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Reunification of Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square


Reunification of Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square:
Not a Square Deal Possible

By Jennifer Coleman

City Council Conflict of Interest

It’s been seven weeks since Santa Rosa City Council’s controversial January 26, 2016 Resolution to approve the $10-20 million dollar Reunification of Courthouse Square.  But even before that fateful day, I found myself pulled into the political drama, wanting to investigate.  What opened for me was a vortex of research to attempt to understand the considerable public opposition to “The Square.”  The opposition, I discovered, expressed widespread public perceptions of Council malfeasance.  The allegations include conflict of interest, preferential treatment, and omission of required public participation. Could there be any truth to all of this? You be the judge. The following are facts I located in the public records of the City of Santa Rosa. On September 22, 2015 City Council passed the following motion:

“MOVED by Council Member Olivares, seconded by Mayor Sawyer, and CARRIED unanimously to select the Certificates of Participation method of financing and direct staff to work with the Coalition to Restore Courthouse Square to explore other options to support the financing method and direct staff to begin the process of pursuing this method to fund no more than $10 million for Courthouse Square reunification project”. Source:  Santa Rosa City Council Meeting Minutes

Of interest is the fact that this motion directed Santa Rosa City staff to work with a group called “The Coalition to Restore Courthouse Square”*--- to explore options for financing the Courthouse Square project.  The Coalition is comprised of business owners, merchants, real estate owners, and developers. As such, it is a special-interest group, that is, a group whose members would hope to benefit from particular decisions.  Four months later, on January 19, 2016, the City of Santa Rosa accepted a $116,000 donation from The Coalition, which donated the money to pay for a portion of the design plans for the reunification of Courthouse Square.**  They asked City Council to add to the design two additional streets  (“Hinton” and “Exchange” streets) and 47 parking spaces on two perimeters of the reunified Square.  The estimated cost of the new streets and parking spaces totals $4 million* to be paid for by taxpayers. These streets and parking spaces will be installed in front of several multi-million-dollar buildings located on the border of Courthouse Square. When complete, the changes stand to markedly increase the value of these buildings.  Coincidentally, some of the buildings are owned by members of The Coalition.*

As my research took me further into the City of Santa Rosa website, I discovered  that Courthouse Square is classified as a 2016 “Capital Improvement Project” (CIP), and as such, it has certain budget priority and review requirements, which take place over a five year period prior to the commencement of a project. For clarification, I read the City Charter sections 28 and 10.  Section 28 requires that “prior to any annual goal setting meeting held by the Council, the Council shall hold a public hearing seeking oral and written comment from the public on budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.”  Yet, the records of 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 (CIP) make no mention of Courthouse Square. It seems that Council bypassed the use of its city charter regulation. Why?  City Council is required by section 10 to receive advisement through its appointed “Community Advisory Board” (CAB). The CAB’s responsibility is to “greatly increase citizen and neighborhood participation and responsibility”, including helping to set “CIP budget priorities for their district”. But I could locate no record of CAB public outreach in their 2015 agendas or minutes.  Why?

These requirements are the city’s constitution***, as voted by the people, of which City Council must fulfill.  If not, then citizens were and remain unrepresented in meetings in which they were to have participated—to support or oppose CIP budget priorities and budget review regarding Courthouse Square.  Conflict of interest, preferential treatment, lack of representation by ordinary citizens?  What are your thoughts? Do you think other citizens and groups ought to have enjoyed the same level of participation in this process that City Council gave the Coalition to Restore Courthouse Square?  Have the citizens of Santa Rosa been disenfranchised?

 For neither you nor I may give a donation to the City of Santa Rosa in exchange for receiving, or expecting to receive personal, monetary or material benefit as a result of our donations.  Indeed, California State Common Law Doctrine requires every public officer to: “exercise the powers conferred on him with disinterested skill, zeal, and diligence and primarily for the benefit of the public”.

 *Source: Press Democrat, June 15, 2015
**Source:  Press Democrat, September 22, 2015
***Source:  League of Cities, United States

For web links and images of evidence to this story please visit:

For web links and images of evidence to this story please visit:


Hi old friend,  I just blasted off half dozen anti-Court-House Square Renovation letters to the fools on the SR City council.  I did this in anticipation of tonight's Council meeting to "finalize" the spending of over $8,000,000 to essentially block and stall all the north-and-south-bound street traffic on Mendocino Avenue.

Here is what I wrote:

You will regret the incredible TRAFFIC JAMS that will follow sealing off this main north-south Mendocino Avenue  thoroughfare.

I urge you to come to your senses and NOT bow down to the few deep-pockets businesses there.

Many of us will NOT patronize Santa Rosa businesses if you do this stupid greed-based thing.


Eric W Kritzm, Graton

I am appalled by the arrogance of some officials who feel spending public funds, or use of tax dollars is payment for this financial donation by the advisory group.  What happened to public oversight????? 

Yes, recall petition for members who support doing business without public input.  That is what I am saying.  It seems like decisions recently made are only benefiting a select few.  What do you say????

Karen Devan

"The next step is to REPEAL the Santa Rosa City Charter and reinstate it back to state general law to prevent abuse, and most of all so the citizens have a way to enforce against City Council when they violate the laws of governing.  Right now the city charter does not allow for lawful enforcement under any circumstance.  Sure, it "appears" that the charter will enforce, but when put to the test it has no teeth.  City Council can choose to ignore the VOTERS constitutional rights of the charter if it desires. Indeed, the city charter is an arm of the state constitution."

Jennifer Coleman