Here’s how the controversial planning process for the new Petaluma Fairgrounds will work

Despite denial from fairgrounds advocates aiming to preserve tradition, Petaluma will move forward with a lottery-based decision-making process to help determine future use of the 55-acre fairgrounds property. of the city once the current lease expires at the end of next year.

In a unanimous vote Monday night, city council members approved a contract with an Oregon-based consultant to guide the work, including appointing a panel of residents to work with other party representatives stakeholders to come up with a recommendation on how to move forward with Sonoma-Marin. Fair use.

“This is one of our city’s greatest assets, and it’s important to examine it and make an informed decision based on the best information,” Mayor Teresa Barrett said. “It looks like the engine that’s going to pull this train into the station.”

But a number of residents, as well as members of the Fair Board, opposed the process and the hiring of Healthy Democracy, suggesting a number of alternatives to the lottery-based process to shape the future of the one of the city’s most valuable properties.

“While in principle the addition of a survey group could be helpful to the process, we take issue with the basic construction which, under the current proposal, provides that a very small number of people will be selected to from a very incomplete list of stakeholders in the community, Fair Board members said in a joint letter to city officials.

Additionally, Sonoma-Marin Fair CEO Kristie Hubander said at the meeting that any final decision on the use of the fairgrounds should be put to a public vote, echoing a strong sentiment among those who seek to preserve current uses.

Monday’s meeting came amid years of talk and controversy over the fate of the central 55-acre Petaluma property. For the past 50 years, the city has leased the site to the 4th District Agricultural Association for $1 a year. The association operates the Sonoma-Marin Fair, subleases portions of the parcel, and also maintains the property. The existing lease is due to expire in December 2023.

The lottery process, publicly unveiled on Jan. 28, comes more than two years after talks began. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed those talks until now, as the city will move toward appointing a representative panel to help decide the fate of the fairgrounds.

To make up the panel of 30-40 residents, potential candidates would be invited to participate through a postal letter sent to 10,000 randomly selected residences. The letter would ask those residents to respond by filling out a questionnaire that would ask for demographic information such as age, gender, race and ethnicity. Residents will then need to return their response to Healthy Democracy, which will identify the most important target demographics for the panel to match.

At a public lottery judging event, the panel would be selected anonymously and through third-party judging software, which Healthy Democracy says would ensure the panel would represent the demographics of the community.

Selected panelists would then meet with a committee of stakeholders for a total of 90 hours over three weekends later this spring to explore and analyze options for using the property. Each would earn $20 an hour for their time.

The stakeholder committee would be made up of representatives from a dozen sectors of the community, including local farm, BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S groups, non-profit organizations, schools, housing groups, recreation groups, property neighbors and current tenants. The presence of a wide range of community members would bring “breadth and depth” to the review process, according to information in the city staff report.

The total cost of the process is estimated to be around $425,000, which includes contracting Healthy Democracy workers and panelist compensation, including child or elder care and any necessary translation services.

The cost of the project remained the focus of public speculation throughout the meeting, but council members rebuffed criticism over the amounts spent. Board member Brian Barnacle said, “There’s nothing more worthy of half a million dollars than having an inclusive process that gets all voices heard.

Councilman Dave King also pushed back on calls to let all voters in the city weigh in on ways to move forward by incorporating a ballot measure.

“There are many ways to make a public decision, and most of the time we hear from people who are genuinely interested in the issue at hand and who have come to council meetings,” King said. “And we don’t hear from the whole community. There are literally 40,000 adults in this town who have never once come to a council meeting to speak out on an issue.

Louisa R. Loomis