Susan Kirks – 2020 City Council

On behalf of the group, we asked pertinent questions of the City Council candidates who are running in the Tuesday, November 3rd election.

The questions:

How would you define transportation equity, and how would you work to improve it in Petaluma?  

Available access and safe and free use of multiple transportation modes – public transit, more affordable electric vehicles for our near future, bicycle and pedestrian trails and paths that connect areas of living to areas of work and/or areas where additional modes of transportation are safely accessed (walking or biking to transit stops and/or places of employment).  This is the practical part of transportation equity – to support daily lives of all citizens for equal and safe access to support how we move and also how we can afford to move within the City, and reaching transportation access points.

In the past, really, our primary focus has been on trails and paths that enhance recreation.  I fully support this continued focus, including implementing trails in the River Enhancement Plan and updating and supporting the Bike and Pedestrian Access Plan.  Some of this relies on requirements to create and connect trails and paths when new residential and commercial developments are considered and approved within Petaluma.  We need to do much better in this area – We must require, without exception, any part of a trail or path that’s in an established plan for bikes and pedestrian access to be implemented, and be attentive to and advocate for connecting segments of trails and paths to achieve the end goal of having that long awaited river access trail system, for example.  

Ensuring planned trail systems and paths are implemented, and prioritizing bicycle trails and paths that are safe and connect to neighborhoods, places of employment, and broader transportation access (transit, SMART) will, combined, create the network of bicycle trails and paths we need as a City, especially as we grow in population and a City Council is elected to prioritize more affordable housing and actively support more diversity in our Petaluma population.

To this end, I would also like to suggest that the “Lynch Creek Trail” be considered for renaming.  I understand this trail and I believe the creek was named for the John Lynch family.  I believe there is a county road named Lynch Road, and an additional City street of Lynch Creek Way. The word “lynch” – which is repeated frequently in the context of “Lynch Creek —” carries a connotation that is offensive and traumatic for Black people.  I would propose to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee to lead the call for this suggestion and consider renaming the trail and for the City, Lynch Creek Way, to an uplifting and inspiring name – this could include an historic name and include renaming the creek as well.  I have not researched these suggestions, e.g., additional requirements or parameters in renaming a creek, trail or City street, but to the extent possible, it is a positive suggestion, in my view, to explore and make a new reality in Petaluma.  To best consider possible names, I recommend reaching out to the Black leaders here in Petaluma and would be pleased to engage in and help facilitate this conversation and the pathway to rename a creek, trail and possibly a City street, away from a traumatic term, to an uplifting and possibly historic action reflecting our community’s commitment to sensitivity and inclusion.

Also, business-wise, I would love to see Petaluma be able to support at least 2 bike shops and/or bike repair shops to support our bicycling citizens.  This could also include repair as part of the business – sales and repair, e.g.  This could build upon our existing bike business in the City – and I would love to see bike share, possibly safe alternative bikes or transit modes- such as electric bikes or trikes for elderly and senior citizens who want to be out and about, but the 2-wheeler isn’t practical any longer.  And, add business opportunities for an electric Tuk Tuk service in our carefully growing mid-sized city (also to appeal to visitors and ecotourists staying in our hotels or at the campground outside of Petaluma), to support our existing Green taxi service and encourage a small business opportunity for electric taxis in and around Petaluma.  The more we can encourage small modes of self-motivated transportation or electric Tuk Tuks and taxis, this will balance the SMART train with 2 stations, personal vehicle ownership and use (moving toward all electric vehicles), and our Petaluma Transit Service.

Any planning and action we can take to enhance conservation-conscious transportation here in Petaluma – contributing to movement and good energy – let’s do it.


What role do you think bicycling and walking play in addressing the climate crisis? How can these forms of active transportation help the city meet its climate goals? 

Bicycling and walking instead of driving gas-powered vehicles help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The City Council needs to support the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and groups like Bike Petaluma, listening and crafting best plans for the best trails and paths, connectivity among our trail and path systems, and improvements in bike lanes on our roadways for safety and ease of travel via bicycles. I like some of the examples in Copenhagen for safety for bicyclists where narrow barriers between a traffic lane and a bike lane are installed, to prevent vehicles from moving into bike lanes and protecting bicyclists. This is just one example. As new residential development is approved, in addition to the requirement to implement any portion of a plan that requires building part of a bike trail or path, apartment buildings and townhomes need to have safe storage and parking accommodations for bicycles. We also need to envision with the new General Plan mixed use development in virtually every area of Petaluma and connectivity with bike lanes and trails/paths to support vibrant neighborhoods where residents seek services such as fresh food, restaurants, and amenities in their neighborhoods – by walking or cycling. This is the practical housing related element that needs to be the priority equating to creating and maintaining the system of trails and paths for recreation.


What is your position on SCTA’s Go Sonoma sales tax measure and what should Petaluma use the money for if it passes?

