Results of a public survey put forth by the Rohnert Park City Council at their town hall meeting Tues. evening implied people believed the city was heading in, more or less, the right direction.
But the opinion was far from universal and not without caveat. In total about 77 percent of respondents felt positively about the city’s direction, which was a 15 percent bump from the same question asked back in 2016. The survey averaged 1,500 respondents taken from Rohnert Park’s population of about 43,000 and covered a wide variety of topics.
“Not a lot of people come to our council meetings, so this is a tool that we can use to have a conversation with them. It’s really them telling us how we’re doing,” Mayor Gina Belforte said.
By far, though, the issue that lay foremost on respondent’s minds was traffic. With the addition of the new University District and the up and coming Station Avenue Project, the city is set to grow quickly, and more people means more cars—all of whom will have to make do with existing infrastructure.
“We just added 1600 homes. Folks said build housing so we built housing,” Vice Mayor Joseph Callinan said. “People have cars. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
With these changes it’s easy to see why traffic might be a hot issue for Rohnert Park. Only 35 percent of respondents rated the city’s traffic flow favorably on the questionnaire. It’s a substantial drop from the 2016 survey which got a 46 percent favorability rating on the same question.
In the minds of many citizens, traffic has gotten significantly worse. So, what does the city plan to do about it?
Well, wider roads would normally be the answer, but those kinds of construction projects are expensive and take years to complete. Instead, Rohnert Park is reaching for low-hanging fruit. According to the City Manager, Darrin Jenkins, the city plans to optimize the timing for the lights on the Rohnert Park Expressway, add a second turning lane to Golf Course Dr., and slowly phase in unprotected left turns throughout the city—that is, turns that yield on a green light. Ideally these small efficiency improvements will alleviate the worst of Rohnert Park’s congestion while the city works on a more permanent fix.
“Traffic is a problem everywhere, not just Rohnert Park. We’re doing what we can to alleviate what we can,” Callinan said. “A lot of it going down the expressway—coordinating all the lights. That’s a big thing. We’re in the process of doing that right now.”
Across the way, Cotati released a similar survey at their Feb. 26th city council meeting. They got extremely different results. Only 26 percent of respondents viewed traffic congestion as a worry. Instead, Cotati seemed focused on housing, with the majority of respondents, 67 percent, rating housing costs as a serious issue.
In contrast Rohnert Park didn’t seem as concerned, despite the two cities’ relative proximity geographically. On the list of important issues, affordable housing ranked 14th behind pothole repair and better dining options.
Traffic, of course, stood at the top.
There could be a number of reasons for the difference between Cotati and Rohnert Park’s responses. Rohnert Park sent their survey through email and the responses skewed towards a wealthier, older demographic; 85 percent of respondents were over the age of 36 and 47 percent made $100K a year or more.
Cotati hired an outside firm, FM3 Research, who started with an email survey request and then shifted to targeted phone calls to fill in underrepresented demographics. According to FM3, their methodology resulted in a more representative survey than email only, though they failed to provide response demographics in their presentation.
Then again, according to Mayor Belforte, the difference could be due to something as simple as culture.
“Cotati hasn’t done an enormous amount of building. Rohnert Park has,” Belforte said. “We have a whole different dynamic.”