Community
July 9, 2020
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Passing the torch for Rohnert Park City Council

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
December 13, 2019

The regular meeting of the Rohnert Park City Council was a lengthy meeting highlighted by the passing of the torch from Mayor Gina Belforte to incoming Mayor Joseph Callinan. Councilman Jake Mackenzie replaced Callinan as Vice Mayor. Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Tues. of each month. Mayor Belforte gaveled the meeting to order at city hall which is located at 130 Avram Avenue in Rohnert Park at the usual 5 p.m. start time. Newly installed Mayor Callinan gaveled the meeting adjourned three hours and twelve minutes later. A reception with refreshments celebrated the change of leadership afterwards.  Mayor Callinan, Vice Mayor Mackenzie and former Mayor Belforte’s terms of office will expire in 2020 unless they run for and win re-election to the city council. 

Another change to the city council in 2020 will be how council members are elected as the city is moving from at-large elections to by-district elections. Tonight’s meeting represented the third in a series of public hearings to discuss and decide potential district boundaries for future elections in 2020 and 2022. You can review the Agenda Item 9A located at: (https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/487172/9A_Third_Public_Hearing_Re_Elections.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3G86vRPnfd5J1vh5_vnbgQfXpiQ7ahlMwkPKJ-6qukbufdKUZ-0kd095A). 

The first two public hearings (Tues., Nov. 12 and Nov. 26) provided an opportunity for the community to provide input to the city council and staff on the potential five districts. Five districts were decided upon in lieu of four districts and mayor at-large election. Eight potential districts have been proposed (Map 101-108) with Maps 101-103 being proposed by citizen input and Maps 104-108 developed by National Demographics Corporation (“NDC”), the demographic consultant hired by the city to assist with moving from at-large to by-district elections. Maps 102 and 103 are deficient in meeting required guidelines for being population balanced and contiguous and thus are unlikely to receive approval in the future. During the presentation tonight led by NDC staff, comments were received from the public and then each council member provided their thoughts. It appears map 104 currently has the most consensus although favorable comments were presented for maps 101 and 106.

The decision timeline shows Jan. 14 scheduled to be the fourth and final public hearing of by-district election boundaries. The final adoption vote is scheduled for the city councils’ meeting of Jan. 28, 2020.  Other proposed maps are still possible, but they must be submitted to city hall no later than Jan. 3, 2020.  “Members of the public can go to the City’s District Election Information page to find more information regarding draft district maps and the transition to by-district elections.” The city must finalize the transition from at-large districts to by-district elections by Mon., Feb.10, to avoid litigation alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).

The other major item (9B) on the council’s regular item agenda was the “Approval of Issuance of California Municipal Finance Authority Bonds for the Benefit of an Ownership Entity to be established by Burbank Housing Development Corporation, in an amount not to exceed $15,000,000 for the Willow glen Apartments Affordable Housing Project in the Southeast Specific Plan Area.” According to the supporting agenda documentation: “In order for CMFA’s bonds to qualify as tax-exempt bonds, the city must notice and conduct a public hearing, also referred to as a TEFRA Hearing, to provide members of the community an opportunity to speak in favor of or against the use of tax-exempt bonds for the financing of the project. Following the close of the TEFRA Hearing, the city must adopt a resolution approving the issuance of the bonds.” The council voted 5-0 to adopt this resolution. There is no fiscal liability by the city resulting from this vote. 

The lengthy meeting was driven by multiple factors to include a large number of public comments.  At least 15 speakers spoke up to three minutes each on a wide variety of topics. In addition, the council’s closed session lasted for over an hour.  Closed meeting agenda items included conference with Legal Counsel in regard to significant exposure to litigation as well as Real Property Negotiations between the city and Laulima Development (Rohnert Park Downtown Projects). When the open session resumed, Mayor Belforte announced there was nothing to report out from the closed session.

Following the closed session, the consent calendar was approved on a 5-0 vote by the council. These agenda items included the following items an Annual Development Fee report (8A), Acceptance of the Vast Oak East Backbone Wet Utility Improvements and Directing Related Actions (8B), various authorizations for leases or contracts (8C-8D) for services and/or equipment rental at the community center; a change of Municipal Code allowing an additional day before water service disconnects due to delinquent payments (8E); changes to City Pay Rates and Ranges as well as Updated Job Descriptions and Salary Ranges for the Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers’ Association (RPPSOA) (8F-8G); Finally the City of Rohnert Park payment of bills (8H) was authorized from Nov. 19 through Dec. 3.

Supporting documents for consent items can be found through links on the city council’s Dec. 10 agenda found on the city website  The were no committee, liaison, or other reports presented although Mayor Belforte gave a short update about the findings of potential criminal liability for the 2018 Camp Fire and the impact that may have on PG&E’s bankruptcy. The staff also discussed with the council setting dates for their annual budget work session in April. 

The final portion of the meeting was the actual passing of the torch from Mayor Belforte to Mayor Callinan. A video was shown presenting a selection of accomplishments for the city in 2019. This was followed by each council person’s reflections of 2019. A common thread was how well the council worked together this year and high praise for city staff especially for the extraordinary effort and dedication of staff during the Kincade Fire in October. 

Outgoing Mayor Belforte during her remarks stated that being a leader is usually a marathon but for her “this year has been a sprint from the very first day.” She also responded to an earlier question from this reporter on what she considered her biggest challenge during 2019. She stated that “dealing with SMART and the lack of concern over the Rohnert Park residents dying at the train tracks” on Golf Course Dr. was her biggest issue to address.

Incoming Mayor Callinan, whose father was present and served as the first Mayor of Rohnert Park, reflected on his pride as once again serving as mayor of the city and following in his father’s footsteps. He also reflected on the city’s efforts to have an all-weather sports field at Sunrise Park located at the corner of RP Expressway and Snyder Ln. being near completion as an achievement. He stressed that having sports and parks is important for our city and that “Sports keeps kids out of trouble.”  Mayor Callinan also provided his vision for 2020. It includes maintaining city infrastructure, moving forward with the Downtown Rohnert Park project, a goal of getting some type of water or skate park or something similar back into the A Section and investing some funds for upgrades into the public courses at Foxtail Golf Club.