Initially, I was not in favor of this tax for the Nov. 2020 ballot – because of the pandemic and suffering of citizens on so many levels. But, in reconsidering, given this is an existing sales tax and is a request for early renewal, which could help leverage state and federal grants and funds to support the many projects that are needed in each City, I changed my position and now am in support of this one tax measure. There has been extensive public input, which is very positive, the Caulfield bridge/connector is on the list of projects, and Rainier, which I do not support, was removed. This appears to be a win for the citizens of every City, including Petaluma.


Why should people who care about street safety, bicycling and walking issues vote for you?

I understand the new paradigm into which we have already entered, for viewing all aspects of our lives, with everyone else in the country, and the world, through climate change impacts and our necessary actions, to reach goals hopefully by 2030, and also be consistent with the State goals for 2045 for GHG emission reduction, and ways to achieve this. I have been involved in the climate change issue for many years, including establishing citizen science research in Petaluma, as part of a National Project, to study birds, mammals and plants. I literally installed the bike rack, to honor bicyclists stopping by the Open Space property, Paula Lane Nature Preserve, the project created by Paula Lane Action Network for the Petaluma community. This rack is to serve cyclists to stop over and enjoy respite on the Petaluma Ring Trail (not mentioned too often, but a real focus of mine – a trail proposed by Bruce Hagen years ago), and a potential new connecting area through that for the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART) – not what currently exists for BART – but a better and more open breathing route around the rural area of Petaluma to then have a choice for going to Sonoma, Penngrove or then into downtown Petaluma as a possibility. This new alternative route on BART would also include the Kelly Creek property and extension of the Helen Putnam Regional Park – with the Ring Trail over to Paula Lane. So, that’s part of my vision for West Petaluma and then biking for visitors around Petaluma, rather than heading straight into downtown, which isn’t really consistent with the mission of the BART.
A covered bike rack with a little more room is part of the long-term plan for bicyclists’ inclusion at the Paula Lane open space property project. This was my design and vision as well, and this is an all volunteer effort with materials paid for by revenue collected from a residential rental. So, this model, to include bicyclists and walks, is one that could be replicated in other areas of Petaluma – where we can save open space, habitat, have appropriate public access, and highlight the bicycling and walking modes of transportation – while we’re also saving habitat and wildlife and birds. I think in this broader context related to how bicycling and walking are part of our lives here in Petaluma – and part of our responsibility for our environment.
Street safety and safe bicycle lanes, with the ability to walk and, in the case of ADA accommodation as well wherever possible, are very high on my list of priorities. I do believe we need to evaluate safety measures for bike lanes that are established in other countries and consider implementing those especially on some of our busiest arterials and collectors. To achieve goals I’m describing, voters will need to cast their votes for candidates who can help with unity and expression of the political will needed to serve our citizens in the best way possible. I am a Democrat, a progressive, and am an independent thinker, am a listener, and want to represent the citizens’ voice, with a City Council making decisions and taking action that reflect best recommendations of committees and commissions. I have a 20-year record, also, of achieving environmental success, representing two conservation organizations, one based in Petaluma and one a countywide organization with many members in Petaluma.


What are Petaluma’s biggest transportation challenges? What policies or projects would you promote to address these challenges?

I’ve answered some of this question above – in reorganizing the order of your questions, again appreciating your understanding I want to respond to the questions within a certain larger context.
For Petaluma transit, we need to move toward all electric – and we need to increase routes and promote transit – and make it affordable – with reduced to free fares for seniors and students, and seek federal and state grant funding to support the ability to provide public transit – that is affordable and that people will use, if the routes are accessible, arrival times at stops are consistent, and the destinations from residential areas are practical.
The City’s transportation fleet needs to move to all electric.
Safe roads for bicycles needs to be a #1 priority and enhancing safety for bike lanes a #1 priority.
Of course, connectors and where to implement those to best serve the community – and protect the environment – are an ongoing priority. I support a Caulfield connector/bridge and also improvements to the Corona overcrossing – the latter is dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. The former should be the priority in terms of connecting increasingly dense residential and commercial development areas for both motorists and cyclists and walkers.
We need to modernize and require permeable materials and surfaces, with natural trails wherever possible, for our trail and pedestrian path systems. We cannot accept from the City staff that impermeable paved trail surfaces are all the City can afford or provide. That comment or feedback, which I have heard on multiple occasions, and then just accepted, must no longer be able to be accepted – To this end, we also need to change and strengthen the Parks & Recreation Dept. function – along with the Commission representing that function, to be aligned with and representative of conservation-prioritized actions and decisions, including review of and recommendations related to the Bike & Pedestrian Advisory Committee’s input on important decisions for citizens. The new Climate Action Commission and the upcoming Plan will be the lens through which all decisions related to transportation challenges and decisions will occur within the City of Petaluma. And the City Council will need to be 100% supportive and helpful in communication and connecting commissions and committees to interface with the Climate Action Commission. And, in that lens, the over-arching Equity lens will be the lens through which climate actions and transportation challenges need to be considered.
I am a listener. Any project or challenge Bike Petaluma and/or the Petaluma Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee prioritizes and communicates about would be heard if I am an elected member of the City Council – and hopefully we can reflect a City Council with energy, sensitivity, and movement toward best transportation- decisions for citizens of Petaluma – through the context(s) described above.


