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Sonoma’s vision for open space, affordable housing included in state budget request

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Two of Sonoma’s most desirable goals – affordable housing and open space – are being baked into plans for the extensive Sonoma Developmental Center property, as part of the state’s recognition of the “unique and historic resources of the property,” according to a three-year budget request made on April 22 by the Department of General Services.

The three-year timeline was confirmed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district includes the developed campus and much of the surrounding open space.

“We have been working for the past four years to protect and preserve the open space watersheds and wildlife corridors while at the same time establishing a community-driven process that will plan for the next generation of the SDC campus,” McGuire told the Index-Tribune.

McGuire has been working with his fellow legislators, state Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, as a delegation from Sonoma on the SDC process.

“The SDC Coalition has been working with state legislators for years to move to this point,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin about the group of local stakeholder organizations she’s been working with as the Developmental Center transitions to its next stage. “We wanted a community-driven process for the future of the SDC, and we were rewarded.”

The detailed inclusion of budget numbers through June 2022 signals that the state is stepping up to honor the commitment it made to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on April 5 to bear the cost of managing SDC for the next three years, while the property is in “warm shutdown” mode, giving the county time to prepare a specific reuse plan for the historic property.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9556028-181/sonomas-vision-for-open-space

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For second consecutive year, Sonoma County’s overall health ranking declines

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Read the full report here and explore rankings by county here

For the second year in a row, Sonoma County’s rank in a key national measure of community health and wellness has declined when compared with other California counties.

According to the 2019 County Health Rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, Sonoma County dropped to No. 8 in overall health outcomes of its residents among the state’s 58 counties, a slip from No. 7 in 2018 and a high of No. 5 in 2017.

The annual health ranking includes a variety of issues, such as premature death, low birth weight, education attainment, income inequality, smoking, obesity, insurance coverage and violent crime, in an attempt to show how health is influenced by where people live, learn, work and play.

This year’s nationwide health rankings report zeroed in on the burden of high housing costs and the effect on people’s health.

The report found that more than 11 percent of households in the United States spend more than half of their monthly income on housing costs.

In Sonoma County, 24 percent of county residents experience at least one of four problems with housing: overcrowding; high housing costs; inadequate kitchen and plumbing.

Read more at

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Santa Rosa council members reluctant to support Bay Area plan for affordable housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

CASA Compact website

Santa Rosa council members are looking sideways at a $37.5 billion plan to ease the Bay Area’s intractable housing crisis, voicing their reluctance to subsidize housing development in other areas when the city is seeking to resolve its own dire shortage.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday gave a chilly reception to a set of 10 reforms known as the CASA compact. It came less than two weeks after a panel of eight local elected officials announced its opposition over the regional plan to boost affordable housing — and about two months after the Rohnert Park City Council booted one of its own, Jake Mackenzie, from two notable posts for publicly backing it.

City representatives and planning officials have touted recent local efforts to attract new housing, such as increasing how many units can be built per acre, changing local ordinances to stimulate the building of secondary homes, slashing certain development fees and lifting limits on downtown building heights.

Gov. Gavin Newsom held up Santa Rosa’s housing efforts as a paradigm of “local governments that do what’s right” in his February State of the State address.

Santa Rosa already has done or is trying to take all the measures outlined in the CASA compact, Councilman Chris Rogers said. The city shouldn’t foot the bill so other Bay Area cities can play catch-up, and especially not in the wake of Santa Rosa voters rejecting a $124 million housing bond, he said.

“We’re asking the public to help fund things we are already doing in places that have not taken this as seriously,” Rogers said.

While some of the regional plan’s policies might work for San Jose or San Francisco, he said they might not make sense for towns like Cotati or Sausalito.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9416431-181/santa-rosa-council-members-reluctant

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Construction fees on ‘granny units’ challenge builders in Sonoma County

Martin Espinosa, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County builder Orrin Thiessen walked up a narrow, unfinished staircase and with pride began describing the 550-square-foot granny units being built as part of his Green Valley Village housing development in downtown Graton.

The small dwellings now are little more than an array of 2-inch by 6-inch wood framing studs and plywood floors and walls. The compact design of each includes a kitchen, living area, bathroom, bedroom and laundry closet.

“It’s got everything you need,” Thiessen said, standing in the living room, holding his arms out.

The construction of these slight apartments in Sonoma County is considered a key part of helping to ease the housing affordability crunch. But building them, he said, simply isn’t financially viable, especially in rural parts of the county where smaller sewer districts charge heftier connection fees and rates.

