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ROHNERT PARK - ITS EVOLUTION FROM SEED FARM TO "FRIENDLY CITY"

This was copied from John H. DeClerq, A History Of Rohnert Park.
"The close of World War II brought boom to Sonoma County that gradually took over agricultural areas. Where seeds had been planted, cities grew. The orchards and fields became subdivisions. Builders and brokers were busy from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. The law firm of Golis and Fredericks was one of many that was busy developing land.

Paul Golis, graduate of Duke Law School, came to Santa Rosa in 1948. Maurice Fredericks was a "native son" from Petaluma. Golis and Fredericks became active representing builders in the valley. They soon realized that the best way to develop large tracts of land was to draw up a master plan for an entire area at the outset. And thus began the city of Rohnert Park. Golis started in the fall of 1954 to lay out a plan for a new town. The core of the plan was the "Neighborhood Unit" concept. The plan was a modification of his native Pennsylvania's Levittown. It provided that each neighborhood would consist of 200-250 homes centered on a 10 acre school site and 5 acre pool-park site. No child would have to walk more than 1/3 of a mile to school; the school would be the nucleus of a cohesive community. The commercial and industrial development would be large enough and diverse enough to support the entire community. Eight such sub-divisions would constitute a city of 30,000 people. With planned pools, parks, and service the city would be a "country club for the working class".

Golis contacted C. C. (Tex) Carley, manager of the Rohnert Seed Farm (whose home still stands at the corner of Snyder Lane and E. Cotati Avenue -one of the oldest homes in today's city limits) in March of 1955. On July 4, 1955, Golis and Fredericks headed south to Hollister. On the following day two men presented to Mrs. Edna Rohnert their plans including a scale model of the town to be named after the family. They finalized negotiations with Fred Rohnert for a purchase-option agreement for the 2,700 acres, the entire seed farm, at $200 per acre. Golis and Fredericks then headed home to the business of building. Their next move was to enter into a joint venture agreement with Valley View Land and Development Company, which had purchased the adjacent 580 acre Brians Ranch. The Rohnerts and the builders then petitioned the County Supervisors to allow the creation of a special assessment district. (A special assessment district can tax land and sell bonds to finance the construction of public improvements, i.e. streets, water, and sewer services.) Their petition was approved, and the Rohnert Park Community Services District was created.

The new District consisted of two rental houses, a barn, flooded fields, and pheasants, but "not a single tree." On April 10, 1956, the District held its organizational meeting. In attendance were the only four adult residents that lived within the District boundaries. Three of the four were elected to be the first Directors: Bob Porter, Malenda Porter, and Floyd Ramsey. The old seed farm became a flurry of construction then. In July, 1957, the Division of Highways, completed the Cotati bypass, the Route 101 freeway from Denman Flat, north to Petaluma, through the hills to the north of Cotati (which cost the town its historic landmark-the home of "Doc" Page). Rohnert Park District called for bids, sold bonds, and let contracts. Many construction companies and well drillers were busy. The first wells were dug, the first phase of a modular sewage treatment plant was built, water and sewer mains were extended to the "A" neighborhood, and some streets and sidewalks were put in-all completed in seventeen months! The Federal Housing Administration was the first stumbling block to the "best laid plans of men"-they refused to provide financing for homebuyers.

The builders (Golis, Fredericks, and Valley View) had invested all of their money in land and didn't have capital or a credit record to secure a loan. The Spivok brothers, Norm, Hal, and Monroe, who were then building homes in the East Bay, provided financing for the first homes. They bought into Rohnert Park Homes, changing the name to Alicia Homes. They built five homes at Alison and Alma. Then Golis secured a loan to build his home on Adele Avenue. In November, 1957, the day after Thanksgiving, the Paul Golis family and the "Tuckey" Moran family moved into the first completed homes in Rohnert Park. In 1960, less than 3 years after the first homes were completed, leaders in the community decided that it was time to make the District into an incorporated city. But by a vote of 118 to 85, the people voted against incorporation. The issue of incorporation continued to be hotly debated in Rohnert Park and Cotati. Some felt that Rohnert Park and Cotati should incorporate as a single city; some wanted just Rohnert Park to incorporate; some were against both incorporation proposals. In the spring of 1962 an expert, William T. Zion, was hired to analyze the situation.

