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Study: Sonoma County getting older, more reliant on commuters

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is heading into a period of powerful change: The rising number of senior citizens will outpace growth in working-age residents, increasing the county’s reliance on workers who live in other parts of the Bay Area.

A shortage of affordable housing is compounding the demographic shift, forcing more and more people to commute into the county every day to fill employers’ need for workers.

Those projections are addressed in a new, wide-ranging report from county economic development officials. The report, the 2018 Unabridged Sonoma County Indicators, is a virtual almanac of facts about the local economy, housing market, environment and health of residents.

The report is one of many released in 2018 that offer a wealth of socioeconomic data on the county. The compilation of statistics comes in a year where officials have been studying both threats and opportunities for the county and the greater Bay Area.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8664855-181/study-sonoma-county-getting-older

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Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Amid a growing public outcry over the proliferation of hotel rooms downtown, Healdsburg’s city council has asked staff to draft a new ordinance banning any more hotels in the town’s central retail hub.

The council’s directive, issued Monday, follows a surge of complaints from residents over the past year and a recent community survey that showed support for slowing hotel growth.

In addition to barring hotel construction in the downtown core, the ordinance would create new affordable housing requirements and limit new lodging projects within the wider downtown district to five or fewer rooms, with no more than five total rooms on each side of downtown streets.

The affordable housing mandate, which received unanimous support, would require developers of hotel rooms to create one affordable housing unit for every five hotel rooms built, or pay a yet-to-be-determined fee that would go toward a fund aimed at creating such housing.

The decision, which still requires council endorsement at later public meetings, comes as a response to a recent spike in hotels, namely in the downtown core where visitor accommodations have increasingly displaced local businesses.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8654337-181/healdsburg-set-to-limit-future

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Santa Rosa passes spending plan for housing bond

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Environmental aspects of the housing bond

Downtown: Projects located in the downtown and along transit corridors, areas known as priority development areas, would receive priority.

Greenbelts off limits: No projects funded with the money would be built in community separators or greenbelts, through land-use rules already prohibiting that.

Green projects: Projects that use climate-smart, all-electric or net zero construction methods would be prioritized.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported a spending plan for the $124 million housing bond on the November ballot, but only after deadlocking on the contentious issue of how much union labor should be used on projects built with the money.

Labor groups had asked the council to pass guidelines requiring 30 percent of the jobs go to union workers — 20 percent union apprentices and 10 percent journeymen to train them — arguing that people building the housing should be able to afford to live in it.

But under pressure from business groups including those representing nonunion contractors, the council deadlocked 3-3 on the full 30 percent union requirement. Moments later it voted 6-0 to approve a plan earmarking 20 percent of the jobs for union apprentices — but no job guarantees for union journeymen.

The ideological impasse, which has been simmering for weeks, frustrated many of the council members and union members who attended the meeting. Mayor Chris Coursey said it was imperative that the disagreement not imperil the bond’s chances at the ballot box.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8612091-181/santa-rosa-passes-spending-plan

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Rohnert Park City Council seeks deal on housing proposed on Press Democrat industrial property

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Rohnert Park City Council instructed staff Tuesday to negotiate an agreement with a developer seeking to build an apartment complex on industrial property owned by the parent company of The Press Democrat.

In a 4-1 vote, the council overruled city staff, who recommended an outright denial of the proposal to rezone the land for housing. Instead, council members directed staff to work out a deal with a Petaluma developer seeking to buy the property.

Members of the council suggested a portion of the project be dedicated to affordable housing units in exchange for rezoning the 6.5-acre site behind The Press Democrat printing plant, where Advanced Building Solutions hopes to construct an apartment complex with up to 156 units.

“It’s important that wherever we have an opportunity to, at this time, add to the housing stock of apartments, that this is something that we should be considering,” said Councilman Jake Mackenzie. “I think this is also the opportune time for something like this to come in front of us, when we do have a housing crisis in this county.”

