The February 23 meeting was lengthy. Over four and half hours, the council tackled items pertaining to homelessness, climate change, grant applications and grant programs. Leading off was a Black History presentation by Tina Rogers. Rogers introduced herself as a Sonoma County native who grew up in Windsor and Rohnert Park and described herself as a Multi-Cultural Educator. She talked about the origin of Black History month and its creator. Then she used music, from Gospel to Hip Hop, to demonstrate some of the contributions of African Americans to the United States.
Chief Tim Mattos updated the council on the new Alcohol Offenses, Loud and Unruly Gatherings policy. Passed in September 2020, he provided an overview and current statistics. He reported that it was difficult to compare the impact of the new ordinance because of shelter-in-place and school closures due to the pandemic. Total calls remain similar, but most of the calls in 2020 pertained to social gatherings in violation of health orders, not loud and unruly gatherings. City Manager Darrin Jenkins followed with an update on Phase One of the Flashing Yellow Arrows Traffic Signal project. Six locations are due to commence use of this new traffic light in March. More information on this project can be found at: Traffic Signals - City of Rohnert Park (rohnert-park.ca.us).
A Homeless Services presentation was given by Jenna Garcia, the city’s housing administrator. This was a high-level overview of the problem in Sonoma County, Rohnert Park and Cotati. She explored the “myths” associated with being unsheltered and described the types of homelessness to include temporary, episodic and chronic. Based on the February 2020 point in time count, there were 285 unsheltered in Rohnert Park and Cotati with 33 percent living on the street and another 67 percent living out of the RVs or cars. She also explained the difference between managing and solving the problem. The council made homelessness a top priority in goal setting this January, so this highly informative overview is but a first step. Garcia will be back at the next meeting for discussion and direction of what steps the council wants to take in addressing it. More information is available at: Homelessness - City of Rohnert Park (rpcity.org).
One step the council took tonight was to authorize staff to waive permit fees for a proposed Mobile Shower Unit to serve unsheltered individuals. The Faith Community Church will host the shower unit at their location at 7352 Boris Court. A conditional use permit would normally be required and the fees to review the application for that permit could have run between $4,000-$5,500. By waiving the fee, the city removes a potential prohibitive cost from the effort to provide this service to the homeless. Dozens of residents asked the city to waive these fees during public comment and the council did so on a unanimous vote.
Coming back for further discussion and direction was a Climate Change Emergency Resolution. At the last meeting, some councilmembers asked for a little more time to take a closer look at the resolution. Climate Change Action was another high priority goal for the city this year. As previously reported, it will be addressed in the updated general plan and passing this resolution is another action step in working on this goal. No changes were requested, so the resolution will be part of the consent agenda at the next meeting. Jenkins reported that an initial cost of approximately $200,000 will be required to hire someone to guide the city towards meeting climate change goals and actions. That person will also be involved in providing community education on the issue. The council indicated they wanted to consider a community commission to work with the city on climate change too.
Cindy Bagley, Deputy Director of Community Services, updated the council and recommended the city apply for a “Competitive Grant through the Statewide Park Program” for the revitalization of Alicia Park. She presented the results of community outreach and shared a preliminary rendition of what that revitalization may look like if the grant is received. The submission deadline is March 12 and final approval by the council is expected at the March 9 meeting.
Leo Tacata, a senior analyst for the city, recommended the council consider a Small Grants Program for 2021. This would be the third cycle of these awards which use $100,000 from the Rohnert Park Foundation Board to award up to $5,000 to applicants for one-time projects that benefits the community. 28 projects were selected in 2018 and 26 in 2019. A list of those projects can be found at: Small Grants Awards - City of Rohnert Park (rpcity.org). The council also directed Jenkins place a possible additional grant program for discussion on the April agenda. They want to explore the possibility of larger grants for addressing issues such as climate change and homelessness.