The council held a virtual meeting on August 25. It was again lengthy, lasting over three hours. Most items were discussion and direction to staff. Four items consumed most of the time. The lengthiest discussion involved the introduction of an Ordinance Repealing Chapter 9.48 – “Alcohol Offense/Loud Parties.” It would be replaced in its entirety with a new Chapter 9.48 – “Alcohol Offenses, Loud and Unruly Gatherings, and Social Host Accountability.”
Basically, this replacement gives law enforcement and code enforcement officials of the city better tools when responding to complaints by neighbors about party houses and events. The original ordinance was passed in 1993 and amended in 2013, but the problem has continued to increase. In January, the council directed staff to investigate updating the ordinance with a focus on making enforcement stricter and more effective. They approved the ordinance 5-0.
Outreach was done with Sonoma State students and administration. Although not exclusively the problem, some college students renting in the community while attending SSU are a significant part of the problem. Throwing parties in their rentals, with up to 150 in attendance, many neighborhoods suffered with the noise, profanity, sleepless nights, trash, public intoxication, underage drinking and other disruptive behaviors. Law enforcement was frequently returning to the same houses time after time.
So, what’s new? The definition of a party changed. Before there had to be 10 or more folks present before it was considered a party. The number is now two. This makes the number of people present immaterial. Enforcement will now be focused on the behaviors and situation and not the number in attendance. Any size party that’s too loud, profane, or intoxicated – can get a civil citation. The fine also increased from $100/500/750 to 500/1,000/1,000. One thousand is the maximum fine allowed by law. Property owners are also subject to citation. If their property gets posted (notice), that posting remains on the property for a full year. It used to be 120 days. A property that is posted tends to have a more difficult time attracting new tenants.
Next was a recommendation concerning changes to the roles and responsibilities of Home Sonoma County. This was the chartered county agency, created in 2018, to provide leadership in addressing homelessness in Sonoma County. Prior to that, the effort was led by various non-profits to provide continuum of care efforts. It doesn’t appear to be working and not all voices are represented. Currently the 9-member leadership council includes two from the Board of Supervisors, two from Santa Rosa, one from Petaluma, four members from various Technical Advisory Committees, one of which comes from medium/small cities. So many voices concerned with homelessness in the county are not represented. Rohnert Park is taking the lead and making change recommendations to include having all jurisdictions represented. This more equal representation is needed for division of resources as well as coordinated efforts to address the problem county wide. Councilwoman Susan Adams will represent the city in this Ad Hoc effort with other city councils.
The third item was whether the city should hire a full-time social worker to address mental health issues in Public Safety and Police-Mental Health collaborations. City Manager Darren Jenkins provided an in-depth report for consideration. He listed five different types of programs but recommended a tailored approach to the council. He estimated hiring a consultant would cost between 50-75 thousand. Also, a full-time position and a program he guessed would cost 300-500 thousand per year. The council was clear that yes, they want him and Chief Tim Mattos to continue investigating this option and crisis intervention training for the Public Safety force; but no – they didn’t want to hire a consultant; however, maybe after looking at what the staff develops maybe a social worker hired for the Public Safety Department would be possible. However, they want to get it right and not just rush to a decision.
Jenkins also reported on the fourth item. He advised the city was asked to provide feedback to the county on how to use the $149 million settlement from PG&E for the 2017 Sonoma Complex Fires. He made several recommendations to include using 3 million to purchase Wildland Fire Engines and associated equipment, staging them in key jurisdictions for first response in future wildfires. Also, he recommended, the county move and update the Emergency Operations Center to Rohnert Park since the city appears to be central and relatively safe from wildfires, flooding and other disasters of recent years.