Local cities and towns have been rushing to reduce impact fees and restrictions to encourage construction of these so-called granny units, prompted by changes in state laws and the devastating 2017 wildfires. For example, Santa Rosa sharply reduced its impact fees for these smaller housing units, also known as secondary homes, and are starting to see significant response from builders and homeowners.

In some cases, other municipalities are charging 50 percent or even 33 percent of the regular hookup fee for sewer connections. Homeowners and builders say each incremental fee reduction helps bring down the overall cost of construction of the smaller homes.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9354306-181/although-theres-a-push-to

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Stalled Corona development sparks debate over housing density

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

As the future of the east Petaluma SMART station remains entangled in litigation, the developer tied to the deal is weighing a housing proposal that critics say falls short of the city’s need for maximum density projects at transit-oriented sites.

Representatives from Lomas Partners presented site plans at last week’s Know Before You Grow development forum that feature 112 single-family homes for a 6.5-acre parcel at the corner of Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard.

If the pending lawsuit between SMART and the developer can be settled amicably, a portion of the property would be set aside for a 150-space parking area to accompany the long-awaited suburban train stop.

But with the fate of the terminal uncertain, attendants at the forum criticized a housing proposal that offered for-sale residences starting at $600,000, pitched as entry-level homes for young families struggling to find market-rate options in Petaluma.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9326515-181/corona-development-sparks-debate-over

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Sonoma County renews effort to sell Chanate Road property for housing

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Call it Chanate 2.0.

Sonoma County supervisors are once again seeking to sell a nearly 72-acre property in northeast Santa Rosa to an affordable housing developer, reviving an effort started more than three years ago that triggered a neighborhood rebellion and a legal challenge that ultimately forced the county to cancel a deal with a prominent local homebuilder.

The property in question is at 3313 Chanate Road, site of the old county hospital and later Sutter Medical Center. It was slated by the county to be one of Santa Rosa’s largest single housing projects in recent memory.

But the legal setback prompted the county in October to walk away from a multimillion-dollar deal with developer Bill Gallaher, who wanted to build 867 housing units on the sprawling site, including rental apartment buildings three or four stories tall, a prospect that neighbors vehemently opposed.

In December, supervisors voted to start all over again, and county staffers last week solicited financial offers from about 650 organizations, including five local Native American tribes.

Prospective buyers are limited, under state law, to designated public agencies and “housing sponsors” that would focus on building affordable housing, with parks, schools or other government facilities as alternatives. For housing sponsors, the property would carry a 55-year deed restriction for affordable housing.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9284804-181/sonoma-county-renews-effort-to

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How Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sonoma County are tackling big challenges in growth

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

How Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sonoma County are tackling big challenges in growth

JEFF QUACKENBUSH
NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL | February 14, 2019

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Barriers and solutions for infill development in Sonoma County

4 key barriers

1. Market uncertainty due to unknown demand for infill in key cities and urban areas in Sonoma County.

2. Lack of demonstrated viability and financing for infill and car-free living

3. Lack of supportive policy and process.

4. High costs and fees to build infill.

7 near-term priorities

1. Pilot projects with public partnership with possible concessions regarding fees, land purchase and streamlined entitlements.

2. Rent guarantees for employees from employers to boost demand for infill.

3. A joint powers agency (JPA) or renewal enterprise district (RED) to guide and fund infill development.

4. Zoning, parking requirement and development fee reforms to encourage rather than stymie infill development.

5. Improved availability of public sector infill financing and enhanced access to sales and use taxes.

6. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) streamlining for qualifying infill (e.g., AB 2267).

7. A market study and project development navigator to help streamline infill investment and deployment.

Source: “Accelerating Infill in Santa Rosa & Sonoma County,” Council of Infill Builders, November 2018 (nbbj.news/sonomainfill)

Sonoma County’s two largest population centers have big plans moving forward to tackle the tricky business of keeping the local economy humming amid ultralow unemployment and scant options to house enterprises and their employees.

“Though the economy is quite good, it has resulted in low availability of workers,” said Ethan Brown, business retention and expansion program manager for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

A bigger proportion of the Sonoma County workforce is employed than in California and the nation as a whole. The county unemployment rate ended last year at 2.6 percent, lower but on par with where it was a year earlier (2.8 percent), according to the most recent state figures. To put that in perspective, December joblessness was 4.2 percent for California and 3.9 percent for the nation.

