News from the City Manager
A vacation in September put me behind on this month's newsletter.  During that time, however, my primary topic continued to evolve - so I have more information to share than if had I written earlier.
The City Council has taken steps to restrict train horn noise in Petaluma. This would apply to trains run by freight operators and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) trains. In this issue, I recap some of the discussion around the City Council's decision to seek a "quiet zone" designation. 
Also in this issue I continue my break-down of the City's Budget, focusing on Petaluma's Successor Agencies.  The Successor Agency is a special fund in our budget created in 2012, after the City's Redevelopment agency was dissolved by State legislation. For those of you who don't find City finances very exciting, the budget series is nearly done. Hang in there!

John C. Brown
The SMART Train is Coming!
The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is set to start passenger service in early 2017, with trains running from San Rafael to Santa Rosa. This comes eight years after residents of Marin and Sonoma counties voted for a .25% sales tax to fund a commuter rail system that is to ultimately extend from Larkspur to Cloverdale. SMART trains will initially drop off and pick up passengers at the Petaluma station on the corner of Lakeville Drive and D Street.  A second station is planned at the corner of Corona Road and N. McDowell Boulevard, but it will not be in operation when the train starts running.

Train Schedule
SMART sets the train schedule. Weekday trains are expected to arrive at the downtown station starting at 5:25 am with the last train departing at 8:00 pm. Weekend trains are expected to start at 8:39 am in Petaluma with the last  train departing at 9:11 pm. 

Train Safety
Trains traveling through Petaluma cross several pedestrian and vehicle pathways, known as "at-grade crossings." There are eight such crossings in Petaluma, including the two stops noted above.
Train travel is generally considered safe, although at-grade crossings can pose serious safety risks. To reduce these risks, crossings are typically equipped with gates to block vehicle, bike, and pedestrian traffic ahead of an oncoming train. Medians may also be installed to make it harder for cars and pedestrians to get around gates and put themselves in harm's way. Trains also rely heavily on horns as an alert that the train is coming. Under current federal law, a train conductor is required to sound the horn when approaching and moving through an at-grade crossing.

Train Horns
Current law, known as the "Train Horn Final Rule", standardized the use of locomotive horns. The rule requires rail operators to sound the locomotive horn prior to a train's arrival to an at-grade crossing. The horn must sound in a range between 96 and 110 decibels as measured 100 feet in front of the locomotive. This is about as loud as a power mower or power saw heard from three feet away.  The Conductor must also sound the horn before departing a station, and any time an unsafe situation appears ahead on the tracks. Conductors who fail to sound a horn can be held criminally liable for any damage or injury resulting from a collision. Many residents have expressed concerns regarding train noise and the sounding of horns at crossings, particularly anticipating the SMART train, and have asked the City Council to designate quiet zones in Petaluma.
What's the City's Role?
The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) regulates rail operators in the United States.  In California, they are also regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  The City of Petaluma does not itself regulate rail carriers, but it can utilize federal and state regulations to minimize the impact of train horn noise by designating a stretch of track a "quiet zone." Safety improvements must be in place, an application and review process is necessary, and determinations must be made by the regulatory agencies that at-grade crossings meet strict safety standards in the area for which quiet zone designation is being sought.
SMART improved many crossings along the line to higher safety standards, so the crossings in Petaluma are strong candidates for quiet zone designation.  City staff, working with SMART and the FRA, compiled safety information that confirmed Petaluma crossings meet federal standards for safety and are eligible for quiet zone designation. This information will be included in the application materials to be reviewed and acted upon by the CPUC and FRA. 

How does a Quiet Zone Work?
At a recent City Council workshop held on the subject, it was noted the term "quiet zone" is a misnomer, that a more accurate term might be "no regular use of the horn zone. "  In a quiet zone, conductors are not mandated to sound their horn at crossings. Instead, the conductor need only sound the horn if they see a safety hazard or if they believe a horn is advised based on the conditions of travel.  Examples of when the train horn would sound include rail or roadway workers near the tracks, a pedestrian or animal on or near the tracks, a malfunctioning grade crossing or other emergency situation determined by the train engineer.
Managing Expectations
Designating a quiet zone in Petaluma should reduce the train noise experienced by residents. There is no guarantee, however, because it will always be at the discretion of the conductor to decide if a horn is needed. Additionally, there will still be noise from gate bells and the train itself at each crossing.
What Next? 
On October 17 th the City Council adopted a Resolution authorizing the filing of a notice of intent with the FRA and the CPUC to establish a quiet zone in Petaluma, from Corona Road to Caulfield Lane.  This is the first step in the application process.  Depending on how the application process goes, the designation can be obtained in three to six months. This timing should synchronize with initiation of SMART rail service in early 2017.

