October 20, 2021
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Rohnert Park moves forward on Mental Health Response team

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
July 16, 2021

The Rohnert Park City Council returned to chambers for in-person meetings on July 13. The meeting was preceded by a reception in the foyer of City Hall. This meeting was relatively short, lasting about 90 minutes. The main agenda item was a discussion and update on an “Alternative Response Model to Mental Health/Crisis Calls for Service.”

The reception was well attended by friends and family of the council along with city staff and a few members of the public. A reception like this is usually held at the end of December after the November election for welcoming new council members. Because of the pandemic, the reception was delayed. Smiles, hugs, handshakes and fist bumps were all around. Mayor Gerard Giudice welcomed all to this post Covid celebration saying, “We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time.”  Finger foods and cake were served along with coffee and bottled water.

The regular meeting was opened with a round of applause from the standing room only crowd. Many said it was nice to be back, seeing folks in-person. The mayor started off with a proclamation in support of Sonoma County United in Kindness Campaign. Rohnert Park joins the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and other cities in endorsing this campaign which was approved by the supervisors on June 9, 2021. In part it read, “Be it Resolved that I encourage the residents of Rohnert Park and Sonoma County to find ways to foster and sustain acts of kindness throughout the community, in their daily life and activities.”

This was followed by a briefing from Director of Public Safety Tim Mattos on July 4th data to include staffing, calls, and actions by his department. The response calls, debris and structure fires were down slightly but illegal fireworks continued to be a problem. Eleven administrative citations were issued during the holiday, but investigations continue and Mattos said, “there’s other citations out there.” He also said they, “had difficult time navigating the community.”

Ben Adam Climber of Crisis Consulting again returned with Mattos to update the council on the city’s efforts to establish an alternative response model to mental health, crisis calls for service, and homelessness issues not requiring a law enforcement response. The original presentation was made on April 6, 2021, based on the CAHOOTS model that originated in Eugene, Oregon in 1989. At that time, the council expressed interest in pursuing the concept but wanted more specific details. Since then, Climber commenced an analysis of calls for service during 2019 and 2020 to determine if there is a need for that type of service in Rohnert Park and Cotati. His analysis also included estimated yearly costs for such a program if one twenty-four-hour unit with Case Management Support to include start-up costs. The first year estimated was $1,295,174.

However, the City of Petaluma working with Petaluma People Services Center (PPSC) has just commenced a similar service last Friday. Rohnert Park would experience significant cost savings if a regional partnership were possible through PPSC. The City of Cotati and Sonoma State University are also engaged in these discussions. Although no budgetary discussions have occurred, if they too joined the partnership the cost would be even lower. Darrin Jenkins, the City Manager, was looking for direction on whether to move forward with this proposal. He received clear direction to do so.

The next steps include finding a vehicle to use. This is the biggest barrier because of a vehicle shortage nationwide. Once located and purchased, it would have to be outfitted. Also, a scope of work and a Memorandum of Understanding with PPSC needs to be developed. Additionally, identifying office space in the city and sending a funding request to Sonoma County to obtain a portion of the $25 million a year they receive in Measure O Mental Health Sales Taxes is needed. Climber also said possible State and Federal funding is also likely to be forthcoming. The council gave “kudos” to the staff for their effort. Giudice said, “thank you for unity and vision on this issue.”

In other council news, they adopted a policy for Outdoor Display of Flags at city facilities. The Pride Flag can be flown during Pride Month from June 1 through June 15. The Juneteenth Flag can be flown from June 16 through the end of the month. The POW/MIA Flag is authorized to be flown on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Jenkins’ contract as City Manager was approved for another four-year period through 2024 with salary and benefit increases commensurate with raises given other city staff. Finally, Giudice announced the selection of Community Activist Julie Royes and SSU Professor Shirley Johnson to serve on the Climate Action Advisory Committee.