October 19, 2017
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An informal evening at RP town hall meeting

By: Irene Hilsendager
October 13, 2017

October 4 was an evening of getting and giving information to about 50 residents of Rohnert Park along with the Rohnert Park City Council, city officials and staff members.

The round table discussions were very spirited and several city officials were put on the spot. The audience was made up of new and long-time residents along with Sonoma State University students.

The city council was introduced along with their comments and the informal agenda. This evening was a special noticed meeting under the requirements of the Brown act. The council had an opportunity to make any welcoming remarks. Councilman Joe Callinan thanked everyone for attending and was glad to be able to see new faces with  hopefully getting something accomplished this evening.

Councilwoman Gina Belforte says they love to get feedback from the community since 1.2 million dollars was given to Rohnert Park from the casino and the council wants to be sure the money will be spent on the proper places to benefit the community. Councilman Amy Ahanotu said, “This is democracy in action.” Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Pam Stafford said there is city staff representing every single department of Rohnert Park so you have an opportunity to ask any question you desire. 

Mayor Jake Mackenzie said he was fortunate to have this year for his mayoral term and added that tonight is everyone’s opportunity to get a chance to ask what would benefit the community. 

“We are an elected city council and you are our constituents so we represent you tonight. We make the decisions for you and you may not always agree but we vote civilly and in a harmonious manner,” he said.

Information was noted as to what Rohnert Park has been doing with casino funding. There are two types of casino money that Rohnert Park receives. One is guaranteed money, regardless of how much the casino makes and then there is non-guaranteed money. Since the casino is doing quite well, RP now will get monies for neighborhood up grades and work force housing.

The first subject will be guaranteed money. This money has been guaranteed for going on to four years. Most of the money goes to public safety. When we say public safety it involves police and fire. More money has been but aside for public works since there is diversity in RP we have to make sure economic development gets included.

Of course, city debt also has to get reduced, but in the meantime new positions have been added to city staff along with maintaining and added community coded enforcement.

Public works had to have added staff especially when the city built a new road to Stony Point, which was paid for, by the casino but that road also has to be maintained by the city-another added expense. Another full time position was added and Leo Tacatta who manages all the money from the casino comes into the picture.

Next law enforcement had to be increased. A special unit was added that only takes responding calls. They focus on prostitution, auto theft, drugs and gangs. This unit has arrested more people than the entire patrol officers do. Beat 2 has been added to the city because of the busy activities going on over on the west side of Rohnert Park. A new fire station and a ladder truck will be situated near the California Highway Patrol office and the casino pays for all of this. Other funding will be going for community investments; such as gains for the school systems and work with non-profits to improve conditions for RP. The RP Health Center now provides counseling and mental health specialists to deal with problems of gaming. The health center also hands out free food and dental and eye care on Mondays.

Leo Tacatta said RP needs neighborhood up-grades and workforce housing. He suggested such ideas as spending 1.2 million for one year, $275,000 a quarter or spend 1.2 million a year for the next ten years. So all of this is important and to make sure city council hears all of your ideas.

Now that all has been said let us get ready to rumble, let’s hear your ideas. All notes will be collected and all ideas will be addressed. 

Peter from SSU wanted improvements to parks and bring back all pools, better bike facilities and bike paths maintained in order to improve transportation around town.

A resident from the E section talked about affordable housing. One of the biggest issues from some residents is, that the city is too slow in deciding a downtown. Since we have a huge student population, how about creating a downtown that includes the younger people. Also why not subsidize rents for existing residents. Why can’t traffic be synched on the Expressway and Golf Course Drive? Some residents brought up the homeless situation, where should they go for hygiene facilities? These were only a few of the many topics brought up by town hall attendees.

Jay from the M Section said developers should waive fees for affordable housing. Many residents also were concerned about crosswalks and stop signs.

SSU students commented on housing, especially for students. Some students are allegedly homeless. The University has a transitional housing program but within four weeks the entire budget of about $18,000 is spent and still experiencing homelessness. Transportation for students should be improved regarding the connections with SMART.

Since Mayor Mackenzie is on the SMART committee, he says he has had discussions with SSU in trying to work out a connection between the campus, Cotati and Rohnert Park stations. We have been working on it for a year and it has not been accomplished. Another thing it seems to be very difficult to get the word out for the community to attend town hall meetings.

City Manager Darrin Jenkins spoke on the city’s current budget. The city budgets more money than ever to improve playgrounds. Before the council next week, will be improving tennis and basketball courts. Jenkins said, “Let’s make this clear. The city is not building a downtown. We are putting policies in place and will do parts of it like the library.” On traffic signals synchronization-that is a concern for us. Probably with additional funds we can purchase a computer that will adjust signals timing in real time.

Affordable housing: Should apartment houses set aside affordable units? There was a court case that said cities couldn’t require anything from apartments. Although some cities can require some units that would be affordable. On student housing one person brought up the subject that with such a large piece of acreage by SOMO Village, why can’t houses be built just for the SSU students? 

Hiring more staff: Once we have committed to hiring people, well, that is a tough one as once we hire them we want to keep them and if the profit from the casino falls then the city is stuck with the bills. You have to decide where to spend the money.

Belforte says there are five of us on council but we have over 40,000 residents and whatever you people say, it carries a lot of weight. Hopefully we will always do the right thing for the community.

Another very straightforward question presented at the meeting, was, when will the Sunrise Park development be completed as promised? What this question is referring to is the city has an agreement with the owner of SOMO Village who agreed to build an all weather soccer field. The agreement as of this moment  is, it would be built at Sunrise Park. Our concern was that there wouldn’t be a follow through so then actually made them promise to give us $23 million so if it is necessary, it will basically be a city project with replacing the soccer and softball field with artificial turf, so it can be a year-round sports arena.

Granny units were also another discussion. What is the policy and how will the permits be doled out? 

The city has a one-page flyer that gives the specs for engineering purposes. Will the city of Rohnert Park ever take up the topic of recreational vehicles on city streets and front lawns? Seeing an RV in spaces that are not built for big coaches is a safety issue and lowers RP standards of living. So the question is-Is the City of RP satisfied with the existing ordinances or should changes be made?

We as a city have to work through all of these ideas and problems and get more involved. If you are interested in parks go to the Parks and Recs department. The council has to have public input so please put in your complaints to the proper departments and attend your council meetings. Meetings are held the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at city hall from 5 p.m. to 11:59. All of the information is on the website and the council looks forward to coming back for another town hall meeting to give you the take on all of these suggestions.