Had City Council members actually read and understood their own report, they might have discovered their pet project was probably going to ruin downtown Santa Rosa.

The document was the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) related to the downtown shopping mall proposed by Los Angeles developer Ernest W. Hahn. State law requires a study be prepared before construction begins on a major project like that and it mostly addresses the sort of issues you might expect - will the project create air pollution, harm water quality, overload power lines, etc. etc. etc. A 321-page draft version written by a San Mateo company was delivered to Santa Rosa a few days before Christmas 1973.

In the following thirty days anyone could comment on what was found (or not found) in the draft. Questions were directed to city staff, the project architect or others involved. Their replies appeared in the final EIR, which was released Oct. 1974. In any EIR that last volume is worth a close read because it almost always has more of the real lowdown about what's going on.

(Here's also a reminder that this is part of a broader series on Santa Rosa redevelopment: "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER," which includes an index covering everything on the topic going back to the 1960s. This is chapter eight of the series just about the downtown mall)

Critics jumped on the uneven quality of the EIR, but I'll preface that discussion by noting the consultants didn't make much of an effort to learn about Santa Rosa or the history of the project. Not one of the well-informed commenters listed in the sidebar were interviewed. Instead, the people they spoke to included a pharmacist best known for collecting old bottles; a driver's ed teacher; the two women who researched Carrillo family history and the guy who ran the Robert Ripley museum. As far as I can tell, none of the interviewees contributed information or expressed a public opinion about the mall and redevelopment project, either pro or con.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

In the spring of 1972 a couple of notable men came to Santa Rosa. Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz moved here from Sebastopol and Los Angeles developer Ernest Hahn entered "exclusive negotiations" with the city to build a downtown shopping center.

One fellow inspired powerful men to believe they could pull off an economic miracle for their town. The other invented a kid who tried to delude people into believing in magic pumpkins.

Since there are already plenty of webpages devoted to Peanuts, let's just keep talking about the mall that many feel wrecked Santa Rosa.

This chapter is about public opposition to constructing the mall, particularly the "Save the Cal" campaign to preserve the town's great Art Deco moviehouse on B street. (Here's also a reminder that this is part of a broader series on Santa Rosa redevelopment: "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER," which includes an index covering everything on the topic going back to the 1960s.)

Two years passed before there was any citizen pushback to building the mall. That may be surprising but as discussed earlier, there could be many reasons why people weren't upset at first about a third of the downtown core being wiped out (and about to be sold to a developer for a fraction of its market value). Some probably thought a big shopping mall would be a good thing - after all, that's what the Press Democrat and all the city leaders kept saying. Some probably didn't understand the scope of what was going to be built; Hahn's architects hadn't shown anyone drawings or models of what it might look like. And some were probably wary because Hugh Codding and his lawyer were loudly opposing the project with its giveaway land deal, and Hugh was never more of a polarizing figure than during those years.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

From c. 1888 to 1909, Santa Rosa had a flourishing redlight district just two blocks from Courthouse Square. City leaders not only tolerated its presence but encouraged it, even legalizing something very much like modern-day Nevada style prostitution.

Recently (Oct. 20, 2022) I presented a webinar on its history for the Historical Society of Santa Rosa, "Turn on Your Red Light," drawing from material I've published over the last fifteen years here at SantaRosaHistory.com. Here are links to articles which explore all of the topics in greater depth and supplement the webinar presentation.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

By Christmas 1974, Santa Rosa City Hall was at war. Not good, but at least the bleak concrete architecture that made the government complex look like a fortified bunker now seemed fitting.

The city was fighting its war on several fronts. The county was suing the city, accusing it of exploiting a loophole which would cheat the treasury out of millions of dollars per year. Hugh Codding was now on his seventh lawsuit to block Santa Rosa's Urban Renewal Agency (URA) from working with the developer planning to build the downtown mall, and likewise the city had sued Codding to put obstacles in his plans for a shopping center in Rohnert Park. (A peek into our crystal ball shows that about a year later Rohnert Park will be suing Santa Rosa over building the downtown mall and the developer will sue Codding.) And meanwhile Santa Rosa's City Council was warring with the public, not only refusing to allow a referendum vote on the shopping center but calling the referendum proposal itself as being illegal.

Watch "Game of Thrones"? What happened in Santa Rosa during 1974 and 1975 was filled with just as much conflict and intrigue - not to mention being just as difficult to follow, should you not keep up with each confusing turn in a story that seemed as if it would never end.

The key takeaway from this chapter should be there was never any resistance to building the downtown shopping mall from the City Council or other Santa Rosa decision makers. Making a deal with Los Angeles developer Ernest W. Hahn had broad support from the beginning, even from downtown merchants. They believed it would make Santa Rosa a more prosperous and better place to live.

But as the project became more ambitious the city became more dependent upon it being built, and they indebted the town in ways that would have been considered risky, even scandalous, in other times. City planners convinced themselves the mall would bring in staggering piles of cash and every delay in construction meant the town was being cheated out of what was its due. Money fever raged through the many offices in City Hall like a pandemic, and people who raised questions or urged caution were deemed enemies. Community betterment took a backseat to making sure developer Hahn was kept happy. That 1974 Christmas lawsuit was over the Board of Supervisors fearing school districts would be screwed out of funding in order to keep Hahn's property taxes artificially low.

