New Mayor Gerard Giudice gaveled the first council meeting of 2021 into session on Tuesday, January 12. The three- and one-half-hour meeting was packed full of agenda items. Many of them routine in nature, but not all. As usual, a proclamation or recognition led off. This time it was to recognize and thank Grocery Outlet for their community contributions during COVID-19. The store stepped forward to provide groceries to needy residents and donated to local organizations such as Redwood Empire Food Bank and Neighbors Organized Against Hunger.
Chief Administrative Officer Pedro Toledo of the Petaluma Health Center made a presentation regarding Rohnert Park Health Center. The Health Center in Rohnert Park is a COVID-19 Test Site and is currently experiencing a 30 percent test positivity rate. Nationally, 1 in 4 people meet their medical needs through these health centers. In Rohnert Park it’s 1 in 3 according to Toledo. These centers trace their origin to the War on Poverty’s effort from the 1960s. Fourteen thousand people used the clinic last year, adding 150 new patients, and had forty-five thousand patient visits.
City Manager Darren Jenkins also presented his staff report on the city’s response to COVID-19. This is a regular agenda item. It was a combination of bad and good news. On the downside, the city has experienced an 83 percent increase in confirmed cases over the last four weeks. He advised the shelter in place restrictions would remain in effect for at least the next four weeks. To relax those restrictions, the county would have to be under 7 cases per 1,000 population. Currently we are experiencing 33 cases per 1,000 population. Vaccines have started in Rohnert Park but only for health care workers.
The good news relates to funding. Jenkins discussed Federal and State efforts on stimulus money, expanded unemployment assistance, another round of paycheck protection loans, funding for rental assistance and grants for small business. He outlined what the city has done to get that word out to residents and businesses. He also presented the results of the recent public survey on how residents are being impacted by COVID-19. Generally, most residents are doing okay so far.
Two items concerned giving staff directions for future planning efforts. One was setting Budget Work Sessions for the next fiscal year. These would be held on April 12 and 22. The other was on the city’s General Plan Update. Direction was given to the City’s Planning Manager that the council wants to emphasize Climate Change by having a blended approach in the plan. That means they want a separate element on climate change yet continue to have that issue addressed in other elements too. Vice Mayor Jackie Elward and Councilmember Willy Linares also requested a Climate Emergency Resolution and a Climate Commission be put on a future agenda item for consideration.
Significant time was spent on Resolution 2021-007 and related Public Hearing. It involved an “Update on SOMO Village Project.” Under consideration was approval of a Large Lot Tentative Map for the project. The project was approved back in 2010 but hasn’t moved forward. The change to the map would somewhat reduce the number of housing units, significantly reduce commercial space square footage, expand park and open space areas, provide for a new fire station and get the project underway finally. Mayor Giudice excused himself from this portion of the meeting because of a conflict of interest. He has financial interests within the project’s boundaries. There was some negative public comment during the hearing expressing concerns over building housing, increasing traffic, and changing the nature of the surrounding neighborhoods; but council members pointed out that this project has been underway for years, the developers already had permission to build and that this approval was an improvement over what was previously allowed. The resolution passed on a 4-0 vote.
The final items were actions typically seen at the beginning of the year. They included acceptance of appointments made by Giudice, Elward, and Linares to various boards, committees and commissions such as the Senior Citizen’s Advisory Commission or Mobile Home Rent Appeals Board. The appointments expire on December 31, 2024. Planning Commission appointments by Giudice, Elward, and Linares were also approved by the council on a 5-0 vote. One vacancy for the Building Appeals Board was left unfilled. The city will reopen that position for nominations to fill it. Finally, Giudice’s appointments to city council sub-committees, liaison assignments, and outside agency appointments for 2021 were reviewed and approved.