Zion's study indicated that it was "feasible, but not advised" for two towns to incorporate as a single city. A second study by Zion "proved" that city government would provide better services for Rohnert Park than the County could provide. Thus, in the summer of 1962, the city of Rohnert Park was born. The vote was 208 to 238. On August 28, it was officially incorporated-1,325 acres, housing an estimated 2,775 persons; the fourth largest city in Sonoma County; the first town to incorporate since 1905. The name of the town was chosen by the people to be Rohnert Park rather than Cotati Park by a vote of 398 to 128. There were 20 candidates for city council. All five incumbent District Directors ran; four of the five were elected (Callinan, Buchanan, Vern Smith, and Dale Faust). Jim Lynch was the only one not elected. Ken Bell, an opponent to incorporation, was elected instead. Rohnert Park has grown from a sketchy dream to a sophisticated city. Rohnert Park is not really an outgrowth of the Seed Farm; it replaced the farm. The growth of the city has erased the farm life that was here. Most towns grow accidentally; Rohnert Park has grown by design."

 See the City of Rohnert Park for more information.

Cotati has a different version of the story.

The Drapers, local historians, had this to say: "Then suddenly the seed fields north of town, for years noted mostly for their acres of sweetpeas in summer and pheasant hunts in wintertime, were sprouting houses, stores, schools - and lots of newcomers. Cotatians who at first had discounted Paul Golis' and Maurice Fredericks' plans for a city named Rohnert Park as a daydream woke up to the reality that a new and very progressive community was growing on their outskirts. By the fall of 1961, citizens of semi-rural Cotati and infant Rohnert Park, discontented with the level of services provided by the county, were exploring the possibilities of merging their interests and incorporating as one city. A joint citizens' committee was formed, and a municipal expert, William Zion, was hired to conduct a feasibility study. By January 1962, however, a contingent in Rohnert Park had decided that a combined city wasn't to their liking, and filed notice of their intention to incorporate independently. The election was held on August 21, 1962, and incorporation was approved. Rohnert Park was the name favored by 398 voters, while 128 diehards, still hoping that the neighboring communities might someday merge, voted to name the city "Cotati Park."

Cotatians, having been studying incorporation, realized that sales tax provides much of a city's money, and theorized that Rohnert Park, with almost no businesses, would covet Cotati's approximately 100 commercial enterprises. Cities need utilities too, and Rohnert Park developers were threatening to sue for use of Cotati's sewage system, under terms of an agreement made years before with the Rohnert family. Worst of all from Cotati's point of view, incorporated cities had jurisdiction over development adjacent to their boundaries. It seemed inevitable that the new City of Rohnert Park would seek to extend its boundaries to take in the parts of Cotati that it found most desirable, gradually eradicating the close-knit pride-filled "Hub of Sonoma County." Facing the fact that one week after Rohnert Park's election the new city would become official, Cotati citizens swung into high gear. A citizens' committee spearheaded by Lloyd Draper, publisher of the Cotatian weekly newspaper, Dr. Bill Kortum, president of the Chamber of Commerce; real estate broker Joe Dorfman and county tax appraiser Sam Houser began gathering signatures on a petition stating Cotati's intention to form its own city. Needing a legal description of the proposed boundaries, Dorfman tracked down a friend, Ned Harper, a title company official. "It was a Sunday afternoon, and Ned was out on his boat" Dorfman remembers. "We got him by radio, explained the situation, and he agreed to write the description for us so we could file the petition in time."

