The city council met in regular session on March 9. The online meeting was a four-hour plus marathon with many topics; but the big story was the 3-2 vote to ban the sale of safe and sane fireworks in Rohnert Park. Tonight was a preliminary discussion as requested by Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, supported by Mayor Giudice at the last meeting. The formal resolution required to ban these sales will be forthcoming soon.
Director of Public Safety Tim Mattos presented the requested staff report. He led off with background information from 2019 and 2020. No staff recommendation was made; however various options were presented for consideration. Three questions were addressed. The primary issue was “Should the City of Rohnert Park allow the sale and use of fireworks this year and/or future years.” Option one was to “Amend the Municipal Code to prohibit the sales and use of fireworks in the city.” The Second option was to “Prohibit the sales and use of fireworks in the city for one year.” The final option was “No change” meaning fireworks sales would be permitted and use would continue.
Extensive public comments were received. The city clerk announced there were 50 total comments with 17 in support of continued sales and 33 in support of a ban. Councilmembers also received extensive input via email, text and social media. This included a letter supporting continued sales and non-profit fundraising efforts signed by two hundred and twenty-seven residents. The council invoked a 30-minute rule on comments, allowing one minute for 15 supporting and 15 opposing comments. Many comments were cut off after the one-minute time limit expired.
The council discussed many reasons for keeping and/or ending fireworks sales. They acknowledged the impact a ban would have on the many non-profits and their fundraising efforts that support schools, sports and other community efforts. These include programs at the high schools, Project Graduation, Expeditionary Learning at Lawrence Jones Middle School and even the Mayor’s own Rotary Club, among others. Arguments against continued sales revolved around impacts to the climate, on residents with pets, those suffering from PTSD or wildfire related trauma. The drought was also mentioned, as was the possibility of a fire caused by members of the public using fireworks. The cost of additional police and fire staffing was raised. However, Mattos admitted that cost was “a wash” meaning that revenue generated by fees and sales tax offset the overtime cost to his department most years.
Councilmembers Pam Stafford and Susan Adams voted for no change this year. Adams felt the city should proceed as they did last year and work with the non-profits this summer when in-person meetings could be held to address fireworks sales and fundraising in the future. Stafford also suggested that the city could close the high school parking lots and city parks this year to reduce their use for fireworks gatherings. That was done for the large commercial parking lot areas last year. Both stressed that banning the sale of safe and sane fireworks would do nothing to reduce the growing use of illegal fireworks in the city, county and state. Giudice, Elward and Councilmember Willy Linares saw it differently and voted to prohibit fireworks sales.
Given the decision to prohibit sales, the next question was whether the city should “Sponsor a Fireworks Show Event.” As Elward said, “if we take something away, we need to give something back.” This decision also had three options. Option one was “sponsor a fireworks show” which may include a festival to provide a fundraising opportunity for local non-profits on July Fourth. Since Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center is planning a “Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular,” the second option was holding the sponsored event on Saturday July 3. The third option was for the city not to sponsor a show or festival. The council members unanimously directed staff to come back with recommendations for a paid professional fireworks event and festival on July 4, 2021. If the event is successful, the city may decide to make this an annual event. City Manager Darrin Jenkins pointed out that planning time was short, and the event may not be feasible in 2021 depending on health orders.
The third issue was whether the city should replace lost non-profit fundraising revenue. Again, three options. First, “direct staff to recommend a grant or service program mechanism or donations to replace lost fundraising revenue through the City of Rohnert Park Foundation” for 2021 only. The second option was to have “some type of on-going summer giving program from the city” which would be considered in the budget process by the city annually. The third option was not to replace lost revenue for non-profits, but to consider other forms of non-direct/non-cash forms of assistance. Giudice supported an on-going effort. The other councilmembers selected 2021 only; but are open to considering it in future years.
In other council news, the mayor recognized “Home Instead” for their continuous support of the Rohnert Park Senior Center. On the consent calendar, the council adopted resolution 2021-026 endorsing the “Declaration of a Climate Emergency” and “Immediate Emergency Mobilization to Restore a Safe Climate.” Also on the consent calendar was Resolution 2021-031. This approved applying for “Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Program Grant Funds.” These would be used for the planned A Section Park development. A public hearing was held to consider approval of a Revised SOMO Village Project and then a series of implementing resolutions and ordinances were passed on 4-0 votes. The mayor recused himself due to financial conflicts of interest. His business is within the scope of the project. Finally, the discussion and direction on options for expanding the City’s Homeless Services was continued to a future meeting due to the length of tonight’s meeting.