The growth debate in Rohnert Park took to the airwaves Monday morning as city council candidate Dawna Gallagher and former mayor Jimmie Rogers talked about growth in general and the proposed annexation of 80 acres.
The program, “Talk of the North Bay,” hosted by Alan Stock, is a regular morning program on radio station KSRO 1350. The program focuses on Sonoma County issues.
Monday’s radio debate provided a forum to present both sides of one of the central issues in Rohnert Park concerning the update of the city’s general plan to accommodate a proposed development.
The debate was centered around issues of growth in general, as well as affordable housing. But specifically addressed was the 80 acres near Hewlett-Packard that Rogers, a real estate broker, and his partner, developer Art Condiotti, want to build 450 homes on. In exchange for the city annexing the land, Rogers would donate 72 acres on the west side of town.
The debate turned into a confrontation early on though. “Mr. Rogers thinks the first order of business for the government is to help him make a profit,” said Gallagher in her opening statement, adding, “The donation of land on the west side is considered by the state of California a bribe.”
But Rogers defended the donation, noting that he and Condiotti have also donated the golf courses, park sites and money for the Performing Arts Center as well. “If Dawna wants to call it a bribe, then we’re bribing the people of Rohnert Park, not the politicians or staff or anyone else but the citizens, “said Rogers. “We have a track record, we’re not playing with myths here, “he said.
Though Gallagher said the city broke a promise not to update the general plan until 1995, Rogers said that the notion that Rohnert Park would not update the general plan until 1995 is not true.
He read a city memo on the air which states that a general plan review must be done before any land is annexed, but Rogers emphasized that no dates are specified. “I defy her or anyone else to show me anything to the contrary, “said Rogers.
Though she noted that the city could face a lawsuit by the Sierra Club or a similar group, Rogers stated that he is prepared to defend the decision to take the land out of agricultural preserve.
Rogers also noted that he and Condiotti will pay for the general plan update. But Gallagher said that the city cannot legally charge the developers or accept any money for the plan update. She pointed out that an updated general plan along with the recently passed specific plan ordinance must be in place before the city can charge developers.
Both Rogers and Gallagher quoted the survey, but Rogers noted that only seven to eight percent of the people who received surveys responded that they were not in favor of the annexation. Gallagher quoted the survey as saying that 61 percent of the people who responded opposed the annexation, “which is hardly a referendum from the citizenry.”
About 2,000 surveys were returned out of over 14,000 sent out. Rogers indicated that those who did not respond were not necessarily opposed to the project. “Every one of our critics say that Rohnert Park is one of the nicest towns they had ever lived in,” said Rogers. “I think people are happy with the way it has been developing.” Rogers criticized Gallagher, saying that she wants to create pockets of low-income housing that would turn into slums. “She’s gotten the nickname in Rohnert Park as ‘the Slum Queen,” he said claiming that Gallagher wanted to build just low income housing without parks and amenities.
“Instead of having pockets of low cost, what will ultimately turn into slum housing, we’ve chosen to put it into the neighborhood concept, where people will have pride of ownership…” he said, noting that his project’s low income housing will be put into the same neighborhood as more upscale homes. “The responsibility to provide low-cost housing is not the developer’s responsibility.” said Rogers, “It’s society’s responsibility,” he said.
Though the show was to have featured call-ins there was only time for a couple of calls. One caller, Eric Anderson, who once ran for county supervisor, debated with Rogers about the prices of the recently approved low-income housing project in Healdsburg with townhouses being sold for around $124,000, and Rogers’ project, where single family homes will be sold for around $130,000.
Gallagher said afterward that she was glad for the opportunity to really try to pull the whole town out of the rumor syndrome.
“I don’t have any bones about Jimmie Rogers in particular,” she said. “But the citizens are being ignored by the council majority.”
Rogers said he was not especially anxious to be on the show, but he did say it was a good opportunity to defend his project and get his point of view out. “I felt it was time we put our facts out there,” said Rogers. “I just had about all the B.S. I could put up with from her and the Sierra Club,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is build nice homes for nice people.”
Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.