On August 27, one day before Rohnert Park was to be officially declared a city, the Cotati committee filed its notice of intention to circulate incorporation petitions. Boundaries of the proposed city were roughly the same as the Cotati Public Utility District but extended farther out Gravenstein Highway and down East Cotati Avenue to include Sonoma State College, an extension later nullified by the state. Thirty-seven citizens signed the petition, which Draper presented to the Board of Supervisors, stating that incorporation "seemed necessary to retain the character of the town, preserve its name and guide its future growth." A month later, after a constant round of public meetings, fact-finding sessions and personal visits to property owners, the citizens' committee filed its official petition for incorporation. It was signed by 160 property owners representing an assessed value of $93,430. Almost twice the number and value required by state law. Much credit for success of the drive for signatures was given to Sam Houser, a crusty old-timer known for his lack of reticence in stating his views. "Having Sam working for incorporation gave us a big boost" Draper recalls. "The old-timers figured if Sam was for it, it must be o.k."

The desire for city status wasn't unanimous, however, and a group of citizens led by Bernhard Grutgen led a campaign to cancel the incorporation effort. However, they were able to recruit only 21% of the landowners, while state law required at least 51% for their petition to be accepted. Grutgen, accepting defeat became a candidate for city council. As the campaign for incorporation proceeded through the winter and spring of 1963, Rohnert Park made good its threat and filed suit for excess capacity of Cotati's sewer plant adding impetus to Cotatians' fight for survival. Concern was also aroused by a new state law creating a Local Agency Formation Commission with powers to approve or disapprove proposals for city incorporations. It seemed clear to Cotatians that if they did not succeed in forming their city, they probably wouldn't get another chance. "Keep Cotati!" became the cry, and meetings were held every week in the Cotati School auditorium (now City Hall). Fliers pointed out that "becoming a city would give Cotati home rule; a direct voice in determining the local pattern of living" and a way to supply services it needed instead of having to rely on the county. If incorporation failed, the handbills warned, annexation of parts of Cotati, a parcel at a time, to Rohnert Park was inevitable. Owners might be taxed for services they didn't need or want, and the Cotati Fire Department could lose its effectiveness because of a loss of property tax revenue. A proposed city budget listed expected income of $33,591, produced mostly by sales tax, liquor licenses and vehicle registrations. That income, it was estimated, would be enough to run the city, take over road maintenance from the county, and give four hours a day of police protection, twice as much as the county was providing. "For Cotati it's now or never!" the fliers proclaimed. The citizens agreed, and on July 2, 1963, 83.9% of the registered voters, a total of 331, went to the polls and approved incorporation by an 84% majority - 284 yes to 49 no.

Candidates for the first city council were Oliver Chadwick, Al Falletti, Harold Groom, Bernhard Grutgen, Sam Houser, Bud Howard, Tom Murphy, Stanley Olsson, Lyle Short, Russ Williams and Herb Winter. Top vote getter was Houser, who was subsequently chosen as Cotati's first mayor. Also winning seats on the first council were Olsson, Chadwick, Groom and Falletti, the latter two also continuing as directors of the Cotati Public Utility District. A week after the election, Cotati was certified as Sonoma County's newest city, and the council began conducting its business in the anteroom of Ed Lewitter's accounting office. Public meetings were held at the fire station. One of the council's first actions, on August 1, was to refuse salaries, stating that Cotati had been planned as a low-budget city with volunteer workers, and the councilmen were sticking by their plans. "None of us wanted public office," Mayor Houser told a newspaper reporter. "We just wanted to keep Cotati the way it was."

For more, see their web site at: City of Cotati.

Rohnert Park has grown significantly since its 1962 incorporation. As of the 2000 census, there were 42,236 people, 15,503 households, and 9,797 families residing in the city.

Rohnert Park is located at 3820'50" North, 12241'43" West. The city has a total area of 6.4 sq. mi. , all land and none of it is covered by water. In actuality, there is a small man-made reservoir called Robert's Lake at the north end of the city and a number of diverted creeks running generally east to west. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org)


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