City staff, including City Manager Darrin Jenkins and Planning Manager Jeff Beiswenger, urged the council to reject the rezoning application. They argued it would result in potential conflicts between future residents and occupants of the surrounding industrial parcels, and was unnecessary because of the amount of land remaining in the city to meet housing demands.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8542763-181/rohnert-park-city-council-seeks

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The fate of Chanate

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Jeremy Nichols is a board member of the nonprofit Bird Rescue Center that serves Sonoma County, and he is troubled. The county is kicking the bird hospital out of its Quonset hut in the middle of 82 acres of public property known as Chanate.

Forested hills straddle Chanate Road as it winds through eastern Santa Rosa toward the ashes of Fountaingrove. The county has promised the land to William Gallaher, a local banker who develops senior living communities and single-family homes.

Gallaher’s partner in the deal, Komron Shahhosseini, is a planning commissioner for Sonoma County—a relationship which may pose a conflict of interest, according to a Haas School of Business ethics expert who reviewed details of the deal.

Hundreds of Santa Rosans, including Nichols, have mobilized to stop the sale, objecting to its terms at public meetings, in letters to the editor and in a lawsuit that went to trial in Superior Court last Friday in front of Judge René Auguste Chouteau. The trial took three hours, and the judge is expected to rule within 30 days on whether the development deal can go forward.

In early July, Nichols and two members of the activist group Friends of Chanate took me on a walking tour. Since the 1870s, the Chanate property has been the dumping ground for the county’s social and medical ills. It was originally the site of a work farm for low-income residents, then a public hospital complex. Now it’s ragged and falling down.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/the-fate-of-chanate/Content?oid=6621048

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , Leave a comment on Op-Ed: Moving ahead on local housing

Op-Ed: Moving ahead on local housing

Julie Combs, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Our housing crisis started with job growth outpacing new home construction at a rate of 12 to 1, according to according to the regional Equity Analysis Report for Plan Bay Area 2040.

This lack of supply was further complicated by the significant loss of federal and state housing dollars, including redevelopment funds, plus broader trends like increasing income inequality, changing tax policies and wage stagnation.

Locally, we bear the added burden of so many neighbors tragically losing their homes in the fires last year.

Recently, though, we’ve seen communities in Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties vote to invest in new, local affordable housing projects. I believe we should follow their model, so we too can build more homes for our teachers, nurses, trades people, restaurant and winery workers — homes that every middle class family that works here can afford.

And we want to do so while ensuring our health and environment remain protected.

We need to design solutions to today’s housing challenges, not go backward with old ideas like “it’s the economy versus the environment” as is often implied.

That was always a false choice and, over the years, voters have seen through such misinformation. That’s why they continue to vote for urban growth boundaries, managed growth ordinances, community separators and protected open spaces. We should continue to trust local voters’ wisdom on these issues.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8529818-181/close-to-home-moving-ahead

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , Leave a comment on Construction is accelerating, but will pace keep up with demand?

Construction is accelerating, but will pace keep up with demand?

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For at least a decade the tract housing subdivision sat uncompleted in west Santa Rosa — a repossessed field with a looped, asphalt road and most of the sidewalks installed.

But this spring foundations and framed walls arose from the ground along Sebastopol Road near the Courtside Village neighborhood. Plans there call for the construction of 51 single-family homes and 16 attached units.

“We plan to build all 67 just as fast as we can,” said Richard Lafferty, president and CEO of Lafferty Communities, a San Ramon-based homebuilding company. The project is one of the few remaining that sat for years after the original developers gave properties back to banks in the midst of a historic housing market crash.

Like the as-yet-unbranded subdivision, the Sonoma County new home sector is showing signs of life.

Builders are slowly making a comeback after enduring an unprecedented slowdown in the years following the recession. This year builders have broken ground for new subdivisions from Rohnert Park to Windsor for the first of hundreds of homes that are expected to be built in the next five years.

