Rohnert Park turns 50

  • Vern Smith, right, served on the first Rohnert Park city council from 1962-76, while current city councilwoman Gina Belforte began serving in 2008. Rohnert Park is celebrating its 50th anniversary on Saturday.

As it turns 50, Rohnert Park still outwardly resembles the vision that led to its creation in 1962: A tightly planned suburb of look-alike neighborhoods, each with its own school and small-town amenities of parks, pools and convenient shopping centers.

"What hasn't changed is the city structure that we put together, the governmental structure and the neighborhood services," said Vern Smith, a member of the first City Council and the city's second mayor.

Change is under way in the form of major development projects on the city's south, east and west edges.

"We are kind of evolving into the second phase of cityhood," said Councilwoman Gina Belforte, a 27-year resident.

But clear strains of post-World War II social dreams still mark the rhythms of life in the city of nearly 41,000 people as it celebrates its half-century Saturday with a full day of activities.

"I love Rohnert Park. I graduated from Rancho Cotate High School 30 years ago, and I still have lot of classmates around town," Brenda Boddy said.

"I got to see them become adults and have children and, in some cases, unfortunately, go through grief. To experience life. To me that's small-town America. I hope that everybody could experience that," she said.

<b>Big changes coming</b>

Today, however, Sonoma County's third-largest city is in a state of flux more urban than suburban, with its future likely to turn on elements unimagined at its start.

Next to a rail line that will carry the SMART commuter train now in development, a 33-acre office park vacated last year by State Farm Insurance holds out the prospect of a true downtown, something Rohnert Park's founders, to the chagrin of many later residents, omitted.

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