(Developments described here follow key events in 1972 and early 1973 which were introduced in the previous chapter. If there are unfamiliar terms or names "MR. CODDING HAS SOME OBJECTIONS" is a good starting point, with an index to the whole “ROAD TO THE MALL” series also available.)

Our story resumes as Codding's second lawsuit was filed in June 1973. It raised a valid complaint there had been no public hearings concerning a downtown shopping center - much less, had government approval to build same - yet the city was more gung-ho over Hahn's mall with every passing week.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

There were good reasons to feel optimistic in the spring of 1973. The last American soldiers left Vietnam. The Watergate hearings started and people began taking the scandal seriously, with public opinion swinging from it being "just politics" to "very serious."

In Santa Rosa, the Press Democrat published its "Outlook 73" supplement which painted a very rosy picture of things to come. We would soon have a wonderful downtown shopping center with three major department stores and up to 85 stores. And soon after that a renewal project for Railroad Square will include a community center with a 2,500 seat performing arts theater and a 50,000 sq. ft. convention hall.

The photo accompanying that cheery item showed roughly bulldozed acres covered in puddles. Not long before, the land had been filled with mom 'n' pop stores, repair shops, apartment buildings and more. In the name of urban renewal, that business and residential district was turned into this scene of desolation - which is how it would remain for the next seven years. It's tough to stay optimistic for that long, particularly when a growing number of people were beginning to question whether the shopping center was such a good idea in the first place.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

There were two Santa Rosas in the early 1970s but unfortunately, the Press Democrat opted to only write about one of them.

The newspaper loved to showcase news about their reborn city. Ever since the 1906 earthquake, editors had touted Santa Rosa as a true (but unappreciated!) Bay Area metropolis which would someday bloom into greatness. Now work was wrapping up on the urban renewal projects directly south and east of Courthouse Square. Contractor vans and pickups still crowded parking spots but the tall office buildings with banks on the ground floor showed how much progress had been made in the 1960s. Our city hall complex, with its elaborate water feature in the courtyard and unadorned concrete walls so pure white you had to squint in bright sun, boldly said this was as modern a city as could be found anywhere. Why, if you didn't know any better it would be easy to imagine all this wonderfulness was in Topeka or Schenectady or any of a hundred other cities.

What the PD avoided writing about was the west side of downtown. Everything between B street and the highway was slated to be demolished, as detailed in the previous chapter. And starting in 1972, the wrecking crews came in and began to wreck.

Other cities had likewise dismantled whole sections of their downtown in the name of urban renewal, particularly Los Angeles (see sidebar). Newspapers in those cities ran articles describing what would be slipping away. Human interest stories of elderly residents who had lived in the area for years and were afraid what would happen to them; shopkeepers worried about losing their livelihood.

Not so the PD. Except for a single story about George and Tillie Cross, who had operated a breakfast and lunch counter on lower Fifth St. since 1929, little in the local paper personalized the upcoming demolition of so much of our community. There was no downside at all to throwing away about a third of the downtown in their editorial eyes.

 

 The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

During the first days of 1970, the Press Democrat asked several of Santa Rosa's movers 'n' shakers what changes they thought would come about in the new decade. The city manager believed the population would grow by 40 percent (it actually increased by two-thirds). The assistant city manager imagined they probably would get a computer and use it for payroll and other accounting tasks. And the city planning director predicted by 1980 they were going to wipe away an older section of the downtown core.

Say what?!?

It had been barely three months since the Oct. 1969 quake hit Santa Rosa, causing moderate damage. Building inspector Ray Baker had said about 17 commercial buildings and 28 homes around town were in such bad shape they needed to be demolished, but most property owners were scrambling to arrange repairs. The city had just started talks with federal officials about designating the area west of B Street an urban renewal zone to pay for improvements, but nothing had been said about plans to "wipe away" that part of downtown. (Those developments were covered in the previous chapter, "MONEY FIRST, PLANS LATER.")

Planning Director Ken Blackman continued: "By 1980, redevelopment will be viewed as a continuing effort by all major cities to combat deterioration and blight." Ah, the "B Word" - the incantation that turned historic homes, neighborhoods and districts into cash dispensers. To quote myself from an earlier article:

...[In the 1960s] the nation was gripped by a collective madness called “urban renewal”. Anything new would be better than anything old simply because. There was also free federal money available as long as the magic words were spoken: “urban blight.” So cities across America declared large swathes of their communities were indeed filled with areas injurious to public welfare because of being unfit, unsafe, obsolete, deteriorating, underdeveloped (read: undertaxed), subject to flooding or otherwise terribly blighted. File your blight report and don’t forget to include the address where Washington can send the money.

Santa Rosa had already received $8 million for redevelopment east and south of Courthouse Square - the bank buildings and government offices still in use today. Now the city was asking for a new tranche of redevelopment money, that earlier project began to be called Phase I, with the west of B St. area dubbed Phase II. There was also mention made of potential Phase III, IV and V later.

Thus the day came to pass when Santa Rosa's mall-destined future was cast in stone: March 10, 1970. That's when the City Council unanimously passed ordinance 1439, which declared "...the area is a blighted area and that it is detrimental and a menace to the safety, health, and welfare of the inhabitants and users thereof..."

It allowed for the city agency to condemn buildings and force the owners to sell the property via eminent domain. It stated that a program would aid those living in the area move to somewhere else "not generally less desirable." It promised "due consideration" would be given to providing new parks and recreational facilities "with special consideration for the health, safety, and welfare of children residing in the general vicinity."

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Older Posts