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December 12, 2017
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Vice Mayor Pam Stafford selected as new RP mayor

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
December 1, 2017

After a quick vote and little discussion between Rohnert Park City Council members Tuesday night, it was determined in a 5-0 vote that current Vice Mayor Pam Stafford would become RP’s new mayor for the 2018 term. City council member Joseph Callinan will be taking Stafford’s place as vice mayor after a 5-0 vote between council members nominated and selected him.

The new mayor and vice mayor will hold a one year term, which will start at the council’s first regular meeting on Dec. 12 following a ceremonial changing of the seats and celebration.

This year there were no local elections to choose a RP mayor, consequently, selection of the mayor is determined from hearing public and council member comments and by receiving three affirmative votes from the council, according to the agenda item report.

“None of the city council members were up for election this year since there were no terms ending in 2017, so no one ran in 2017, so we ended up cancelling that election,” explained Deputy City Clerk for RP, Caitlin Saldanha.

For cases like these, the RP City Council Protocol stipulates that, “In years when no members of the city council are to be elected, the city council shall consider the election of mayor and vice mayor for a one one-year term at the second regular meeting in November of each year no later than the succeeding meeting.”  

Stafford was the main choice for mayor as she has held the position of vice mayor for the past year and while there was no discussion or comments by city council members on how Stafford is a good fit for the role, the decision was swift and unanimous by the three other council members and Mayor Mackenzie. 

Perhaps a larger discussion on hand that night was the proposed draft of a town hazard mitigation plan, a year long process of community meetings, map design and planning that lays out the city’s plans for mitigating the hazards of natural disasters.

The plan was passed 5-0 and will aim to “Reduce or prevent disasters, develop actions to reduce or eliminate risk from future hazards events and will implement priorities based on the depth local hazard assessment,” according to the agenda item presentation prepared by City Planner II Zach Tusinger.

To help determine which natural disasters and hazards pose the most threat in RP, the city held a series of community meetings in the fall of 2016.

As explained by Tusinger, initial feedback of what disaster events the community was most concerned about included, “We took the time to listen to citizens to hear what their concerns were and as of October 2016 the major concern for residents was earthquakes, drought and flooding. These are things that are probably in pretty recent memory for various reasons, particularly the concerns were expressed about mobile home parks.”

Having the mitigation plan will benefit the city in the event of a natural disaster, where the city would then be able “to qualify for reimbursement,” Tusinger says. Cities in California are also required to adopt a local hazard mitigation plan. 

Now that the local plan has passed steps to work towards mitigating hazards such as floods, earthquakes and wildfires — which was taken into consideration after the severe October firestorm, include “Continuing regional cooperation, avoiding locating new facilities in hazard areas (such as areas in town that are susceptible to flooding), invest in training and equipment, invest in the maintenance of storm water system, retrofit public areas and facilities, research private (earthquake) retrofitting programs and continue to promote public awareness,” the presentation stipulates.

Other mitigation steps include continuing the use of the city’s recycled water system to help prevent drought and in light of the recent fires, create maps of high risk fire areas, (such as parts of town that are adjacent to Sonoma Mountain) and to assess the impact of landslides and runoff from the fires.

City council member Gina Belforte also recommended that an early warning system of the likes of a raid siren system be included in hazard mitigation. Mayor Mackenzie agreed with Belforte’s suggestion, saying people did not listen to the mandatory evacuation in RP and that the Nixle text alerts aren’t enough.

“I’m in agreement with Council member Belforte in terms of a warning system… Frankly I find myself being informed early in the morning by the city manager and by the department of public safety because I don’t keep my cell phone next to my bed and the warning I got from Chief Masterson didn’t get to me… So that’s number one,” Mackenzie said. “And none of the (Evacuation) systems woke up my next door neighbor and we need to have a very serious change in how we alert people.” 

While an early warning system aligns more with the city’s Emergency Preparedness Plan, Tusinger said this suggestion is something that could be added to hazard mitigation planning.

“That might be something we can look at. I know there has been a lot of discussion on what sort of warnings were given, particularly to people in Santa Rosa and in Sonoma County while the fire was happening, so we can look at that and identify what are the best practices,” he said.

Next steps for implementing the plan involves the required approval of Cal OES and FEMA as well as annual maintenance of the plan so it is kept updated and ready to use. There will also be a thorough fire evaluation and update in 2018 to keep up with the risk of fire, a disaster that is now more pertinent in RP and in Sonoma County.