The July 14 council meeting lasted two and one-half hours. It covered a wide range of items and discussions. Leading off were two presentations. First was a Mayor’s Proclamation declaring July 2020 as “Parks Make Life Better” month. The mayor then presented a “Certificate of Recognition” to departing City Clerk JoAnne Buergler making her an Honorary Citizen of Rohnert Park. It was for “Extraordinary Commitment and Dedication” to the city during her eight plus years of service as City Clerk.
Department Head briefings followed. Mr. Nishil Bali was introduced by City Manager Darrin Jenkins as the new Finance Director. The City Clerk’s Office Update followed. It focused on upcoming November city council elections for District 1, 3 and 4. The nomination period started on July 13. Outreach efforts have commenced and include information on the city’s website. Persons interested in running can also reach out to the city clerk’s office by calling 588-2227 for more information.
Public Safety Director, Tim Mattos, followed with a presentation about fireworks during the July 4 holiday period. Twenty-nine citations for illegal fireworks were issued. This is down from last year when 57 were issued including 18 in commercial parking lots. He said 33 extra staff and one extra 3-person fire crew worked the holiday. The call volume was significantly higher over this 33-hour period than the previous year.
When questioned for his opinions, Mattos agreed there were more illegal fireworks reported and it was worse than previous years. But he also said it wasn’t unique to Rohnert Park. All cities in the county and most areas of the state saw increased illegal firework activity. When pushed on whether banning safe and sane firework sales in the city would make a difference, he said no it won’t have any effect on illegal fireworks. He speculated that the increase this year had more to do with the shelter-in-place health orders as the large public expressions during the holiday were cancelled. Thus, more families stayed home, celebrating in smaller groups.
There was also a discussion about expanding the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP). This program helps homeowners borrow funds to make energy saving improvements. It will now also include Wildfire and Seismic improvements. More information can be found at: https://sonomacountyenergy.force.com/financing/s/. Another change is the fixed interest rate of 7 percent was just lowered to 5.99 percent. For city residents to access the Wildfire and Seismic expansions, the council must modify the existing agreement with SCEIP. The council indicated they would. A resolution to do so is expected to be placed on the agenda.
Jenkins then gave a verbal staff update on the city’s response to COVID-19. He said it’s “not going well.” With the recent closures just announced, he said our businesses will again be struggling. He reviewed those closures as well as the numbers of increasing cases and deaths. He also pointed out that testing continues to be a problem. Although there are two testing sights, one in Santa Rosa and the other in Petaluma, he stated it takes 7-10 days to get an appointment and up to 10 days to get the results. In his view, that’s “not very useful.”
The other big topic of the night was the update on “Community Listening Sessions.” The dates have been set and advertised. They included virtual and in-person meetings. With the recent increases and closure orders, the in-person meetings were in question. There was extensive discussion and back and forth regarding this item. Some thought that stretching out the sessions would be better. Council member Belforte continued to push for diversity training for the council and staff. An open back and forth discussion occurred. There was obvious pressure to move forward as quickly as possible, to keep the promises relating to the Brother’s Keeper Pledge, to ensure that the community knows the council isn’t being silent on the issues, but also to ensure it’s done right.
The bottom line, the first online listening session is going forward on July 22. Jenkins received direction to go forward with all five of the scheduled dates, but not to hold in-person sessions under the current virus conditions. He also received direction to investigate diversity or sensitivity training for the council and perhaps the staff as a parallel effort to the listening sessions. Additional information in Spanish and English can be found at the city’s website under the “Equality Policy and Practice Review” tab. To participate in the virtual meetings, an RSVP is required for security purposes.