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Rohnert Park 'invests' in sewers

Rohnert Park will use its entire fund for public facilities -- which consists of a one-time payment from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria -- to build a long-planned trunk sewer line on the city's east side.

The decision by the City Council on Tuesday means that after the upcoming fiscal year, the city will have no money left to make much-needed improvements to its aging public infrastructure.

But the $13 million project is intended to spur housing and commercial development that needs the sewer capacity. That in turn, city officials hope, will provide Rohnert Park an economic boost and generate development fees to pay for more infrastructure improvements.

Already, several developers are indicating that their projects have now been given new impetus.

"It removes the sewer line as an issue that was basically stopping not only (our) Southeast plan but the University District and Sonoma Mountain Village," said Ken Blackman, a consultant to Redwood Equities, which plans to build 475 homes on the city's southeast flank.

"We look at this as an investment," City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said on Thursday. "Sometimes, you have to spend money to make money."

The city had hoped that the developers to be served by the line would pay for it up front. The funds for the project came instead from the Graton Rancheria, which is building a 320,000-square-foot casino on its reservation just west of the city.

The tribe paid $12.8 million to connect to Rohnert Park's sewer system under an agreement reached last year that was criticized by casino opponents, who said it further cleared the way for the controversial project to move forward.

Codding Enterprises -- developer of one of the four major projects the sewer line will serve -- has already informed its potential financial partners of the city's move, said Brad Baker, the company's president and CEO.

"It was definitely well received," he said. "Capital's still tight and it was a big capital outlay, so this definitely advances our project as well as other projects in the area."

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