Rohnert Park council details threats over fireworks ban after fire outside councilman’s house
A garbage can filled with fireworks and set ablaze in front of a Rohnert Park councilman’s home late Sunday is the latest in a series of threats made against three of the council’s newest members since March when they first voted in favor of a fireworks ban in the city, the elected officials detailed Tuesday.
The escalating abuse has led the city to involve the FBI, Mayor Gerard Giudice said during an interview Tuesday evening. The latest came in a suspected attack on Councilman Willy Linares, whose garbage can was found packed with fireworks and engulfed in flames July 4.
“No one has ever received a physical threat like this before,” the mayor said Tuesday night after a special council meeting in response to the fire set outside of Linares’ home.
“It’s never escalated to this level. This is absolutely disgusting,” Giudice added.
He said some of the threats, in particular those posted on Facebook from a person who claims to be a fireworks supplier from Arizona, have been reported to the FBI.
In those particular posts, which the mayor said he received on his personal Facebook page, the man threatened to ship “hundreds of fireworks” to Giudice’s neighborhood “to be used to bring a reign of terror down on” where the mayor lives.
Rohnert Park police have also launched a criminal investigation into the trash can fire, which Linares said he discovered around 10:30 p.m. Sunday after he was alerted by a neighbor.
After firefighters put out the blaze, Linares said he saw that many fireworks had been stuffed in the container. He said the fireworks did not belong to anyone in his home and that neither he nor any of his relatives had placed them in the bin.
“Is this payback?” the 36-year-old first-term council member asked in a comment he attached to his Sunday night Instagram post about the fire. “My heart wants to believe this is a coincidence. Regardless, my family was put in danger,” he added.
On March 23, he was among a majority of council members who cast their first round of votes in favor of a ban on fireworks in the city.
On April 27, a subsequent council vote approved an ordinance imposing the ban, but on May 25, the council was forced to shelve the measure after residents presented the City Clerk with a petition calling for the issue to be placed on the ballot.
Rohnert Park voters are now set to weigh the future of fireworks sales and private use in their city in a Sept. 14 special election. In Sonoma County, Cloverdale is the lone other city among nine that allows firework sales.
The question has Rohnert Park residents divided over a ban intended to address chronic wildfire danger and public safety concerns. A number of civic groups and local community clubs, however, rely on annual proceeds from fireworks sales to support their programs.
“I do believe the intent was to let me know that people are not happy with the decision that was made to ban fireworks,” Linares said in an interview. “An action like this sends out a loud message.”
Linares said he has also received multiple messages on social media stating that because of his support of the ban “it’s going to be a war zone in Rohnert Park.”
He said he believes the threats are coming from residents who rely on firework sales to support their nonprofit groups, as well as those who are resisting change in the city.
Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, the mayor added, has been attacked personally because of her support for the ban. Elward, Linares and Giudice form the majority that supported the ban. All were elected in November last year in a transformational change in city leadership, ushering in a more progressive and diverse council.
They have endured abuse over the fireworks discussion from nearly the start, the mayor said Tuesday.
In March, while taking a phone call from “someone in the community” who objected to the ban, the caller began shouting racial slurs at Elward, Giudice said.
The vice mayor, the first Black woman on the council, was raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an African country.
Giudice and Elward came to power after defeating longtime incumbents last year. Linares won a newly created district-based seat without an incumbent.
Councilmember Susan Hollingsworth Adams, who has lived in Rohnert Park for 50 years, condemned the backlash that has been aimed at her fellow council members.
“This horrendous behavior is not a reflection of everyone in the community,” Adams said during an interview Tuesday night. “I’m sad this happened to Willy and his family. No one in our community should have to go through this.”
She and Pam Stafford opposed the fireworks ban.