On January 26, 2021, the Rohnert Park City Council adopted ten strategic priorities for this year. At their regular meeting of October 12, that lasted over four hours, they moved forward on some of them. These included Climate Change, Serving the Homeless, and Police Accountability. This article is a summary only. For those desiring in depth coverage, the meeting video and various staff reports are available on the city’s website.
The most controversial item pertained to services for unhoused people. As previously reported, the council voted to apply for a Homekey Program Grant to build and operate an interim housing project at 751 Rohnert Park Expressway at their September 28 meeting. However, tonight they voted to change the location of that project to the 6020 Labath Avenue site. This site previously was considered the second choice but after further analysis by city staff, it was decided the site was better suited to serve the need for interim shelter in Rohnert Park. More parking, existing infrastructure, and a better ability to compete for limited funding were some of the reasons for the change.
But not everybody agrees. Citing short notice and having not been engaged by city staff, the General Managers of the newly built Cambria Hotel and the Fairfield Inn & Suites both spoke at the council meeting. While not against an interim homeless project, they worried about the impact on business and their customers by having it near, and visible from, their hotels. They hoped the council would take a step back to allow more discussion before deciding. Greg Sarris, Tribal Chair of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is opposed to either site. His letter was read by legal counsel at the meeting. Sarris accused Mayor Gerard Giudice of lying to the city council when he supposedly indicated the tribe supported these sites. On behalf of
the tribe, he urged the city council to reject the staff’s recommendation.
In council discussion preceding the final 4-1 vote in favor of moving forward for this site, Councilmember Willy Linares said “our community residents have told us they want us to do something. This is us doing something.” Councilmember Pam Stafford said she would have preferred the Rohnert Park Expressway site but understood why the Labath site was chosen. She was willing to go forward with that site. Councilmember Susan Hollingsworth Adams said she understood the time pressure and was both sympathetic and conflicted. She said however she did “not feel we need to vote on this tonight.” Thus, when the vote was taken, she voted no. City Manager Darrin Jenkins and many councilmembers focused on the “once in a lifetime” opportunity to do this. Jenkins warned that applications for the grant money is on a first come, first served basis as the reason for moving quickly. With this vote, he hopes to submit the application this Friday, October 15.
In other council news, resolution 2021-116 was passed unanimously. This authorizes Jenkins to enter and execute a Memorandum of Understanding with Petaluma People Services Center and the City of Cotati to operate and manage an Alternative Crisis Response Program. This Specialized Assistance for Everyone (SAFE) two-person team is staffed by a medic and a crisis worker. This team will respond to crisis calls for service involving homelessness, mental illness, or substance abuse that do not require a police response. For the first two years, Rohnert Park will pay 84 percent of the program cost while Cotati will fund the remaining 16 percent. However, Jenkins also reported receiving notification of conditional approval grant funding for one million dollars on October 6.
Jeffrey Beiswenger, the city’s Planning Manager, provided a general plan update specifically on the Climate Change Element. This element “has eleven sections that each include goals and policies related to a climate change topic.” Former Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie call this a “very impressive effort.” He complimented the current council saying they were “obviously capable of making decisions and sticking to your guns.”
The council also approved two resolutions authorizing an increase in appropriations and the issuance of bonds to pay off the city’s pension unfunded accrued liability (UAL). These actions will save the city approximately $2,000,000 annually and provide a “gross savings of approximately $50 million in pension costs for the duration of the total amortized UAL.” Finally, Director of Public Works Vanessa Garrett provided an overview of the City’s 2021-2022 Capital Improvement Program Budget and Projects.