|The highs and lows of 2012
RPís 50th, GMC opening highlight year
Compiled by The Voice staff
You knew 2012 would be an interesting year for one simple reason - there was a presidential election. And national elections always tend to carry the year.
Locally, 2012 offered its share of rough-and-tumble politics. But it also brought us moments to celebrate and cherish as well as tragedies that drew our tears.
The Community Voice will use this space to look back on some of the top stories of the year. In no particular order of importance, here they are:
- Rohnert Park kicks up heels
The City of Rohnert Park threw itself a "little" party to celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sept. 15. Thousands flocked to the RP Community Center at the corner of RP Expressway and Snyder Lane for a day-long event which saw old friends reunite, those who moved away from RP returning just for this particular weekend, live music and plenty of games and activities for those young and old.
The morning parade featured a who's who of Rohnert Park's past, present and future as former mayors and council members rode the parade route in classic cars.
This celebration would not have happened had it not been for Robin Miller, chairperson for the Rohnert Park Cultural Arts Commission. When she learned the city was turning 50, she wanted to do something to commemorate it, but she found many were apathetic. But she enlisted the help of local mover and shaker Jennifer Wiltermood, and they became co-chairs of the effort. Others who helped mightily were Ann Mogul, Tina Montgomery, Paula Reinhold, Sandy Waterman and Phyllis Transue.
Next year, the City of Cotati turns 50. Let's see if its celebration can rival that of RP. If it does...
- Green Music Center opens
It was a source of campus controversy, but the Green Music Center's debut on Sept. 29 was a smashing success. The world-class music hall on the campus of Sonoma State University attracted the likes of political heavyweights such as California Gov. Jerry Brown and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Also on hand were major financial contributors to the center Sanford and Joan Weill and Donald and Maureen Green, for whom the center has been named.
World renowned pianist Lang Lang was the first act to grace the GMC stage, and his performance drew nothing but raves.
Many staff and faculty at the university believed the money (it came with a $145 million price tag) and energy used to get the GMC built could have been put to better use in other areas of the university.
Still, opening weekend at the GMC was something to remember.
- SSU professor Steven Norwick dies
Beloved SSU professor Steven Norwick tragically saw his life cut short in June because of a hit-and-run driver. Norwick was bicycling on Petaluma Hill Road on his way to breakfast with friends in Penngrove when he was struck. Robert Ernest Cowart, 68, told off-duty law enforcement officials on June 8 he had hit Norwick while driving on Petaluma Hill Road earlier that day and didn't stop because he believed the bicyclist was OK. Norwick died from his injuries 11 days later at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
Norwick's death was the first of three hit-and-run incidents involving Rohnert Park drivers in the period of a month. Michael Scott Harmon, 41, of Rohnert Park, and 36-year-old Arthur Ben Yu, also of Rohnert Park, have been convicted and sentenced to jail time for their hit-and-run incidents.
The criminal case against Cowart remains on hold, pending final resolution of his mental condition. Hopefully, the conditions surrounding Norwick's death can touch off a serious conversation about when it is time to disallow elderly or mentally unfit people from driving automobiles.
- Measure U passes in Cotati
Although Cotati is a small city, its politics can be as rough and ugly as any metropolis in the country. And the issue of roundabouts was enough to bring out the sharp knives for both proponents and the opposition. Measure U, fueled by its supporters' disdain for roundabouts or traffic circles, and banned any such road construction projects within city limits. The Cotati City Council had approved a plan to renovate the northern corridor on Old Redwood Highway, converting it into a two-lane road with two roundabouts.
This was one of the few issues to draw full houses to city hall for council meetings, and it may have been more divisive than the controversy surrounding Lucky supermarkets' attempts to build on Old Redwood Highway.
- Progress on RP budget
Rohnert Parks makes gains on budget deficit
It was quite amazing to learn in March how the City Of Rohnert Park's budget deficit was pared from $2 million down to $333,000.
This financial phenomenon was due mainly to city employees from department heads down to shovel-wielders in the Public Works Department. City Manager Gabe Gonzalez tells it this way: "The General Fund budget for 2011 to 2012 was adopted with a $2 million dollar deficit.
"But we still hadn't concluded contract negotiations with our labor groups," he added. "At the conclusion of labor negotiations, all city employees agreed to make certain salary and benefit concessions that allowed the city to stabilize its staggering financial situations."
Gonzalez reminded residents four years ago the deficit was $9 million, so the deficit chewing-down process has taken a while to trim to a "more graspable" level. His own salary took a 35-percent hit in the previous six months to March.
Even the retirement pension and benefit payments were solidly declawed. These figures have been haunting budget number crunchers for years. Administration employees agreed to pay seven percent of these costs and Dept. of Public Safety employees agreed to a nine-percent contribution to their retirement benefits.
