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September 25, 2020
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RP Council looks at serious close-to-home issues

By: Lanny Lowery
August 16, 2019

Presentations, discussions and public comments of several serious issues challenged the Rohnert Park City Council at the Aug. 13 city council meeting.  Jes Slavik presented the Laulima Downtown project status.  The staff and experts on wired and wireless broadband communications discussed 5G technology.  Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz and his assistant, Jenna Garcia, delivered a comprehensive look at the City’s efforts to respond to homelessness.

The evening began with the Mayor’s Certification of Recognition.  Officers Kieran Keaney and Mike Bacigalupi were honored for their heroic actions in the rescue at the pond of Las Casitas Mobile Home Park.  They answered the call from their homes when they heard that an SUV was submerged in the pond with a woman and two children.  First on the scene, they removed their police equipment and jumped into the pond to pull all three to safety.

Then the first of three lengthy presentations began as Jes Slavik, Laulima Director of Planning and Design, gave an update on the downtown project.  He talked about the current status as he described the Station Avenue property on the former State Farm site, and he reviewed the history of the project.  He reminded the Council that there would eventually be 140 retail outlets and 130 offices at Station Avenue along with 460 residential units.  And he mentioned that the project would generate 1980 permanent jobs and 3390 temporary jobs during construction.

Slavik went on to discuss rising costs and the need to revise completion dates.  The largest of these costs would be connected with infrastructure, especially concerning streets, utilities and parking.  He said that they would recalculate the construction schedule and get back to the city council.

City council members expressed concern about the current appearance of the site as they had received many queries and complaints from the public.  Joe Callinan registered his disappointment with the destruction of the redwoods and the creation of an eyesore.   “I hope we see something soon although it is not close to opening.  Now we see crap; it was an absolute butcher job.  Do your best to make it presentable.”  Susan Adams compared it to a bad haircut.

Laulima responded that a landscaping crew would be at work the next day.  Results should appear in the near future, within a week or so.

All of the items on the consent agenda passed with little discussion.  The ten items were business as usual adopting two resolutions, accepting reports for bills, approving minutes, five authorizations for the city manager and an adoption of a resolution to approve plans for sidewalk and driveway improvements.

Prior to closed session, during public comment half a dozen citizens discussed the Wroth lawsuit connected with the death of Branch Wroth.  Many called for a public safety oversight committee.

After closed session, the council reconvened with no comment about the conference with Legal Counsel on an issue described as “Significant Exposure to Litigation.”

Then a lengthy presentation about wired and wireless broadband communications ensued.  

After a review of the five generations of wireless, 5G technology, supposedly better technology, was discussed.  The presenter maintained that it would be faster, better and cheaper, dense supplying network with greater capacity and enhanced service.  Zoning codes controlled by the federal government leaves little for the cities to regulate was implied.  Some council members expressed concern about the size of devices on poles.

David Molidor, a Rohnert Park resident, registered his concern that there has been no long term testing done.  The council needs to be aware of the dangers of 5G technology.  He asserted that people have been injured by this technology with exposure to energy.  He encouraged everyone to research 5G effects and attend a presentation on Sat., Aug. 17 at the Rincon Valley Library at 2 p.m. to learn more.

The council spent the majority of the meeting listening to a presentation about homelessness and what the city might do about this problem.  Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz and his assistant, Jenna Garcia, gave a comprehensive slide presentation about a variety of things related to homelessness.  

They began by reviewing the background.  Schwartz said this was a complex issue involving high housing costs.  Other factors linked with mental health, drug addiction, and low wage jobs.  He concluded that cities alone cannot solve the problem.

Homelessness quantified in the county shows 2,951.  87 percent of these people are from Sonoma County.  89 percent of these people would accept some form of housing.  The homeless population of Rohnert Park has increased from 66 in 2014 to 173 in 2019.

Schwartz then tackled what the city is doing about this.  In July overnight parking was banned from five public places.  Creek patrols, management of vegetation and clean up for health and safety are priorities.  Public safety to prevent high risks is needed.  Costs for encampment clean up are budgeted at $160k, vegetation maintenance at $120k and creek patrols at $36k.

Much discussion was focused on COTS (Coalition on Temporary Shelter).  This provides long-term temporary supportive services or moving expenses.  Schwartz and Garcia discussed many things that the city is doing, including adding and retaining affordable housing.  The good news is that there is a large increase in state funding.  

A homelessness roundtable could bring communities together to face this wide challenge as this issue requires a community response.  Other recommendations included more access to beds and shelters, permanent supportive housing, landlord incentive funds, donations of furniture and appliances and safe parking areas.  The mayor was encouraged to sign a letter regarding the “Right to Shelter.”

Five members of the public responded.  Steven Keith recommended that the council give direction to the staff as he said, “What bugs me is not having direction or purpose.  People need to have both.”  Jim Duffy put some of the problem at the hands of the council for passing the no overnight parking regulation.  He claimed that people were forced into the neighborhoods with the closure of the Roberts Lake Park and Ride to overnighters.  “We need to create space for homeless people to park.”

Adrienne Lauby told the council, “Thank you for having this discussion.  Offer an RV site that could be permanent supportive housing.  Work with churches and other institutions.  Set aside a city parking lot.”

Council members responded positively.  Pam Stafford favors piloting shelters, donations, safe parking and legal funds to help the homeless.  Susan Adams stated that she supports shelters, safe parking and the program with COTS.  Jake MacKenzie praised the staff report that laid out the issues.  He endorsed many of the ideas embraced by Stafford and Adams.  

Joe Callinan was especially concerned with health and safety issues.  He said, “We should help those that want it.  Others just want to be left alone.”  He totally disagrees with the safe parking idea.  “You’re just creating a problem.”  He thought it best to begin with the pilot of the four-bed program before expanding to twelve beds.

Mayor Gina Belforte questioned, “Are we using shelter beds wisely?”  And Don Schwartz replied, “I seriously doubt that we are using the beds in the best way that we can.”  Belforte followed this with definitive purpose:  “We need to get as many in beds as possible.  I don’t know why we wouldn’t go for the expansion.  We should do better and we can do better.”

COTS employee Cecily Kagy affirmed that homeless people do want help.  “A lot of our homeless want to change.  At a shelter they will have more services.”  And Kagy’s director and coordinator of COTS stated that housing must come first.

The city council directed staff to expand the plan and look into safe parking.

The work of Schwartz and Garcia, research and presentation, was first rate and their recommendations suggest that Rohnert Park can and will be active in helping the homeless.  Schwartz plans to follow up the presentation with information available to the public both online and in his Community Voice column.