Earlier this month the Rohnert Park City Council took two actions that will have important, long-term effects on the quality of life in Rohnert Park. One action will keep us moving toward a quiet zone for the SMART train, and the other will ensure that we continue to have a reliable, safe water supply
SMART Quiet Zone: Many residents say that they don’t like the loud noise when the SMART trains sound their horns. The City Council shares these concerns, and we’ve been working for months to establish a quiet zone in Rohnert Park, as have the other cities along the SMART tracks.
A quiet zone means that trains will not sound their horns when they approach intersections that cross the tracks. In our area, those intersections include East Railroad Avenue in the County, East Cotati Avenue in Cotati, and Southwest Boulevard, Rohnert Park Expressway, and Golf Course Drive in Rohnert Park. While plans are underway to build additional safety measures for these intersections we recently came across some challenges at Golf Course Drive.
The typical safety measures are particularly difficult to construct at Golf Course Drive, so we have been exploring other options. At its May 9 meeting, the City Council approved those options which include installing a median on the east side of the tracks, adding signs to restrict turns, painting “keep clear” on the pavement, coordinating the timing of traffic lights to help drivers get off the tracks when trains are coming, possibly closing or relocating two driveways within 60 feet of the tracks, and approaching SMART about slowing the trains near that intersection.
It is important to remember that quiet zones won’t silence the trains. The trains will continue to sound their horns as they approach and leave train stations, and when train operators see a potentially dangerous situation.
We hope to have the measures in place to establish the quiet zone this coming fall. While they will help with safety, we all need to pay attention near these intersection as there will be fast-moving trains in town.
Water Rates: Rohnert Park residents went above and beyond the call of duty in saving water during the recent drought. I tried to set an example by removing my lawn, as did many other residents. And we benefitted with lower water bills.
However, these lower bills created an unintended problem – while the amount of water residents used and our bills dropped during the drought, the long-term costs to maintain the system that delivers the water, such as pumps and pipes, did not go down. As a result, the city is considering adjusting rates to cover rehabilitation costs for our over 50-year-old system.
Current rates cover costs to buy water and operate the system, but they provide only $300,000 of the $2 million we need each year to preserve our system and to make major capital repairs, such as replacing aging pipes. Thus, the city is considering a capital preservation that we would phase in over six years. This would initially increase bills for average users about $2.50 per month, or 8 cents a day, and our rates would still be among the lowest in the region with water costing less than a penny per gallon.
The city is also considering changing rates to better prepare for the next drought. A temporary surcharge in times of drought would provide funding to deliver water, and would go away when the drought ends. The city would structure the charge so that those of us who meet goals for reducing use would have lower overall water bills than with normal usage. For example, a 10% mandated reduction in water use could result in an 8% surcharge, saving the customer money overall.
I know that some residents question the availability of water to support the building of new homes. Nearly all new development must use recycled water for common areas such as parks and landscaping strips, and have water-efficient fixtures, including showers, sinks, toilets, and washing machines. The city also requires shut-off valves for hoses, and limits the water available for landscaping.
The city will send notices of the proposed rate adjustments to all water customers, and plans to hold a public hearing at its July 11 meeting.