Near Flooding

Petaluma River
This is the Petaluma River in downtown Petaluma. Normally the river is several feet lower, but heavy rains on Friday pushed the river to flood stage. This shot was taken several hours after the rain stopped and the river had actually started to go down.

Petaluma didn’t have any major flooding, just the normal amount in the lowlands of the river basin North of downtown. Some parking lots and roads were flooded, but no there was serious damage that I heard about. Flooding is pretty much a yearly event here. Some years are certainly worse than others, and compared to the December 31, 2005 flood, this weeks flood probably won’t be remembered as a “flood”. The river just got to really, really high.

I live in an area above the flood plain so thankfully never have to worry. As a community however, seasonal flooding is something we all think about. Many streets in town get flooded because the run off has nowhere to go because the river is full. Businesses in the flood plain have to sandbag, commuters get stuck in snarled, flooded roads, and sump pumps in basements are working overtime.

Many people point to growth in the flood plain as a primary reason for flooding. The controversy has been ongoing for decades as far as I know. There hasn’t been real development in the flood plain in recent years, but there has been development in areas near the flood plain that have probably made problems worse.

Taken as part of the 2008 Challenge (although I’m a week behind).

Boulevard Cinemas

Boulevard Cinemas
In 2001 the only movie theater in Petaluma closed its doors largely because the company that owned it had recently opened a huge 16 screen theater 11 miles away in Rohnert Park. That left residents two options – drive to the new Rohnert Park theater or drive to Novato (both are about the same distance). Imagine, a town of 55,000+ with no movie theater. Bear in mind that scenes from many movies have been shot in Petaluma, most notably American Graffiti. Residents were not happy, especially those with teens.

Seven young teenage girls decided to do something. To make a long story short, in 2005 they got our town a new theater. (You can read about opening night and the history at SF Gate.) Our town owes a huge debt of gratitude to Noëlle Bisson, Elizabeth Comstock, Ditmer, Liza Hall, Sarah Marcia, Taylor Norman and Madison Webb.

It’s not just that we again have a place to watch movies locally, it’s what the theater has added to the community, especially downtown. The old theater was at the North end of town in a commercial/business area. You had to drive to get there. The new theater anchored a huge redevelopment effort on edge of the historic downtown shopping district.
Boulevard Cinemas
and the accompanying Theatre Square retail/office/urban housing center are only a couple of blocks from the true heart of downtown where local shops and restaurants dominate the retail landscape. Also, the entire downtown area is within easy walking distance for many residents.

Many feared the new development would bring more chain stores and ruin the small town feel, but so far the theater and accompanying retail stores have been a huge boon for our town. The new theater, restaurants, and shops have added greatly to what was already a wonderful downtown.

In the past couple of years the movie theater has sparked a revival of night life in downtown Petaluma. On Friday nights teens and tweens swarm to the theater in droves. When new releases come out, long lines are not uncommon. Because the new theater is downtown, it’s easy to go out to dinner and movie because you can walk from one of the many local restaurants to the theater. Every month I go with a group friends to have a beer then see a movie. We would not have done that without a downtown theater.

The theater is thriving, and that is driving people to downtown pretty much every night of the week. Every time I go to the movies or walk around the theater district, I see friends. It’s become a great place to hang out and relax, and enjoy the community.

This shot was taken as part of the 2008 Photo Challenge at

2008 Challenge

Dairymen's Co-op

Well 2008 is upon us, and with it a new year of photos. Trevor Carpenter, who has posted a series of Photo Challenges, put together to organize a year long Community Challenge. Last year I tried the photo-a-day thing with somewhat mixed results. I ended up doing 1-2 per week, and completely missed the month of December.

This year I’ve decided to take Trevor up on his challenge, although I’m getting slightly late start. The idea is pretty simple: take one good picture a week of your community. I think I can do that, aside from missing Week 1. I have legitimate excuses, but they don’t matter much now. You can follow everyone who is participating in the challenge on both Flickr and Zooomr. I’m posting to both sites, but hosting the blog shots on Zooomr. It’s pretty amazing to see photos from all over, especially through the eyes (and lenses) of individuals, not through the media.

About this shot, I set out at lunch today to take a picture and as I was driving I thought, duh, why not start with the most obvious thing you can. So here’s the first shot in my year long effort to document my community.

In my community this structure dominates the view near downtown. I don’t know the history or building, but it’s pretty old. Last year there was a fire in one of the grain elevators that burned for over a week, stinking up the town with acrid yellow smoke. Everyone was grateful when the fire department finally put it out, although there was quite a price tag attached to their efforts. Not sure who paid that bill.

It is an impressive and imposing building that adds to the character of the town, and the economy. Petaluma still has a thriving dairy industry and I think is, at heart, a farming town. This building provides a visual reminder of the history of this town. Oddly enough, a new apartment complex sits just to the left of the building. Another reminder that the town is growing. Petaluma is definitely a place where the new and the old mix, generally to the benefit of the community.