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Rohnert Park council approves environmental justice plans

Wanting to mark the current racial and social justice climate and codify a response into the city’s planning document, Rohnert Park City Council members agreed unanimously to create a stand-alone Racial, Social and Environmental Justice segment in the city’s general plan.

The general plan is a 20-year guiding blueprint for the city’s goals that city councils and department heads use to craft and implement programs, policies and growth guidelines.

California state law requires cities to consider their planning policies with regard to racial, social and environmental equity to mitigate damage to disadvantaged communities. Rohnert Park initially satisfied that through its Community Development element in the general plan, but the council wanted to go further.

Tuesday night, the council crafted a sentence — suggested by Council Member Willy Linares — for inclusion in the general plan that states:

“Racial, social, environmental justice for all is an important American ideal. The conversations of ethnic and racial disparities in our country have made it clear that our governments, communities and people need to rededicate themselves and take actions toward creating a culture of belonging, equity and racial justice.”

Linares, who is Latino, and Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, who is the city’s first Black councilwoman, along with Mayor Gerard Giudice, who is white, said it was important for the city to put that idea in writing, to acknowledge the present climate and assure future leaders understand its significance.

Elward said she hopes future readers of the general plan realize the inclusiveness the city is working toward and think “Man, this community really thought of every single person in the community, not just one little bubble.”

Giudice suggested even more specific language in the element’s wording that would require diversity training, as well as the implicit bias and gender orientation sensitivity training it already includes.

The council majority agreed to direct city staff to include those items in the draft element.

One resident wondered why the council raised the issue, though.

Ken Beerman asked whether the council was creating solutions to something that isn’t a problem.

“It seems like we’re tying a racial aspect to our capital projects and I don’t for the life of me understand where the problem is,” he said, “or if we have a problem at all.”

Senate Bill 1000 was passed in 2016 in response to increasing concerns about vulnerable communities that experience disproportionate environmental impacts.

Linares noted planning policies in the past that contributed to inequities, like exclusionary zoning laws and racial segregation, and that it was important to have those conversations today.

City staff members are preparing a full draft of the new element and expect to have a formal version ready for public review next year and eventually for adoption next year.

Power vote

The council also decided unanimously to change the city’s electricity plan with Sonoma Clean Power to one that provides power from 100% local and renewable sources.

The EverGreen plan will cost about $123,000 more per year, Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz said, a cost that will be split between the funds that currently pay for power: the general fund, water, sewer and one other account.

The city now subscribes to the CleanStart program, which comes from 49% renewable sources including wind, solar and geothermal; 44% large hydroelectric sources; and 7% “general system power,” usually natural gas.

The EverGreen program goes further with renewables and produces fewer carbon emissions — and it comes from all local sources. EverGreen consists of 81% geothermal and 19% solar sources, all generated with in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.

Eventually, according to city reports describing the plan, water and sewer rates would be increased to cover the extra costs to the water and sewer funds.

The council voted 4-0 with Linares abstaining because he works for Sonoma Clean Power.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

Lori A. Carter

 Sonoma County courts and Rohnert Park, The Press Democrat

Local journalism is vital to a community's wellbeing, and that means keeping an eye on what happens in our justice system and our communities. I cover Sonoma County courts, as well as the city of Rohnert Park. In my work, I want to share the stories that affect our daily lives and, yes, maybe even rile us up. 

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