City Council hopefuls Borba, Ahanotu shared similar views on planning commission
By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
They have ended up on opposite sides of the campaign. But viewed through their major votes on the city’s planning commission, the differences between Rohnert Park City Council candidates John Borba and Amy Ahanotu are relatively slight.
Beyond their votes, they share other similarities. Both are white-collar professionals. Ahanotu is a banker and Borba an attorney. And Ahanotu currently chairs the city’s Chamber of Commerce, a post that Borba held in the past.
That’s in sharp contrast to Mayor Pam Stafford, a fitness trainer with whom Ahanotu has become linked through campaign signs, endorsements and fliers, and former City Manager Carl Leivo, a financial researcher, with whom Borba’s candidacy is often identified.
Ahanotu has been on the commission four years, and this is his first run for the council.
Borba first ran for council in 2008, losing by 163 votes. Councilman Joe Callinan then appointed him to the commission.
The five-member commission has taken on three major issues in the year that Ahanotu and Borba, who chairs the commission, have served together.
In February, they voted on a low profile but potentially significant city plan to spend millions in redevelopment funds to alter three of the city’s key commercial strips, including some shopping plazas, to make them more successful.
In April, the commission took up the controversial Wal-Mart application to become a Supercenter store by adding a 32,000-square-foot grocery.
And most recently, in July, the commission voted on Sonoma Mountain Village, a $1 billion Codding Enterprises’ project on Rohnert Park’s southern edge. It is projected to build out to 1,694 residential units by 2022. It also includes 825,000 square feet of commercial, retail and office space.
Borba and Ahanotu went opposite ways on only the first of those votes, a plan called the corridor concept plan and implementation strategy.
It outlined a strategy to boost the commercial viability of State Farm Drive and Commerce and Southwest boulevards. It emphasized improvements to streets, sidewalks and signage, and changes in land-use designations if necessary.
Borba led a majority vote that stopped the plan from moving on, saying it was ill-conceived and didn’t address the north end of Commerce Boulevard, site of a an 8-acre former Yardbirds site.
“It didn’t take into account the interests of stakeholders,” Borba said. “The study was essentially fiction about how Commerce from the expressway south could possibly change if there was money to fund it and if all the landowners agreed.”
Ahanotu argued that the plan would have helped a city rooted in the past transition “into the 21st century” and acquire a greater sense of place.
“I don’t think that should have been killed,” he said.
On the other two issues, both far more controversial and closely followed by the public, the two were aligned.
On Wal-Mart, both were part of a unanimous vote rejecting the retailing giant’s application to expand. The vote made the commission a hero to residents and activists who said the proposal would have numerous environmental impacts and force local businesses under.
“This has been a great exercise in democracy,” Borba said after the vote, acknowledging the overflow crowd, many of whom spoke against the store.
Wal-Mart appealed the vote, which was later overturned 4-1 by the City Council.
In July, the commission took up Sonoma Mountain Village.
Borba was absent from the 3-0 vote (Commissioner David Armstrong recused himself) but has since said he would have supported the project.
Roger Schwanke, the fifth candidate in the race, has run a low-key campaign for about $3,000. As a city police officer who retired after 30 years, he acknowledges that but for people he assisted. colleagues he worked with and criminals he encountered, he is perhaps less known to voters.
“I haven’t held any official city positions like everybody else has,” he said, “but a lot of people on the council haven’t either, before they were on the council.”
He says his years on the job map out how he would handle a job on the council.
“I was dedicated to my job, I did it to the best of my ability,” he said. “I showed up and did the right thing, and I treated everybody with respect.”
He said he would have supported the Wal-Mart project and that one of his priorities as a councilman would be to promote Sonoma Mountain Village for economic development.
Former fire division commander Jack Rosevear filed to run but has not campaigned.
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.