Petaluma Successor Agency
Some Background 
Petaluma's redevelopment agency, the Petaluma Community Development Commission (PCDC), was formed in 1976.  Redevelopment agencies provided a funding mechanism to build infrastructure and promote economic development in designated areas, which in turn enhanced the community, increased property values, and generated more revenue for the City.  Later, agencies were required to direct 20 percent of tax revenues to affordable housing uses.  This funding made it possible for Petaluma to achieve the successes we've had in building and maintaining affordable housing.
Redevelopment  allowed the City to keep a larger share of the property taxes from the redevelopment areas than from non-redevelopment areas.  Local entities who receive a share of property tax - mainly the County of Sonoma and the schools - received a correspondingly smaller share of property taxes. The money received by the PCDC paid for infrastructure, redevelopment, and housing projects in Petaluma. One aspect of the redevelopment funding was that it be used to repay loans, which is why redevelopment agencies commonly issued bonds to fund projects and used revenues to repay them. 
The state made up the losses in the schools' share of tax proceeds from its own budget.  During the recession, declining state revenues inspired legislation that dissolved Redevelopment programs state-wide, including the PCDC. Cities were made to forfeit redevelopment balances, forgo future property tax revenue, and sell off land and assets to provide additional funds for the state's use.
The impact of this legislation cannot be underestimated.  Petaluma lost nearly $9 million held in PCDC accounts, and continues to lose about $16 million each year that would otherwise be spent on infrastructure, economic development, and housing programs.
What is a Successor Agency?
The Petaluma Community Development Successor Agency (Successor Agency) was formed to manage the assets of the dissolved PCDC.   The Successor Agency is like the trustee appointed to make decisions about assets left behind after a person's death. For instance, a trustee might sell property owned by a deceased parent in order to split the remaining profits between surviving children.  In this case, the Successor Agency repays loans from the former PCDC, pays other contractual obligations, and reports to oversight agencies.  

A local Oversight Board, made up of representatives of  local taxing entities, must approve Successor Agency spending and actions.  All financial transactions approved by the Agency and the Oversight Board must also be approved the State Department of Finance. The Successor Agency will exist as long as there are outstanding debts from the former PCDC.  The Successor Agency continues to receive the additional taxes from the former PCDC to cover those outstanding debts. The current loans will be fully repaid by 2039. 
The Housing Successor Agency
The PCDC was required to provide housing programs, separate of its infrastructure and economic development programs.  Housing activities included collaborating with non-profit partners to build affordable housing, preserving existing affordable housing, and operating programs to address the housing-related needs of program-eligible participants.  This separation was continued in dissolution; the City could, and did, designate a Housing Successor Agency to continue operating these programs at the City level.  Without the dollars tax increment financing provided, funding these programs has become much more challenging and many programs have been downsized out of necessity.
What is the Successor Agency's Budget?
The Successor Agency may only retain the funds needed for the purposes I have discussed, and for administrative costs. The Successor Agency's  2016 -17 budget is $6 million which comes entirely from the property taxes that would have been allocated to the former PCDC.  $5.5 million of that will pay debt service on bonds issued by the former PCDC.  The remainder pays for administration. The budget is approved by the Oversight Board and by the State's Department of Finance.  Unlike the City's budget, once this budget is adopted, it cannot be amended during the year.

Council Meetings
EV Charging Stations 
Remember to Vote
on Election Day!

The City Council meets on the first and third Monday for regular meetings.  The next regular meeting of the City Council will be held on Monday November 7, 2016. 

There are currently nine Electric Vehicle Charging stations in Petaluma that are available to the public. Find out where you can charge your vehicle around town.

Vote-by-mail ballots are in the mail, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 8, 2016. Every vote is meaningful.  So, exercise your privilege, and don't forget to vote.