Masterson tells of casino traffic mess
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By Jud Snyder  November 15, 2013 12:00 am

The monthly noontime luncheon meeting sponsored by the Rohnert Park Chamber of Commerce had a special edge attached to it on Nov. 6 in Foxtail Golf Club’s Wedgewood banquet room. 

It was the day after the Graton Resort & Casino made its debut on Golf Course Drive West, across the street from RP’s city limits, and also the day after Measure A was approved by RP voters in a special off-year election. It was the only item on the RP ballot.

The chamber staff, headed by Lisa Bagwell, had earlier booked the appearance of Brian Masterson, police chief and director of the RP Dept. of Public Safety for two reasons: police and firefighter unions heavily backed Measure A with funds and many campaign signs, and the entire public safety department would be busy with potential traffic gridlock because of the casino opening.

Masterson handled the spotlight with ease. Looking unruffled and clean-shaven despite his harrowing 24 hours the previous day, Masterson spelled out some of the traffic problems his officers, plus help from the California Highway Patrol and Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office traffic cops, encountered.

“It started early in the morning and by 8 a.m., the casino had 2,000 people milling about the entrance. The parking lots and garage soon reached capacity and we had to plug in big signs saying there’s no more parking.

“This meant people were parking their cars anywhere they could find space and walking to the casino across grassy lots or crossing streets just to get there,” he said. 

“Home Depot, Walmart and other stores had signs saying ‘NO Casino Parking,’ but they were mostly ignored. Traffic officers didn’t have time to put citations under windshield wipers because they were too busy trying to prevent total gridlock, which actually did happen for a short period of time. It was a total mess. We had to bar people from going in the casino, for it was at total capacity inside.

“We estimated more than 15,000 people came to the opening, mostly two or more per auto. We figured it could possibly reach that total but it was just too many automobiles and buses for the roads, like Redwood Drive and Golf Course Drive West, to handle in the space of a few hours.

“I can say it’s a lot better today, Wednesday. I’ve been out there. We’ll keep all the extra traffic officers on duty, for it’s still a busy area but it’s manageable compared to Tuesday’s congestion.”

Masterson also praised RP citizens for voting to keep the sales tax measure they approved with Measure E back in 2010. “The passage of Measure A means we don’t have to figure out where we have to make cuts in our department’s services. It also means we will have a police and fire station built west of the freeway.”

Mayor Pam Stafford was at the luncheon and spoke, voicing her thanks to voters who approved the sales tax extension. Vice-Mayor Joe Callinan was also there but did not speak.

The luncheon at Foxtail had two main speakers and RP City Councilman Jake Mackenzie had his turn talking about the SMART rail commute train. He’s a member of the SMART Board of Directors. With the help of a PowerPoint display, Mackenzie outlined the progress of the railroad that will have a station for commuters on Seed Farm Drive next to the still-vacant State Farm Insurance complex.

Mackenzie noted SMART designers have bought a bridge in Texas that will be shipped to the railroad tracks to cross the Petaluma River down near San Pablo Bay. 

“The bridge is 20 years old but it has a hundred-year life span. It’s a lot cheaper doing this than designing and building a new bridge,” said Mackenzie.

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