Tales of early RP history come to life
Norman Spivock’s written it all down - the hectic journey of seed farm to city
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By Jud Snyder  June 20, 2014 12:00 am

When you sit down at a coffee shop table with Norman Spivock and Pete Callinan, you learn more about early Rohnert Park beginnings than a bushel basket of bureaucratic documents, staff reports and useless trivia than three city halls can grind out in three months. 

Spivock and Callinan, both in their early 80s, immediately fell into a sprightly conversation peppered with “Do you remember …?” and “I’ll never forget …,” incidents and anecdotes that spun out like acorns from a giant oak. Much of the story was all written down by Spivock.

He calls it “The Personal Side of Creating A City,” a 32-page, single-spaced, typed manuscript he’s whimsically sub-titled, “How Ignorance, Luck and Geniuses Create A City.”

He’s got the credentials. As an investor, land owner and developer on the Rohnert Seed Farm acreage, he had built the home in A Section that Pete Callinan and his family moved into for $13,500. 

Talk about credentials! Callinan later became RP’s first mayor after the city was incorporated and then city manager for decades as the city expanded. His son, Joe Callinan, is currently mayor.

 

He looked at the site in 1952

It wasn’t even a city back then; only eager talk about adding a B Section under a loosely knit county umbrella called Community Services District (CSD). Its first members were Paul Golis and three seed farm workers.

Spivock was working for his father, an Oakland real estate office manager who had recently bought some land in Ukiah, He wanted his son to go up there and take a look at it. This was 1952 and involved a long drive, a ferry across from Richmond to San Rafael, and then another 90 miles north on a two-lane highway. (These were pre-bridge and pre-freeway days). He was very careful driving between Santa Rosa and Cotati, for the road was often flooded. It was OK for Rohnert’s seed farms, but precarious for cars.

Spivock also got in touch with some real estate people whom he called “the band of eight,” who were planning to buy Rohnert Seed Farms and build a small city on this often-flooded land. 

Leaders of this octet were two lawyers, Maurice Fredericks and Paul Golis. Also included were Hal Cohen, Ben Oretsky, and others like C.C. “Tex” Carley who “owned or managed” 580 acres next to the Rohnert’s 2,600 acres.  

 

Golis drove creation of city

Golis was leader of this group. “I can say at the time Paul Golis wanted to build a city that would provide houses to low-income families,” Spivock wrote in his autobiography. “He (Golis) would rather be a Supreme Court Justice than President. He was dynamic, tireless and drove the creation of the city.

The total project was 3,180 acres…between Snyder Lane and the railroad tracks was Carley’s 580 acres.”

The land was bought with options attached by the “band of eight” headed by Golis. “They needed homebuilders. 

“Money, I later learned, is what they needed most,” Spivock wrote. “I proceeded to get more involved with the project. My attitude was that if these guys could provide an endless supply of (building) lots, I wanted to get a good share of them because getting a constant supply of lots is a major problem in the subdivision homebuilding business. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.”

 

Spivock – financing guide

Little did he know, is right. Spivock invested in this new company to get an inside view of its operations. Golis had helped form the CSD, a legal entity with power to issue tax-free bonds and Spivock with his background became a major part of securing bond revenues for homebuilders. In a sense, he became what they call now, “chief financial officer,” although he never bore the title. 

Spivock also bought out “fringe members” of the board of eight. “It soon became Paul Golis and me. Maurice Fredericks was always there to support Paul and me.” He also did a good share of the work to get approvals from the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration to supply low-cost home loans to buyers. Additional necessary help was supplied by the state’s highway engineers and hydrologists, who shifted the course of Laguna de Santa Rosa so the annual flooding of the area was virtually eliminated.

 

‘How do you start a city?’

Spivock said in his memoir, “We now come to the critical issue ‘How do you start a city?’” Get an unsophisticated nut (me). A few half-competent businessmen, an idealist or two, a competent partner who does whatever he’s asked, a farmer who wants to be a major shopping center owner, a lawyer who has ambitions to create something great. Exclude from the group any pragmatic businessman, mix together what you have and see the incredible results.  You see a seed farm then inhabited by three or four workers who lived in two run-down cabins, become a new city.

“It did so primarily because of the indefatigable Paul Golis, the lawyer whose vision, idealism and desire to do good things was only exceeded by his lack of economic and financial understanding.

“Let’s put it bluntly. He had no clue as to the deeper function of money, nor its value; my understanding exceeded Paul’s, but not by much, and for that reason I called myself a nut because I secured the financing …we, and especially me, are the fools that rushed in and the project succeeded.”

 

Friday 5 p.m. deadline

Spivock’s hectic work with getting all the bond documents approved and filling out needed county land use forms was a frantic combination of driving from one county office to another, securing all sorts of permits and confronting a deadline which ended on a Friday night, five minutes after 5 p.m. and a locked door. 

It was a nightmare for him, the deadline was 5 p.m., or else the project would have to start the process all over again. Happily, a Mr. Fulweider unlocked his office door and accepted the needed documents. Otherwise, who knew what changes he would have to make under new county rules and how much longer the process would take? RP’s financing and future were saved.

 

Families were first in 1957

“One of our early joiners was a home builder, Bart Mitchell. At the time, I had 13 homes being built on my investment and the first two families to move in on the same day in 1957 were Paul Golis’ and Terry and Colette Moran,” with Golis claiming to be first. 

A few months later, Spivock and Golis were told the State College system was planning a campus near us and both men found five acres between A and B sections for a temporary campus while it was being built further east. “To consolidate the college in our area and to preclude it being moved to another location if the state had second thoughts, Paul and I worked to get the temporary quarters in Rohnert Park (on Collegeview Drive.)”

 

Jimmie Rogers and Bart Mitchell

“Somewhere along here a fellow named Jimmie Rogers, a new homeowner who was working for a national bakery, then opened a small grocery store (now Manor Deli) and later asked me for a job,” Spivock’s story continues. “His pitch was good, but I turned him down on the true grounds I was involved with my brothers. Rogers instead got into real estate with Bart Mitchell.

“Jimmie Rogers became interested in city politics…and had many conflicts with Paul Golis about the way things should be,” Spivock wrote. “Jimmie eventually became the prime mover in the city, but it appears Paul’s original creation soon shoved him aside by those who disagreed with him. Oddly enough, that was proof Paul had succeeded in his developmental goals.”

Quite a bit of Spivock’s 32-page autobiography had to be omitted due to space reasons. But his concluding paragraphs merit attention:

“We had started a city that was the model of a fiscal situation. It did not have one dollar of debt. It did have income from utility fees with absolute minimal offsetting costs. No bond payments because the property owners paid for all the infrastructure.

“The city was run extremely efficiently by Pete Callinan with – I forget exactly – two or three other employees and remained so for a long time. It grieves me to see that, with such a great start, the city now has fiscal problems.”

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