What role does bicycling and walking play in your vision for the future development of Petaluma? If elected what strategies/tools/resources would you utilize to realize this vision?

I responded to this question above in large part – through my desire to share with you as a policy maker the context through which I would view all potential decisions. The larger picture, the context, for how we create and improve roads and trails infrastructure and why, with the recreational and connecting component as part of that larger context, lead me to express one of my campaign goals – To support development decisions, and create the context for those in our new General Plan update, for walkable, bikeable neighborhoods that can connect to other parts of the City, as the City population grows, and a focus on vibrant neighborhoods with nearby services – so residents can access through walking and biking the services and amenities they need. Then, if there’s a desire to access other amenities and services, we’ll have safe bike routes, walking trails, and public transportation, including SMART access, to reach community and other destinations in a healthy and sustainable way.


Petaluma streets are increasingly congested and worn if elected, how would you propose to improve infrastructure in the City?

If the county roads sales tax measure passes in November, this will provide additional funds to Petaluma to help with street repairs and improvements. The Caulfield connector/bridge and improving the Corona overcrossing would definitely support safer streets and travel routes for cyclists and also pedestrians. Bike lanes need to be a priority – and safe bike lanes with innovative bike safety measures to ensure bicyclists area able to travel in the City without worrying about being struck, injured or losing a life. We have seen this past year how vehicles can in a second here in Petaluma take the lives of bicyclists – and that is something to consider seriously and to heart – to prevent from happening – To do so, we must prioritize safety and listen to the bicycle community for enhancing safety and improving road and street conditions.
One new project upcoming will be the Petaluma Boulevard South Road Diet. That roadway would benefit from planning for the future- and that would be class IV bike lanes to the extent possible. The vehicle traffic entering and exiting Petaluma Boulevard South is going to increase in the future – and this will be the main route to approach central Petaluma, or exit to travel south or north on Hwy 101. The road diet design, I know, is a project PBAC considered in great detail, and as a Council member, I would have supported PBAC’s full recommendations to the Council – and then all would collaborate together to modernize and make safe this main area of Petaluma, looking to the future – while working with business owners to provide parking as possible.
I am not part of Urban Chat, nor the Know Before You Grow group. I am the co-founder of a community action and conservation network back in 2000; advocating for open space protection in West Petaluma, and considering walking and bicycling in that context (note BART references and Ring Trail references for expanded cycling and pedestrian routes above). So, I have been involved in and attentive to virtually every land use decision, including transportation and cycling components, for 20 years here in Petaluma, by virtue of staying informed. Long before Know Before You Grow was formed, our organization, Paula Lane Action Network, was involved in land use decisions, the General Plan 2025 process (I attended every single meeting for that update), the County General Plan update that was concurrent with our last Petaluma General Plan, and many environmental issues in both Petaluma and Sonoma County. I do my homework, and I am supportive of any decision that will contribute to the health, well being and ability to move within our community.


How do you get around Petaluma?

I have a lifestyle that supports a lot of walking by choice – from 1 to 5 miles regularly in and about Petaluma. I also have a lifestyle that requires a pickup truck so I can take care of my two rescued horses and other environmental projects I also manage (a large one in Santa Rosa March-August each year). I bike to the market for my grocery shopping primarily, or for specific tasks, as I honestly do not have time in my life schedule for much recreational biking these days – but I 100% support planning and provision of safe trails and paths for cyclists and pedestrians – and understand the importance to our health and also equity considerations for those who use trails and paths for biking and walking to work or employment opportunities, or to reach larger transportation connections. By the way, I would like to see reduced fares and travel on SMART from north to central Petaluma and central to north when the Corona Station becomes a reality.
When I lived in southern California several years ago, I owned a car, but I biked to my work 4.5 miles each day while living in Burbank, and home again. That was my daily exercise. When I lived in West Los Angeles, I also had a moped and used that for transportation to and from my work, rather than driving a car. I biked extensively in that area as well for recreation. When I lived in San Francisco, I did not own a car and used MUNI and biked for transportation. These were freeing experiences I have always recalled fondly – so I know the benefit of being free from car or truck transportation – and being able to safely travel by bike or walking, or even by small moped.

Petaluma is a mid-sized City that I believe can sustainably grow in population, inviting diversity, and providing community safety, and remain a mid-sized City. Our transportation infrastructure – which must include moving to all electric vehicles to every extent possible (with charging stations provided throughout the City), and supporting and enhancing bicycle and pedestrian paths and trails – bike businesses – vibrant neighborhoods through renewed mixed use development and nearby services- and also providing services for our public school students and SRJC students – who will bike or walk for safe school routes and to also be able to afford to live in Petaluma potentially without a motor vehicle – is all inter-related. As we consider our infrastructure through the lenses of equity and climate action, we will need a City Council who is connected to our national and global communities of cyclists and pedestrians, and a City Council who prioritizes and listens to our bicycling and walking and hiking community members.

By the way, I have a personal goal of being able to afford to purchase an all electric small pickup truck in the not too distant future, to continue to support necessities of my lifestyle, and do my part, too.
Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your questions, and for your contributions to a high quality of equitable community life here in Petaluma.