Back in 2002, my wife, Joan Schwan, wrote about rediscovering our urban waterways in California Trees, the newsletter of California ReLeaf. Now there’s a move afoot to bring awareness to Sebastopol’s own waterways by daylighting — or at least daylighting portions — two of our creeks as they flow through downtown toward the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

Zimpher Creek, which is in my neighborhood, goes into a culvert just above Florence Street (of Patrick Amiot fame) and re-emerges below Morris Street, a hundred yards above the Laguna. Although advocates have pushed for daylighting the portion that flows under the area likely to be developed under Sebastopol’s Northeast Area Plan, progress on that front seems unlikely given that whole development is supposed to be on fill and podia to put it above the 100-year flood level (97 ft. above mean sea level). The section in my neighborhood probably won’t see daylight either unless there’s a radical redevelopment even though a ghost channel extends for about 100 yards below the culvert entrance before ending at an apartment complex.

The Calder water wheel on Calder Creek, Sebastopol, ca. 1900, used for pumping water to seven homes on South Main and Willow -- image courtesy of Sonoma Co. Library.

The Calder water wheel on Calder Creek, Sebastopol, ca. 1900, used for pumping water to seven homes on South Main and Willow -- image courtesy of Sonoma Co. Library.

The other, Calder Creek, is more promising. From its headwaters just outside the southwest corner of the city, Calder flows free until it reaches Jewel Ave. above Ives Park (our downtown and oldest park). There it enters a culvert and re-emerges to flow through the park in a mostly steep-sided, concrete ditch. Then it enters another culvert that takes it nearly to the Laguna a quarter of a mile away.

For the upper culvert, I’ve proposed that the entire intersection of Willow and Jewell streets be modified to open up more than half the existing section. Willow curves around the park, making what could be a safer T-intersection into an awkward and complex intersection that encourages speed along Willow – and artifact of the time when Jewell ended two blocks south of the park. In 1978, a major development in the Swain’s Woods area transformed a semi-wild woodland into a standard-issue subdivision and Jewell became a main route in and out. By creating a single T-intersection, the park could be expanded, pedestrian safety enhanced and the creek daylighted.

The lower section is more complex, but much of the length is under City property. Directly below Ives Park, Calder goes under a City parking lot, then under a property owned by the Talmadge Trust (created from the holdings of the late car dealership owner, Talmadge “Babe” Wood) that contains a converted dry cleaning building that unfortunately is the source of perchlorate plume. The principal of the adjacent Sebastopol Charter School is quite interested in seeing this section daylighted as it would enhance the school setting.

Below South Main Street, the creek is once again under a City parking lot, and finally under the US Postal Annex before emerging next to the Joe Rodota/West County Trail. I suspect the reborn creek would need a slightly different course from the culvert to minimize disruption, but the idea of bridges with a view of the creek from South Main and Petaluma Ave. sounds more inspiring than the current view of parking lots.

And the money to make these visions a reality? The City doesn’t have any to spare, but there is money out there for riparian work. The Coastal Conservancy may be one source; the California River Parkways and Urban Stream Restoration Programs are funded by Proposition 84, may be another, particularly if a bike/pedestrian path were part of the plan. The new draft guidelines for the latter are available and advocates will be discussing possible proposals in the near future.

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