By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Rohnert Park City Council Tuesday installed a new mayor and vice-mayor Tuesday, pairing as its elected leadership a relative political newcomer with a grizzled veteran.
The changes came at a meeting during which residents urged the city to make safety improvements to a Snyder Lane crosswalk where a 2-year-old girl was hit by a car and killed Dec. 2.
The council did not address the residents’ concerns, which were made in the time set aside for public comment, but accepted petitions bearing slightly more than 2,000 signatures.
Mayor Gina Belforte, a two-year councilwoman and last year’s vice mayor, and Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie, a 14-year councilmember, take the helm of a city that faces a $2.4 million deficit and is looking to raise sewer rates that voters rolled back in 2008.
“Unless we address it now it will consume us,” Belforte said of the deficit. “We need to get our fiscal house in order.”
If the losses being sustained by the sewer fund — $10,000 a day, according to city officials — are not staunched, they will “undo the good done by the sales tax measure,” Mackenzie said, referring to a half-cent city sales tax measure voters approved this year.
Those and other challenges — including economic development needs and public pension liabilities — were mentioned several times Wednesday night. But — aside from those residents who spoke about their safety concerns — the meeting was largely ceremonial in nature.
Councilmembers reflected on the year past and the year to come. Councilwoman Pam Stafford, mayor for the past year, was sworn in again following her re-election. In her last act as mayor she nominated Belforte and Mackenzie, who received a unanimous vote.
In other changes, Amie Breeze, an eight-year councilwoman who stepped down, left the dais, and Amy Ahanotu, chairman of the city chamber of commerce and winner in November’s election of Breeze’s seat, took her place.
In her farewell speech, Breeze said: “The rest of Sonoma County envies what we have in Rohnert Park.”
And in his first address to the public from the dais, Ahanotu said the council must focus in part on attracting businesses to Rohnert Park and countering a perception that it is not friendly to commercial enterprises.