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RP Council talks about fast trains and lawsuits

By: Irene Hilsendager
October 25, 2019

Attending the Oct. 22 council meeting was a little alarming. The room was tumultuous for at least fifteen minutes while concerned parents, siblings and friends were lamenting the loss of their son and friend, Branch Ross. The council finds itself constrained when public comments are made. Each councilmember has a heart but when is the response proper? The council after consulting with City Attorney Michelle Kenyon, said they would think about an appropriate response.

Rohnert Park Mayor Gina Belforte pled with city council to plan to send a letter to SMART requesting the agency show its trains through an intersection where five people have died and one just recently; however, the city council rejected Belforte’s justification for the letter. 

Councilmembers Callanan, Adams, Mackenzie and Stafford did not agree on the speed of the train as a great factor in the accidental deaths.

Councilmember Jake Mackenzie said he would like a lull in the discussion of deaths at the Gold Course Dr. crossing until spring after a study comes back. Jake said, “I still do not believe that the slowing of the train is a resolution. There should be a formal discussion between the City of Rohnert Park and SMART to make sure that the ultimate in safety precautions are available at the three grade crossings going through Rohnert Park.

A Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman sent a letter to Rohnert Park earlier in the month threatening to sue under the state’s 2001 voting rights law as Rohnert Park was hand-picked by lawyers threatening to sue Rohnert Park if it does not make the switch from at-large elections to district-based races for city council.

The attorney stated at-large voting violates state law because it limits racial minorities’ ability to elect representative candidates. Shenkman requested an answer from Rohnert Park by Nov. 26 as to whether it will consciously make the change or expect to face a lawsuit.

The received letter in part reads “voting within the City of Rohnert Park is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution. We urge the city to voluntarily change its at-large system.”

Darrin Jenkins, Rohnert Park City Manager said it would consider the change to its voting process for its 2020 election. He added if the City of Rohnert Park moves to district boundaries, the process to decide the district boundaries will be conducted in the open with our residents providing input. In Jenkins written statement he says, whether elected at-large or from districts, I am confident in the Rohnert Park City Council’s continued ability to effectively lead our “Friendly City”

Rohnert Park officials said they have been bracing for the legal threat. Councilmember Mackenzie said “I’ve been anticipating that Rohnert Park would receive such a letter for at least a couple of years. It’s no surprise. I honestly don’t see us mounting a successful challenge, but whether or not we would attempt to do that obviously is a question for the council and that is one we cannot predict.”