And when the October 2017 firestorms wiped out over 6,000 North Bay homes, including about 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock, that made the already challenging task of holding onto and attracting employers even more difficult than it was before the wildfires, according to Brown and his counterparts in Santa Rosa and Petaluma. “Not a lot of huge companies are looking to move here, knowing what the housing and employment situation is,” Brown said. Rather, the newcomers tend to be smaller companies, often marketing and design firms, that launched elsewhere in the Bay Area, and the principals are looking to relocate to Sonoma County for lifestyle reasons, he said.

A few years ago, county research found that more than three-quarters of local businesses employ fewer than 10.

“We tend to look to large employers as drivers of the economy, but small employers are where most the job creation happens,” Brown said.

County and city business boosters have been moving rolling out initiatives to tackle the dilemma of short supply of housing and suitable workers. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved the Strategic Sonoma (strategicsonoma.com) five-year effort last July.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/9258831-181/sonoma-santa-rosa-petaluma-business-construction

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Santa Rosa’s new granny unit policies spur secondary home spike as city works to build housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

New data shows Santa Rosa received more applications to build “granny units” last year than it had in the entire preceding decade, evidence that the city’s efforts to spur housing just about any way it can is starting to yield results.

Property owners last year applied for permits to add 118 secondary homes, small living spaces adjacent to traditional single-family residences, according to new city data. The number of applications was well above the previous record of 33 in 2017 and exceeds the 85 applications for secondary homes from 2008 to 2017.

Vice Mayor Chris Rogers recently touted the record application figure on Twitter and emphasized the “symbiotic relationship” between a homeowner with a secondary unit and the renter living on their property.

“It creates, hopefully, an affordable housing unit while also helping somebody who may be struggling to live here as well,” Rogers said in an interview.

Thirty nine applications for secondary homes in 2018 were submitted in areas leveled by the October 2017 fires, which destroyed about 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock. Rogers noted that efforts to make it easier and less expensive to build secondary homes were not the sole change Santa Rosa made to address its housing shortage but was part of “a whole array of housing reforms we needed to make to give people places to live.”

The number of units jumped after the City Council, acting in the wake of the 2017 fires, approved a set of changes to make it easier for homeowners to build additional small housing units on their property in conjunction with state deregulation efforts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9207543-181/santa-rosas-new-granny-unit

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$10 million state grant spurs future Windsor veterans housing project

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

American military veterans can face many challenges readjusting to civilian life, but a planned housing project in Windsor hopes to ease the plight of former servicemen and women on the North Coast who are unable to find housing.

The $30 million Windsor Veterans Village is years in the making, and a $9.9 million state grant announced last month will help make the vision a reality, supporters say.

Plans for the 60-unit complex call for one- and two-bedroom apartments and community gathering spaces just west of the Town Green. Construction is set to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2019.

The housing development is meant to assist veterans who are struggling to regain their footing, said Joe Millsap, spokesman for Veterans Resource Centers of America, the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit behind the effort.

“The idea is that while this is permanent support housing, they don’t live there forever, but they can,” said Millsap. “The success stories are when they’re completely reintegrated into society and self-sufficient. If they don’t quite get there, that’s what the complex is for and they can stay indefinitely.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9005178-181/10-million-state-grant-spurs

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Sonoma County embraces denser urban developments

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday a slate of policy changes intended to pave the way for new types of housing, encourage the construction of smaller, more affordable units and help simplify development in certain areas after last year’s wildfires destroyed more than 5,300 homes.

The policy revisions, which only apply to urban areas where sewers are available, created a category for so-called cottage housing, or clusters of smaller units intended to provide options for people who earn too much to qualify for low-income housing but can’t afford market-rate units. It also created the possibility for building housing in some business and industrial districts, allowing workers to live close to jobs or transit hubs.

The board also altered the county’s policy for how density is assigned to each housing unit in certain zones. That allows for smaller units that can be rented at lower prices, such as micro-apartments under 500 square feet and one- to two-bedroom apartments, to count as a fraction of a unit. Previously, the code allowed a single unit to be any size, making it more attractive for developers to build larger units that generate higher rents.

Now, in an area where 10 units are allowed, a developer could choose to build 10 three- bedrooms units, 15 one-bedroom units or 30 micro-apartments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8870843-181/sonoma-county-embraces-denser-urban