- Petaluma Nationals' thrill ride
Although technically, the Petaluma Nationals Little League baseball team doesn't qualify as a "local" story because they are outside The Community Voice's coverage area of Penngrove, Rohnert Park and Cotati. But this team was adopted by not only Sonoma County, but also all of Northern California as they provided locals with plenty of thrills in their run to the United States championship game, where their dream for the world title finally ended.
The success of Petaluma National had an impact on many other events around the area. The RP Arts and Music Festival saw its numbers drop because it was happening at the same time Petaluma National was in the U.S. title game. Also, Bodega Bay Seafood, Art and Wine Festival didn't see its crowds pick up until the game was over.
Petaluma National placed third. What Petaluma National managed to do was turn cynical sports observers back into fans again.
- Voters reject Measure Z
The Rancho Adobe Fire District had hoped citizens within its coverage area would approve an annual parcel tax of $60 per year to help with its budget constraints. Although it won the majority of the vote, it failed to surpass the two-third of the vote threshold for approval. Many expected this measure to pass, as it seemingly had widespread support from people on all sides of the political landscape.
The District, according to Chief Frank Treanor, has had two successive years of budget deficits - with a deficit of more than $200,000 in 2010-11 and a $177,000 budget deficit last year. The anticipated deficit for next year is projected to be more than $350,000.
With Measure Z failing to pass, RAFD on the day after the election implemented a system calling for 48-hour blackouts on a rotating basis for each station in the district. This means at least one of three stations will be closed for a 48-hour period. When one reopens another will be closed for two days.
- Full steam ahead on casino
Despite the opposition of many, including some elected officials at the state and local levels, and lawsuits filed by Stop The Casino 101 group, construction on the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria's casino on the outskirts of Rohnert Park has moved steadily. Also, Rohnert Park's City Council approved a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (FIGR) to allow wastewater to be piped into the city's sewer system and thence to the treatment plant Santa Rosa owns on Llano Road. This sort of an arrangement is nothing new to Darrin Jenkins, city engineer and director of development services. Sonoma State University has had a JPA with RP ever since its days on Collegeview Drive; both Canon Manor and Sonoma Mountain Village's "job incubator" use city wastewater facilities.
- Rancho Cotate football excels
For the second time in three years, Rancho Cotate High's football team was champion of the North Bay League and reached the North Coast Section Div. II championship game, only to fall short against Clayton Valley. The Cougars provided a plethora of highlights, including a dominating victory over arch-rival Cardinal Newman and triumphs over NBL newcomers Casa Grande of Petaluma and Windsor.
The Cougars got sterling performances this season from running back Jalon Luque, who ran for more than 2,000 yards, an offensive line which seemingly could open big holes at will and a rugged defense whose prowess allowed its offense to take more chances. The Cougars rolled to 12 straight wins before the NCS final. Quarterback Michael Courchaine set the school's single-season record for touchdown passes with 21, breaking the 41-year record of Steve Wdlodarczyk.
- RP underpass finally opens
Drivers honked their horns and a small crowd cheered on June 15 as traffic began flowing through the underpass at Golf Course Drive and Commerce Boulevard at precisely 3:45 p.m., marking the opening of a thoroughfare that connects the eastern and western portions of Rohnert Park. When the entire RP City Council and a Caltrans representative cut the ribbon, it officially brought to fruition a project that had been a dream for some since 1972, when Rohnert Park had a little more than 6,200 residents. Now, RP has nearly 41,000 residents. This project was part of a $46 million Caltrans project, which also will widen Highway 101 to add northbound and southbound lanes. Also, new onramps and off-ramps will be added at Golf Course Drive West (formerly Wilfred Avenue). It appeared as if Nicole Dockery of Sonoma would be the first to go through the underpass as she weaved around some of the cones blocking the road. She was intercepted by a California Highway Patrol officer and had to turn around. Officially, a dark blue Toyota Corolla and a black Jeep were the first two vehicles to cross.
- Lottery winner in RP
Omar Estrella's life changed forever on June 23 when his SuperLotto Plus ticket matched all six numbers for a $13 million prize. He purchased the winning ticket from Kwik Pick Market on Golf Course and waited nearly a month to step forward. According to a lottery spokesperson, Estrella seemingly wanted to get his ducks in a row before staking claim to the cash.
Lottery officials said Estrella arrived in the agency's San Francisco office with his wife and an attorney. Stressing his desire for privacy, Estrella declined having a news conference or releasing additional details about himself and his life. Estrella had lived in the D section of Rohnert Park, but according to neighbors, he has moved and has not provided any additional information.