At the July 17 meeting of the Windsor Town Council, the Veterans Village Housing project got over its last financial and regulatory hurdle to construction.
The 59-unit housing project for low income veterans will feature one and two bedroom apartments wrapped in services for the inhabitants and features extras such as a community center, basketball court, dog run, computer room and laundry facilities. There will also be an on-site manager housed in an additional unit, for a total of 60.
On July 9, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to give the project $1.2 million dollars in supplemental funding to close a gap created by rising construction costs. At its July 17 meeting, the council had the opportunity to tie up the last few loose ends regarding the project, namely deferring payment of impact fees until a certificate of occupancy has been issued and using the 2018-19 development impact fees, rather than the 2019-20 fees.
The deferred impact fees will total approximately $2 million, and the savings to the developer for using the 2018-19 fee schedule will be around $42,000. Previously, the council had provided $500,000 in inclusionary housing funds to help move the project forward.
The council enthusiastically approved the two actions, clearing the way for the project to break ground on July 24.
“This is a situation where having a bit of extra money helps,” said Mayor Dominic Foppoli. “And we will be serving some of the most deserving members of our community.”
The project was also heartily endorsed during public comment.
Right back round
It was unhappy public sentiment that brought the lengthiest item to the floor at the meeting. Back in March the council approved an upgrade to the intersection of Windsor Road and Windsor River Road. The final approved plan is to replace the current signal with a roundabout, that will allow the SMART train to go through the middle of it on its way to the station. In addition, all the underground utilities in the area will be upgraded.
The plan was approved in a 4-0 vote after multiple community meetings and research throughout the fall of 2018 and early 2019. (Foppoil operates a business near the intersection in question, and therefore is recused from all conversations regarding the project.) It was then ratified in the budget in early July.
However, in the intervening months, social media has exploded with angst over the decision. Some of the allegations do not seem based in fact, primarily as relates to the transparency of the process and the statistics about roundabout safety.
An online petition garnered about a thousand signatures, approximately 3.5% of Windsor’s population, but equated the expense of the roundabout with the presence (or lack thereof) of a pool, though there is no connection between the two. In fact, ironically, several of the people who signed the petition in favor of the pool over the roundabout, were equally against the Lytton Tribe, the group whose funds will pay for a potential pool.
Online the sentiment seemed to run the gamut from concerns over safety, especially as it relates to foot and bicycle traffic from nearby Windsor High School, to people who state that the despite statistical evidence to the contrary, they “do not feel they are safe as claimed” to those who wanted a walking bridge over the freeway. Other targets included tourists, hotels, lack of family activities and the Hopper shuttle. Conversation on social media such as Facebook and Nextdoor continued along similar lines.
In response to constituent concerns and because of the burgeoning outcry on social media, the council elected to put the item back on the council agenda, not as an action item but to provide factual information to the town. No decisions would be made or altered.
The presentation, given by John Jaeger, deputy director of engineering and Kim Jordan, city planner, was largely the same as had been given before, both in council meetings and the public meeting which had taken place.
During public comment, comments were evenly split between those in favor and those against, though two-thirds of the objections were related to cost, rather than some of the other concerns listed online.
“I attended all the roundabout meetings so if a year from now the ground breaks and people complain, I can honestly say there was plenty of opportunity to voice an opinion,” said Rosa Reynosa. “But I did want to point out that initially the money on the project slide was 80% was going to be covered by grant money, with 20% coming from the town, but this roundabout is the opposite, and that’s disappointing.”
She also mentioned her concern over safety at the railroad crossing, in light of the rash of deaths — primarily suicides — at SMART tracks to the south.
Betsy Mallace expressed concern that the funding numbers being compared were apples and oranges and that similarly some statistics may not be applicable given the current statistics on accidents at the current intersection.
A local bicyclist expressed his support for roundabouts saying they are safer than intersections, and Lorene Romero was frustrated by the lack of facts from the opposition.
“Tonight’s portion of the meeting is a testament to how annoying social media can be,” she said. “(The) back and forth on a Facebook page ‘Windsor locals and their families,’ so thanks for addressing that. As a resident and a business person it’s annoying to me that people are complaining about not saving money, when tonight is a perfect example of wasting money. The town provided multiple opportunities for Windsor residents; six months ago I sat in the same seat and watched the same screens and now they had to present again and I say thanks for your patience. I apologize for fellow residents ... my apologies for people using social media and wasting your time.”
Anna Pintane started the online petition, and she was present as well.
“I’m one of the people on social media wasting your time,” she said, stating she was concerned about the safety at the roundabout because of the train coming through it.
This is a significant change from the opinion expressed in her petition and she also expressed that she was unsure whether her 11-year-old son would be able to safely negotiate the street without a traffic signal.
“A green or red light is clear to an 11-year-old, expecting them to judge traffic doesn’t work. I want my kids safe,” she said.
School board member Rich Carnation was the last to comment, and he expressed that had learned to love roundabouts and he was hopeful for the effectiveness of this one.
“I hated the idea of roundabouts, a few of you on the council know that I fought it. I didn’t like them, but now that I’m a grumpy old guy, I love that don’t have to wait for a light,” he said.
In the end, the councilmembers all reaffirmed their decision to approve and fund the work, though several of them expressed that they were always happy to hear from constituents regarding issues within the town.