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Preserving Rohnert Park's Potential

Author: Mayor Tim Smith
May, 2006 Issue


Pol_Biz_T.Smith.jpg It’s an honor to be Mayor of Rohnert Park for 2006. On the evening I became Mayor, my acceptance remarks concluded with the following statement: “I see opportunities for future growth of business and residential mixed-use areas which will be designed and built to incorporate a more sustainable lifestyle for generations to come.” This article provides me with a welcome opportunity to expand upon that statement.

During the many years I’ve lived in Rohnert Park, it’s been the perception of many that the city’s growth has been out-of-control. While growth spurts have occurred from time to time in the past, our current situation is a city of approximately 43,000 residents within less than seven square miles. This reflects a population density that is the highest of any municipality in Sonoma County while also boasting the most parks and recreation land per person.

In 2000, Rohnert Park voters approved Measure N, establishing market-rate residential construction limitations by restricting growth to 1 percent annually and adopting an urban growth boundary to clearly delineate the potential extent of our city limits. Our general plan was also adopted that year. Together, these tools provide us with a road map for controlled, manageable expansion of our city until 2020.

Since the 1990s, growth in Rohnert Park has been relatively slow, with construction of our few market-rate residences being well below the 1 percent per year limitation. Meanwhile, infill affordable housing construction has exceeded our expectations as we work to meet the goals of our community with respect to housing needs for moderate, low and very low income households. For example, later this year, I look forward to participating in a ribbon cutting at the Burbank Housing apartment and commercial mixed-use development on City Center Drive near our beautiful library.

In the next few years, this whole area of our city will continue to be revitalized as the Community Plaza (now in its design phase) is constructed for the use and enjoyment of all. Residents are encouraged to fully participate in assisting with the design of this vital community asset by attending workshops that are being planned over the next several months. These will offer an excellent opportunity for everyone who wants to involve themselves in shaping the future of our city center. Information about this and other projects for our city’s future will be made available on our website at www.rpcity.org.

Among many city-sponsored projects, perhaps the most notable is our new City Hall. We purchased an existing office building at 130 Avram Avenue and are currently designing its retrofit, using green building principles. We expect to get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification for demonstrating our environmental stewardship through the incorporation of energy efficiency, such as solar power, into its design. Rohnert Park General Fund budgets will benefit from our City Hall project since future operational expenses will be less than if we simply maintained the status quo. At the same time, our quality of life will be enhanced by our adoption of more sustainable practices, which will reduce greenhouse gases and our reliance on the power grid.

In addition, at the Community Center Complex, our Callinan Sports Center will soon be re-roofed, with solar panels being added to the expansive south side of the structure. Much of the electricity needed to operate the entire Community Center Complex will be generated on-site upon completion of this project.
While the City of Rohnert Park is justifiably proud of its efforts to implement sustainability into its operational practices, there are businesses within our city that have led the way. Blake’s Auto Body and Double Decker Lanes already have solar panels on their rooftops. Sonoma Mountain Village, the redevelopment proposed by Codding Enterprises at the former Agilent site, will have a 1-megawatt solar electric power system—enough power to serve up to 750 households. While any approvals for this mixed-use project will, of course, require full review by the City of Rohnert Park, I am impressed with Sonoma Mountain Village’s thoughtful concept as well as the environmentally focused components incorporated into this proposed community.

Within our urban growth boundary, to the east of our existing city limits and north across Rohnert Park Expressway from the soon to be constructed Green Music Center of Sonoma State University, is the University District Specific Plan Area. As I prepared this article, the environmental impact report for this area was being finalized for presentation to the Planning Commission, followed by the City Council. If approved, this area could soon be annexed to the city for development. The University District Specific Plan is proposed to include more than 200,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, with living space above, surrounding a plaza that’s connected to additional residential development by pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly pathways through a linear park and alongside the creeks. It’s anticipated that, if approved, the University District will offer many amenities to encourage vibrant interaction among city residents and the Sonoma State community. While vehicle traffic will be present, our current guidelines and regulations do not encourage it.

Sonoma State University has grown alongside the City of Rohnert Park. It’s an excellent institution of higher education where I have taught and from which my daughter, Megan, will be graduating this Memorial Day weekend. When the Green Music Center is completed, it will provide yet another wonderful performing arts venue, in addition to the Person Theatre of Sonoma State University and Rohnert Park’s Spreckels Performing Arts Center.

While our relationship with Sonoma State University is generally good, its recent proposal to build faculty and staff housing outside the urban growth boundary of Rohnert Park, on land designated in the Sonoma County General Plan as open space, is unacceptable to me. The urban growth boundary, as adopted by Rohnert Park voters, must be respected, and I will continue to work to confine development within it.

As Rohnert Park develops sustainably by using available infill areas and sensible annexation opportunities within our urban growth boundary, I’m encouraged by the wonderful future offered to all in our friendly city.

Tim Smith is Mayor of Rohnert Park and an attorney with the Santa Rosa law firm of Lanahan & Reilley. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.


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