October 28, 2021
link to facebook link to twitter

Location for unsheltered in Rohnert Park A HOT topic

  • Even though the special meeting on homelessness was held midday during the week and on election day, Rohnert Park residents filled the council chambers spilling into the lobby to voice their opinions about staff recommendations. There were about 40 speaker cards submitted and due to time constraints, speakers were notified they had one minute each to address the council members. The emotion and frustration in the room was palpable. Photo by Tracy Si

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
September 17, 2021

Due to some unique potential funding opportunities that have looming application deadlines, the Rohnert Park City Council called a special meeting on September 14. The regular meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m., so this special meeting was set for 2:30 p.m. The meeting’s purpose was to obtain direction from the council concerning these opportunities aimed at Short-Term and Permanent Housing to address homelessness issues in the city. One of the council’s strategic priorities established last January was to find ways of helping the unhoused in our city.

As is normal, the agenda with accompanying staff report was published on the city’s website last Thursday. The special meeting was also announced on social media. Part of that report was identification of undeveloped or under used city property sites that could potentially be used to house the homeless. Seven city-owned sites were identified in the report. 1455 Golf Course Drive, more commonly known as Goldridge, was listed in the report. This set social media aflame when residents heard this site was under consideration. This led to a community meeting at the basketball court at Goldridge on Monday night to organize against any consideration of this site for sheltering the homeless. 

Armed with cardboard protest signs and a variety of reasons why this site should not be considered, well over 100 residents crowded into council chambers and spilled out into the foyer. Many were there to be heard. Many were angry. Many were not in the mood to listen to the staff report or discussion. Many were chomping at the bit to get their turn to deliver public comments. Some were there to threaten legal action or a recall effort because this site was under consideration. A few let their anger out in verbal interruptions or other behaviors during the presentation and council members remarks or questions. This despite City Manager Darrin Jenkins starting off the presentation informing the crowd that the Goldridge site is not being recommended to the council.

The crowd started gathering at least an hour before the meeting was to start. In interviews with residents arriving early a few themes emerged. The less angry residents acknowledged housing the homeless was a valid issue; but not at Goldridge. Another theme was the perceived short notice to residents. Darlette Camara, who lives in H Section, attended the Monday night meeting. She said she found out about the issue on her Nextdoor page. She reported that over 100 residents attended that meeting. Many spoke at it including former Mayor Joseph Callinan. Also at issue was the 2:30 p.m. meeting time. Camara said she felt like the city was “slipping things by us.” 

Callinan stated “they need to start representing the people of Rohnert Park. Do they even want a homeless shelter?” Many made clear it wasn’t just Goldridge, it was any residential area. For others, it was no to any shelter. Callinan suggested putting it to a vote like the fireworks issue. Then they could move on to a location if the residents wanted a shelter in the city.

In addition to lack of notice, Scott and Marcia Laube didn’t think the right options were being considered. Marcia said the city needs to “do more research, more homework on options.” As with others interviewed, they hadn’t read the staff report on the city’s website. Many misunderstood the purpose of the special meeting; thinking the council was selecting a site tonight. Jenkins has previously said that the city needs to find additional ways to get the word out to residents. Tonight, was a good example of why that’s important.

At the conclusion of the meeting, five actions were taken. Foremost, the council voted unanimously that Goldridge was not an acceptable site, and they would never support putting a homeless shelter at that site. They also accepted four staff recommendations as follows: 

• They told Jenkins to “pursue Project Homekey and any other available federal and state funding to establish short-term and permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness in Rohnert Park.” 

• Each councilmember provided input on which sites they preferred. The consensus was west of Highway 101 with 6020 Labath Avenue adjacent to Fire Station #3 the most likely spot. 

• They directed city staff to work with Providence Supportive Housing at their property on Medical Center Drive if given that opportunity. 

• Finally, they authorized Jenkins to return with a resolution to approve adding a Code Compliance Officer position to improve the city’s capacity to respond to homeless encampments on public property.

The next city council meeting is Tuesday September 28. Will it be standing room only, now that the Goldridge site is off the table?