This was the theme that emerged from the Rohnert Park City Council Special Meeting of July 6. The meeting was hurriedly called to pass a single agenda item. That item was a resolution to consolidate the Special Election Measure D ballot question on the same ballot as Governor Newsom’s recall election. Both are scheduled for September 14, 2021. By consolidating Measure D with the recall elections of the Governor and the Sonoma County District Attorney recall votes, the city stands to save money and the voters of Rohnert Park will have but a single ballot to fill out and return. Passage of the resolution was unanimous and non-controversial.
Measure D is asking the voters of Rohnert Park whether the Ordinance (No. 954) should be accepted. That Ordinance, adopted by a 3-2 vote, changed the city’s Municipal Code to “Prohibit the Sale and Use of Fireworks” in Rohnert Park. For many years, that question has been raised at council meetings, but this year the three newest members of the city council voted to ban fireworks. Exercising their rights within the democratic process, citizens who disagreed with their decision, submitted a petition to repeal the ban. This is what led to Measure D and the Special Election on September 14.
Voters who are in favor of banning fireworks are asked to vote Yes. Voters in favor of allowing the sale and use of “Safe and Sane” fireworks are being asked to vote No. It’s awkward verbiage. What a Yes vote means is that the city’s Ordinance (No. 954) shouldn’t be repealed. If it isn’t repealed, the ban again goes into place. A No vote then means the ordinance should be repealed and fireworks would again be allowed and legal in Rohnert Park.
It would also mean the earliest any attempt to ban them by the city council could not occur until the fall of 2022.
The issue has been divisive in Rohnert Park. Social media has been toxic on the issue. Folks have lost friends because they were on different sides of this issue. Both sides have been passionate in their arguments for and against the ban. The discussion has been anything but civil. Threats have been sent to Mayor Gerard Giudice, Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, and Council member Willy Linares because they voted for the ban.
Because of the petition and the special election, the sale and use of legal fireworks were allowed for a few days this July 4 holiday. Many on social media reported having no problems in their neighborhood, while others reported their area felt like a war zone. Illegal fireworks were also present. Claims of a few fires caused by fireworks surfaced. But the fire in the spotlight was the one in Council member Linares’ recycle bin. He and his family didn’t use fireworks on Sunday, but he was alerted at 10:39 p.m. that evening, that his bin was on fire. Fully enflamed, he noticed fireworks had been placed in it. Was this an innocent coincidence or another threatening message being sent because of his vote?
An investigation is underway, but we may never know for sure. But given the verbal abuse and previous emails saying hateful things, it’s hard not to think it wasn’t and is all connected. Including the racial element involved. Both Linares and Elward, the two persons of color on the council, expressed that belief in their passionate comments at the meeting tonight about the incident. All council members expressed support for Linares and his family. As did the mayors of other cities in the county. Council woman Susan Hollingsworth Adams said, “this is not the Rohnert Park I grew up in and know”. Elward said “the entire county is watching” what is happening over this issue. She and Linares both said they will not be bullied or intimidated. They are going to continue to do the work.
They expressed it was okay to disagree with their decisions. They have no problem with the vote being held in September. Linares said it’s okay to use your vote to express that disagreement. That’s the democratic way. But what happened at his home on Sunday night, the safety of his family and residence being threatened, is not okay. And, in one form or another, they all said, “Rohnert Park we are better than this.”