The Rohnert Park City Council acted quickly Tuesday to approve an agreement under which the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria will pay the full cost of widening Wilfred Avenue. ‘We will be moving to expedite this project, it’s in the community’s best interest,’ Mayor Jake Mackenzie said following the 4-0 vote. Vice-Mayor Pam Stafford was absent.
The Rohnert Park City Council voted unanimously Wednesday morning to reappoint the three councilmembers running up for reelection, thus cancelling the city’s November council election. Mayor Jake Mackenzie, Councilman Gina Belforte and Councilman Joe Callahan will, barring the unlikely events of early retirement or recall, occupy the dais for four more years.
The three Rohnert Park councilmembers up for reelection this year have taken out nomination papers, indicating their intent to run for another term. No opponents have yet emerged to challenge Mayor Jake Mackenzie, Councilwoman Gina Belforte and Councilman Joe Callinan in their bids for four more years in office. Prospective candidates have until Aug. 15 to file nomination forms with 20 signatures.
An actuary on Tuesday painted an improving picture of Rohnert Park’s financial ability to continue providing medical benefits for retired employees. The city’s unfunded liability has been cut from $53.2 million in February 2011 to $40.7 million now. The unfunded liability is the difference between what the city owes for future medical benefits for retired and existing employees and what it has paid into a trust fund run by the state public employees’ retirement system, CalPERS.
The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria casino resort next to Rohnert Park will be connected to the city’s sewer system under a deal approved by the City Council Tuesday. ‘It is the environmentally superior alternative,’ Mayor Jake Mackenzie said of the plan, which means the tribe will not build its own wastewater treatment plant or dispose of treated water on its Wilfred Avenue reservation.
Wal-Mart may revive a controversial plan to expand its Rohnert Park store with a 32,000-square-foot grocery — a proposal approved by the city two years ago but then stopped in court. ‘We’re evaluating the next steps and working with the city on the requirements established by the judge’s ruling,’ said Wal-Mart West media director Delia Garcia. She was referring to a 2011 decision in which Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau said parts of the environmental report for the project were inadequate.
The head of the Indian tribe that plans to build a Las Vegas-style casino outside Rohnert Park said Tuesday its agreement with the state allowing the project to start will be good in a ‘new and novel way’ for all involved, including the larger North Bay community. ‘We created something that will indeed benefit Indian and non-Indian alike,’ said Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, during a three-hour state Senate committee meeting.
Rohnert Park officials are gingerly exploring the idea of asking voters to extend a temporary sales tax that has been critical to restoring the city’s finances. Rohnert Park residents approved Measure E — a five-year, half-cent tax — in 2010. It took full effect this year and is projected to bring in $2.4 million. It has helped draw down the city’s deficit to $330,000 from $2 million last year.
Divergent viewpoints about the planned Rohnert Park casino were reflected in conversations with Rohnert Park residents Saturday evening, and in more than 60 online comments on The Press Democrat’s website. The pro perspective touted jobs and the tourist money coming into the community, as well as the possibility of a new entertainment venue. But others warned of prostitution, crime, a huge increase in traffic and a Las Vegas-type operation independent of workplace and environmental regulation.
Rohnert Park will finish the second half of the fiscal year in far better fiscal condition than it started, the city’s mid-year budget shows. A projected $2 million deficit has been cut to $333,000 since July, a change due almost entirely to new sales tax revenue and employee wage and benefit concessions.