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Rohnert Park Ripples by Jud Snyder - October 2016


Rohnert Park Ripples by Jud Snyder - October 2016

By Jud Snyder

Off-sale liquor licenses hit a hurdle

The huge Oxford Suites Hotel located near the Home Depot hardware outlet wanted a license to sell beer, wine and liquors on an off-sale basis. When we say “off sale,” it means the hotel can sell booze to anyone who walks in, by bottles or cans, drop ‘em in a paper bag and walk out. Rohnert Park’s Planning Commission approved this but it turns out the RP City Council must approve it to make it legal, but the council rejected the hotel’s request.

The council did this at their Sept. 13 meeting. There are several complications to this and they probably only add to the confusion of an average newspaper reader seeking an answer to the impact of this decision by the city council.

Most of the answers are in a staff report from Mary Grace Pawson, director of development services, and Planner 1, Zach Tusinger. Oxford Suites already has one type of permit to sell beer, wine and liquors to hotel customers in a bar they were granted before the hotel was built.

Now they want a Public Convenience and Necessity (PNC) to sell-sale liquors in a small gift shop the hotel has. Pawson’s report recommended turning down this request and the council agreed. Tusinger prepared the staff report and pointed out off-sale liquors are already sold at two gas stations that have grocery marts attached located nearby. One is only 500 ft. to the east of the hotel. He also cited WalMart, about 1,000 feet to the north with shelves of beer, wine and liquors.

Included in Pawson’s report was a memo from Director of Public Safety Brian Masterson noting the hotel is in a “high crime area,” although he didn’t cite any examples. He didn’t have to. The hotel is part of the Graton Casino project and the incidence of auto thefts, auto burglaries, drug dealing, minor thefts and assaults in the casino’s parking lot always call for extra police officers on duty.

Another element to toss into the mix, California has a Moratorium on the books restricting off-sale liquor licenses and most of the counties have subscribed to it, including Sonoma and Marin. Even San Francisco has signed up, but not Los Angeles County. Another non-signer is Solano County, Sonoma’s neighbor to the east.

Biggest problem for any sort of PNC is illegal sales to minors, either lying about their age, or bearing bogus driver licenses, or having adults buy liquor and then giving it to minors after payment.

The impact of this denial of a PNC will be felt in any future development of Rohnert Park’s northwestern corner. It’s bordered on top by the Open Space District’s community separator from Santa Rosa, and on the bottom by the Graton Casino. On the west is Stony Point Road and on the east it’s Redwood Drive.

At this point, there are two specific plans in the area, the Northwest and Wilfred-Dowdell. The rest of the land is all scattered small farms, a few large ranches and a multitude of hay and alfalfa pastures bearing varieties of small homes, barns and outbuildings. There have not been any formal plans to develop residential units home up here with a mix of single-family homes, apartment complexes and affordable housing units.

Sonoma County’s still slowly pulling out of the economic recession and the climate for new retail merchants isn’t very exciting. But RP’s northwest corner is one of the very few large chunks of land in the county not yet developed.

I’m sure you remember Sonoma County was once widely known as The Redwood Empire. It seems that designation is slipping away and being replaced by Sonoma County Wine Country. The winery industry is pushing for national attention these days. All you have to do is read the color-filled national magazines and check the advertisers to notice we’re in wine country, and oh yes, we have redwoods and ocean beaches, too. 

Little progress on Downtown RP idea

The City of Rohnert Park took over maintenance of the former State Farm Insurance buildings and property that were held by SunCal, a real estate firm based in Irvine near Los Angeles. RP crews from the public works department mowed the grass, trimmed the weeds and cleaned up the debris while SunCal didn’t say a word. They finally sent the city a check for $18,000 to help cover the city’s cost.

The acreage is where the SMART commute train will have its sheltered platform and it’s the beginning point for a future Downtown Rohnert Park so its appearance has to be immaculate. But SunCal’s slow reluctance to help out did not sit well with the city council, they still harbor unpleasant feelings toward the Irvine-based company.

What this means is the council will look at any future dealings with SunCal with an extra-sharp eye to make sure all the t’s have been crossed and i’s are dotted. From here on out it won’t be an exactly harmonious business relationship but it’s SunCal’s fault.

The development of this area on the south side of RP Expressway is vital for RP’s future.