traffic and a garage entrance, really the priority?
The growing controversy over the development of a Springs Plaza encapsulates a long-standing argument about the role of government. Is government’s primary job to protect the value of private property, or is it to protect the value of the common good?
We believe the primary role of government is to protect the common good. On this basis, for example, the national parks ere created, and set aside for the people’s enjoyment. The creation of a Springs Plaza potentially falls into the category of a common good, but should government invest the public’s money in a way that primarily benefits a private commercial property owner?
And if created, who will be responsible for the upkeep, maintenance, safety, and security of the parklet and underground garage? Keeping the spaces clean and attractive is essential. Will parking be free or paid? If all this will be a county responsibility, how much will it cost and will the County of Sonoma commit to these expenses over the long term? If the private property owner is responsible, in what way will he be accountable to the community if such commitments are not fulfilled? None of these specifics have been addressed. Let’s see the plan.
Springs residents feel this is a top-down proposal, ignoring years of efforts to articulate the community’s needs and wishes. Although two public meetings were held recently on the proposed plaza and garage, they were hosted by the developer. There needs to be a way for the community to exert influence about this decision. Probably the greatest impediment to community influence about a Springs plaza is the lack of a coherent political structure for the Springs itself. The First District Supervisor is its sole elected representative. The Springs MAC provides an official forum, but its name says it all: “Municipal Advisory Council.” It has no regulatory authority.
Thus it rests upon individual citizens to make their voices heard. Historically this has been an unreliable and, unfortunately weak competitor against the power of money.