July 25, 2017
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Jud Snyder
New ‘Quiet Zones’ due? & cheers to MOU
July 13, 2017

I SEE COTATI’S CITY COUNCIL is considering an ill-timed pursuit of that elusive euphemism “quiet zones.” They are not the only city in Sonoma County doing the same thing. There was a complete article by Community Voice reporter Katherine Minkiewicz recently who covered the story. 

It seems this ghostly euphemism has a superlative way of life for it keeps popping up like a beach ball in the California surf. It’s ghostlier than the Petaluma River jellyfish.

Minkiewicz did a thorough job but we wonder why nobody on the Cotati City Council called on Sonoma County Second District Supervisor David Rabbit for his opinion. Whenever this issue is raised in his district Rabbit is quick to remind his clients that quiet zones set up by cities are illegal. For you’re in conflict with a massive bureaucracy called the Department of Commerce in Washington D.C. which has a Deptartment of Transportation under its protective wing and this smaller agency has decreed the commute train locomotive engineer is the only one who can say where or when the whistle and bell can be turned on for he or she has the best view of what lies ahead on the tracks. At least it’s the law the last I heard. We got the word from Second District Supervisor David Rabbit whose territory includes practically all of Cotati. Petaluma tried to do this and Rabbit had to remind them this city-style tactic is still illegal. Rabbit’s Second Supervisorial District includes the unincorporated county lands west of RP and the Graton Casino. I don’t think anyone back in Washington tried to sneak an item like this through Congress.

But there is federal approval for quiet zones along the SMART commute train route. A report from Mary Grace Pawson, RP’S director of development services, says “Federal railroad regulations allow local agencies to establish ‘quiet zones’ that limit the use of train horns within  their jurisdiction.” So something is going on back in Washington to alter regulations for noisy SMART train signals. What the changes will be we have no idea. If the federal government’s Dept. of Transportation allows “quiet zones” from the Sonoma County Airport down to northern Marin County combined into one all we can do is wait until we see the final document. Pawson’s report is written in pure city hall-speak and is difficult to translate into newspaper reader-speak and TV pundit-speak. The four-day Independence Day weekend didn’t help at all. Weekly newspaper deadlines are unchangeable. 

WE DIDN’T THINK WE needed any help from Washington to find the name of Betsy Strauss, the lawyer from Napa who was Rohnert Park’s city attorney during the public hearings for the Graton Casino off the northwest corner of RP. We had lunch with RP’s first mayor and first City Manager Pete Callinan at Marvin’s restaurant in Cotati and he remembers Betsy Strauss and former city manager at the time Carl Leivo, also remembers her.

This was the day when a public hearing was supposed to be held in RP City Hall but city hall was packed with mostly residents protesting “a casino in Rohnert Park” and this false connection still exists with many newspaper writers and TV pundits. So the city moved the hearing to Spreckels Performing Arts Center. The big theater was at least two-thirds filled with mainly protestors.

Betsy Strauss was there, of course and she drafted the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) to present to the full city council at their next meeting. 

THE CITY RESPONDED with more protests and they collected enough signatures to put the Graton Casino on a recall election against RP City Councilmembers Amie Breeze and  Armando Flores. They both easily beat down the recall attempt.

After two terms, Breeze moved to Sebastopol to set up her own education business; Flores retired, moved to Sacramento and has the big meeting room in the RP Cotati public library named after him.

What we do have from RP City Manager Darrin Jenkins is a five-year Casino Mitigation Report. It shows the latest report on the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria telling us in the years from 2012 the casino has contributed $35,7 million to Rohnert Park, These funds have paid for extra police officers for casino duty, design of a new Public Safety building close to the Highway Patrol headquarters on Labath Avenue, a new fire truck and staffing costs when it opens later this year. It also paid for another season of shows at Spreckels this season and next, of Spreckels Theater Company in the performing arts center.

The report has six pages of single-spaced copy with a detailed list of MOU contributions,

The MOU report Jenkins gave the city council, but nowhere was any credit given  during all this to Betsy Strauss, the attorney from Napa who was RP’s attorney and gave her analysis of the MOU to the city council. Her work opened the door for a modern version of city-tribe relations.