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August 3, 2021
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RP City Council remains divided over fireworks

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
April 16, 2021

Councilmember Susan Hollingsworth Adams was quoted by Mayor Gerard Giudice as saying the council is more united on issues than divided. Banning fireworks and what to do about supporting non-profits selling them is an exception. At their April 13 regular meeting, the city council spent most of their time on these issues. 

The first thirty minutes included two proclamations and a Sonoma State University student report. Jessica Stillman of Verity accepted the council’s proclamation “April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.” Verity, founded in 1974, is a non-profit. Their vision is “to prevent sexual assault;” “to become a central source of assistance” for assault survivors. Their 24-hour crisis line is (707) 545-7273. Next, Adriana Ames from the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC) accepted a proclamation that recognizes April as National Fair Housing Month. Emily Ann Miller and Yeymi Perez presented the SSU report.

Next discussed, was a replacement funding program for Non-Profit Fireworks Booth Operators. Leo Tacata, Senior Analyst for the city, provided the council an extensive overview of possible options to replace loss funding due to banning fireworks. This was in response to the council’s previous direction to explore options using the Rohnert Park City Foundation grants program. Tacata was seeking council input to finalize a program for approval. He based his funding options on sales tax data from 2015-2020. 

Options were based on the 17 non-profits that sold fireworks in 2019 and 14 who did so in 2020. His analysis included that 50 percent of sales went to wholesaler. After expenses such as credit card charges and insurance, estimates were that non-profits realized 42 percent of sales as profit. First option was using annual average revenue of $235,695. Next, a make-whole option based on 2020 revenues would be $293,695. But he said 2020 was an exceptional year, so the other option was to use the 2019 figure which was $193,922. Staff recommendation was to have a 1-year grant program with the 17 permit holders from 2019 eligible to apply based on the average annual revenue formula from 2015-2020.

Even though the council asked for these recommendations, surprisingly they were divided. Councilmember Pam Stafford said, “I don’t agree with any of this.” Her reasoning was they’d just be rewarding the folks who chose to sell fireworks to raise funds. Councilmember Willy Linares put forth a motion for a five-year plan. After much discussion and some amendments, his motion passed 3-2 with Hollingsworth Adams and Stafford voting against. So, direction to staff was to come back with a program that uses 2020 revenue figures and allow the 17 non-profit permit holders from 2019 to submit applications in year one. Linares said “it would feel unfair” to do anything less. Thereafter any Rohnert Park non-profit could apply.

Hollingsworth Adams explained her opposition saying “I am loathe to take” this path because there are 134 non-profits in the community, not just those that sold fireworks. They too couldn’t fundraise normally in 2020. Her preference was to have a grant program with a larger cap of say $500,000 and a maximum award of $15,000. Allow all Rohnert Park non-profits to apply, even if the city put their thumb on the scale when the application came from those that sold fireworks. The mayor however said he was “a man of my word” and he thought “it’s the right thing to do.” He also said he’s working with various foundations involved in youth and sports for future funding. He hopes to report out more in a few weeks.

Then they shifted to the actual ban. Ordinance No. 954 was introduced by title only and the first reading was waived. This would repeal and replace Chapter 9.49 of the Municipal Code and would thus prohibit the Sale and Use of Fireworks in the City of Rohnert Park. The community, like the council remains divided. 28 public comments were submitted with 15 against and 13 in support of the ban. Hollingsworth Adams’ motion to not change the code this year, supported by Stafford was again defeated on a 2-3 vote. Linares’s motion to approve Ordinance No. 954 was passed on a 3-2 vote with Hollingsworth Adams and Stafford opposed. The final approval is expected to be presented at the April 27 council meeting.

Then an overview of the redistricting process was presented. 2020 census data is expected to be released in September. The city will use that data and to adjust by-district election boundaries. This must be done by April 2022 for elections in November 2022. Although the city just went through this process in 2019-2020, the maps were based on 2010 census data. Redistricting is required every ten years by law when new census data becomes available. After presentations by Wagaman Strategies and Tripepi Smith, staff was directed to retain these two companies for the upcoming redistricting effort.

The final non-routine agenda item was discussion on the planned Southwest-Commerce Roundabout Landscaping Project. Deputy City Engineer, Vanessa Garrett gave the staff report laying out three different landscaping concepts under consideration. However, the recommended option was a hybrid involving an Oak Valley tree in the actual roundabout and California Cultural flowers and bushes elsewhere in decomposed granite and boulder ground cover. Both are drought tolerate and low maintenance. Council concurred with the recommendation.