Published on November 19, 2002
© 2002- The Press Democrat




Petaluma's crumbling railroad depot was rescued Monday from further decay by the City Council.

The council voted to spend $98,000 for emergency repairs to the 1914 Spanish-revival structure, whose tile roof and stucco walls are leaking.

The repairs are intended to keep the main depot and two ancillary buildings from decaying further until the city can work out a long-term deal for their restoration and use with the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency.

Located near the heart of the city at Lakeville Highway and Washington Street, the depot and the junk-littered rail yard around it long have been a source of complaints by residents.

``It's an eyesore at the gateway to downtown and people have been asking for years that the city do something about it,'' said Paul Marangella, Petaluma's director of economic development and redevelopment.

The city's long-term plans call for spending $2.7 million to restore the buildings, clean up the rail yard and put in landscaping and a parking lot or garage. The space would be devoted to some kind of public use and could be returned to use by passengers some day if commuter rail ever becomes a reality.

With or without commuter rail, the restored depot area is meant to serve as one of the anchors for redeveloping the 400 acres in the center of the city as a compact mix of residential and commercial projects.

The city has budgeted $550,000 in redevelopment funds for the depot project and expects to get the rest of the money from a federal grant. Efforts to obtain the grant this year were unsuccessful. However, city officials said they intend to keep trying.

In past years, federal grants have helped to restore or build railroad depots in Cotati, Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale at a cost of about $2 million each.

In addition to emergency repairs, the $98,000 approved Monday also will pay for a plan on the future use of the depot and to move a North Coast Railroad Authority office now in the building.

The plan on future use is set to be completed in 45 days.

The depot would be operated by the city under a long-term lease with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART II.

The buildings and land are owned by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority.

The council voted 6-1 to approve the expenditure, with Councilman Bryant Moynihan opposed.

Moynihan said he didn't want to spend money on a building the city doesn't own and on which it doesn't even have a lease.

``The purpose is to preserve the buildings,'' City Manager Mike Bierman said. ``When SMART II is created, we'll be able to have a lease.''

Councilwoman Janice Cader-Thompson said spending the money would benefit the community.

``The first thing people say when they come into town is why does this look so awful,'' she said.

Councilwoman Pamela Torliatt suggested the city negotiate an agreement with SMART II to have the agency reimburse the city for the cost of restoring the depot if and when the region's taxpayers approve a tax measure to pay for commuter rail.

You can contact Staff Writer Jose L. Sanchez Jr. at 762-7297 or [email protected]. Keywords: RAILROAD HISTORY DOWNTOWN FINANCE COST