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Advocates work to protect upper Petaluma River

The Sid Commons apartment complex near the Petaluma River has generated a lot of controversy since the city approved the plans earlier this year, including an environmental lawsuit.

Opponents say the location is the wrong choice because of its proximity to the river.

Stephanie Bastianon, the Executive Director of the Friends of the Petaluma River, said she respects the river’s inherent value.

“Being on the river for me is a great way to relax and escape some of the day-to-day cares of the world,” she said. “It is a very meditative experience as you paddle and take in the river environs around you.”

Bastianon said she’s not on the river as much as she’d like, and she normally enjoys getting out to enjoy it more in the summer months. She regularly takes care of the space at Steamer Landing Park which also helps her to connect to the river.

“Being outside and doing some of my normal activities around the park have helped immensely to cope with shelter in place and the pandemic,” Bastianon said. “There really is a healing, restorative power in nature and getting outside, breathing in the fresh air and seeing the wildlife and plants blooming have been a wonderful gift during this anxious time.”

Bastianon explained that she’s been exploring more of the creeks as part of the FOPR Know Your Creek Challenge, encouraging the community to get out and visit their local creeks.

“Paddling on the river is a very special experience but there are a lot of ways we can connect with the Petaluma River beyond being on a boat on the river,” Bastianon said. “Shelter in place has helped me shine a light on some of these ways and find new opportunities to connect the community with the river.”

The proposed Sid Commons development would change an important part of the river ecosystem for the multitude of birds and other creatures that call the habitat home, Bastianon said. It would also impact people, by taking away an area that helps them connect with nature as well as threatening them when development spurs more and harsher flooding.

“The stretch of river that would be impacted by the Sid Commons development is one of the most pristine examples of riparian habitat that has been preserved along the river corridor,” Bastianon said. “The heritage oaks found there are a picture into the past of what a lot of the area looked like before the town was settled. This corridor of the river has become very special to me as it’s easily accessible by kayak but also feels remote and wild. It provides pristine riparian habitat and its loss would be felt keenly by wildlife and paddlers alike.”

Bastianon said her group partners with Landpaths for their Vamos Afuera program, taking people out in canoes and kayaks for the first time.

“They are always awed when we get to this section of the river and come back with a new appreciation for the Petaluma River,” she said. “It’s only a short distance from downtown but completely envelopes you into a lush river environment. To think of having buildings soon towering overhead is a sad thought.”

Bastianon would like to see this area preserved from development and integrated into a river access corridor that allows the community to walk the area while conserving the habitat and river environs.

“I think it would be irresponsible for any development on our flood plain,” she said. “This is exacerbated by the threat of rising sea levels that will impact the Petaluma River. Now is the time for careful planning so that current development doesn't become a liability in the future.”

Bastianon pointed out that this also increases the amount of pollutants entering the waterway meaning that water quality is impacted as well.

“It’s development like the Sid Commons project that we feel directly flies in the face of the need to start protecting our city,” Bastianon said. “We should be protecting these vulnerable and extremely valuable places, not paving over them and exacerbating an already looming problem.”

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