New mayor focused on the future
By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
When Scott Bartley was a young boy, his father often took him to the construction site of the future home of the family business, Bartley Pump, just south of Santa Rosa.
His dad, Bob Bartley, may have hoped the visits would instill in his son an interest in well and irrigation pumps that would one day lead him to join the growing enterprise.
Instead, the young Bartley became fascinated by how all those lines on the blueprints, if followed correctly, could become a real, living structure.
Now a successful architect and the new mayor of Santa Rosa, Bartley believes the best way for the city to strengthen its economy is to have a clear set of plans, and for city leaders to have the courage to follow them.
“We’ve got to do what we can to grow our way out of this thing,” Bartley said last week from the Larkfield office he shares with Andy Hall, his partner in the firm Hall &
The City Council’s elevation of Bartley to the post of mayor last week represents the pinnacle of his long career of community service, including a decade on the city’s Design Review Board and six years on the Planning Commission, twice as chairman.
As he begins his two-year term, Bartley rejected suggestions that the lingering resentments from the election portend continued trouble for the ideologically divided council.
He’s hopeful the economy will continue to improve, the council will work more collaboratively, and long-planned city projects such as the Museum on the Square and the reunification of Old Courthouse Square will find ways to move forward.
“This is not going to be a miserable two years,” he said.
One of Bartley’s top priorities will be to continue to streamline the land-use review process he knows so well. As an architect specializing in winery construction and development, Bartley said he knows firsthand how important it is for businesses thinking of locating or expanding in the city to know what to expect from the planning process.
He believes providing clarity and consistency in the land-use entitlement process will make it easier and faster for new businesses and development projects to move forward, which in turn will strengthen the city’s property tax base and increase sales tax revenue.
“Without those two things, we won’t have any of the money to do any of the fun stuff we want to do,” he said.
Supporters say Bartley’s history of city service, professional experience, and attention to detail leave him well-positioned to lead the city as it struggles to regain its footing following a bruising recession.
He knows the land-use rules inside and out, works well with city staff, and understands how to move a discussion forward, said former Mayor Jane Bender, who appointed Bartley to the Planning Commission in 2003.
“You’ve got seven strong people with seven agendas and seven groups of constituencies backing them, and you’ve got to be able to bang the gavel down and say we’re moving forward,” Bender said. “That’s a good thing.”
But critics say that Bartley, in his zeal to support development projects, has shown little patience for the concerns of neighborhoods and can come across as condescending toward project opponents.
“Scott has tried to label himself as the city official who listens to the voice of the neighborhoods, but my experience over 10 years has been the opposite,” said Jack Swearengen, former head of the Northwest Santa Rosa Neighborhood Association.
Swearengen and Bartley haven’t seen eye-to-eye on much over the years, including the annexation and development of a large section of northwest Santa Rosa, the development of big-box stores, and a plan for more intensive development around the future Guerneville Road train station.
In each case, Bartley supported approval of “auto-dependent development” rather than “pedestrian and user-friendly development,” Swearengen said.
Bartley said that’s not so. He believes the United States needs to wean itself from the automobile and support mixed-use, higher density urban projects that create livable, walkable communities. A resident of Bennett Valley, the 56-year-old Bartley walks daily, often with his three rescued dachshunds in tow.
But he contends that some advocates of mixed-use development act like it’s the only type of development that should ever get the green light.
“It’s not ‘one size fits all,’ and it’s not ‘one development solution fits all,’ ” Bartley said.
He sees no contradiction in his support for a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center off Santa Rosa Avenue and his support for a mixed-use downtown project like the Museum on the Square. Both have their place, he said.
But he believes advocates of mixed-use, transit-oriented development have gotten a little carried away at times, pushing for such projects in areas that aren’t necessarily appropriate for them, he said.
That’s why he was so involved in the council’s effort to scale back the higher density development zoning planned around the Guerneville Road train station. He worried the plans were unrealistic and that focusing too much future development around the north station might compromise the downtown’s long-standing development goals.
“We don’t have the population density to support two downtowns,” Bartley said.
Born in Santa Rosa in 1956, Bartley grew up in Montgomery Village, attending Village Elementary, Slater Middle, Montgomery High and Santa Rosa Junior College before heading off to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. When he graduated, he went to work for the architecture firm Keith & Associates. Two years later, Richard Keith retired, selling the business to Bartley and Hall.
When his father retired, the family sold Bartley Pump, which is still in business under new owners.
He was elected to the council in 2010, running on a platform of job creation and economic growth that was supported by the business community and public safety unions. The election tipped the balance of power on the council back in favor of business-oriented interests.
It’s understandable why Bartley might come across as condescending to some with opposing views. He’s very knowledgeable about the city’s planning processes and isn’t shy about defending his views, which he often does while wearing a bow tie.
In response to Swearengen’s critique, for example, he called the neighborhood activist “clueless.”
Bartley admits that at times he has needed to resist the urge to be an “anal technocrat.” But he believes strongly that applicants who follow the city’s rules should be allowed to proceed, even if some neighbors don’t want the project in their backyards or local businesses don’t want the competition.
Every step of the approvals process for a project should give the applicant greater certainty that it will succeed, he said. Adding major new requirements to projects late in the process isn’t fair to the applicant and gives the city a bad reputation as a place to do business, he said.
While he says he embraces compromise over conflict whenever possible, he thinks there are times when the city’s political leaders and board appointees need to show the “intestinal fortitude” to do the right thing even if unpopular, and “be willing to take your lumps for it.”
But Bartley’s new job is more political than chairing the lower boards, and requires a different set of skills, said Susan Gorin, who served on the Planning Commission with Bartley and voted against his election as mayor.
“It’s not just designing a subdivision and figuring out boundary lines. It’s political agendas, and he’s going to be more challenged than he thinks he will be,” Gorin said.
Much of his success as mayor may be determined by who replaces Gorin after she leaves the council for the Board of Supervisors in January. Even though newcomer Erin Carlstrom supported him for mayor over Gary Wysocky, Bartley knows he doesn’t have a clear majority on the council.
But he believes the council can move beyond the “us-versus-them” dynamic that has polarized it for years. He notes that while he often disagreed with the planning commissioners he worked with, they managed to do so in a respectful and constructive way.
“We still went to dinner afterwards,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.