The home construction season appears on track to be the busiest in at least a decade. That is partly because hundreds of homes are being rebuilt in areas ravaged from last fall’s wildfires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8504287-181/housing-construction-accelerates-in-sonoma?sba=AAS

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With new downtown project, Santa Rosa housing policies face a test

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa’s effort to entice more developers into downtown projects appears to be paying off, but plans for a new apartment building north of Old Courthouse Square may soon test whether new incentives can turn pretty pictures into needed housing.

Zach Berkowitz, the owner of a commercial building at 404 Mendocino Ave., is proposing to build a six-story, 135-unit apartment complex in two buildings on his and neighboring properties.

If approved by the city, the project could be ready for occupancy in 2020, and would provide the kind of affordable, infill housing the city and downtown business community desperately needs, Berkowitz said.

“We were talking about it before the fires, but when the fires happened it was just one more reason to generate housing downtown,” he said.

The October fires destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa. The city has since tried to streamline the rebuilding process and encourage developers to construct apartments downtown and near transportation hubs such as the SMART stations.

Berkowitz’s project would be the first to benefit from the faster permit process the city instituted after the fires, including limits on the role of the Design Review Board. The proposal gets its first public hearing before that board Thursday.

For the project to become a reality, however, the city is going to need to do more to incentivize downtown housing, a conversation that Berkowitz said is encouraging but far from complete.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8482715-181/with-new-downtown-project-santa

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Is CEQA the problem?

Eric Biber, LEGAL PLANET

(First published October 1, 2017)

The stakes here are high. Misguided CEQA reform could undermine environmental protection throughout the state, without meaningful improvements to our housing crisis.

On Friday [September 29, 2017], the Governor signed a package of housing bills intended to help address the soaring costs of housing in many metro areas in California. Follow-up coverage of that bill package has (rightly) indicated that those bills are a drop in the bucket in terms of addressing California’s housing crisis. One theme that emerges in that coverage and also coverage of other CEQA legislation (as well as a recent op-ed by two economists) is an argument that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is a significant contributor to the housing crisis. The question is, is that really correct? The answer is fairly important if the legislature is (appropriately) going to continue looking at this issue in the next legislative session.

The main argument goes along these lines – there is a lot of regulation of housing development in California. More regulation increases the cost of supplying housing, and therefore the cost of housing. Less regulation would facilitate more housing supply, and lower costs.

It may be that overall, regulation of land-use development in California is a significant contributor to the state’s housing crisis. But CEQA is only a part of the overall regulation of California’s land-use development, as I’ve noted in an earlier post. If CEQA is a significant obstacle to housing development, then I would argue that changing CEQA in ways that minimize the loss in environmental protection and maximize the benefits in increased housing production should be our goal. But in order to determine whether changing CEQA is a prudent strategy, we need to understand in a better way how local land-use processes are affecting housing production in California.

Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2017/10/01/is-ceqa-the-problem/

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Op-Ed: Break down regulatory barriers before passing a tax for housing

Brian Ling, CEO of the Sonoma County Alliance, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

We all love Sonoma County, but the protections we have implemented, such as growth ordinances, urban growth boundaries, community separators, the open space district and an incredibly public and intensive approval process, have led to our housing crisis of under supply, over demand and incredibly high prices (even before the fires). Our residents need to universally support the projects that are being proposed within current general plan guidelines, particularly those within transit-oriented and other priority development areas. We (NIMBYS too!)voted in these protections to support the growth of new urbanism concepts. We need to support these projects now.

Today’s housing crisis is a product of land-use decisions made over the past three decades combined with a significant increase in unnecessary and/or duplicative rules and regulations. There is no question that the October fires put an exclamation point on the housing crisis. However, it is imperative to reverse this trend of housing barriers before the community further taxes ourselves toward a solution.

The Board of Supervisors, the Santa Rosa City Council and their planning departments should be commended for implementing policies to expedite rebuilding in the fire zones and priority development areas. However, additional opportunities remain that must be applied to all development within the respective general plans, not just within the fire zones. The Sonoma County Alliance believes taking action is required to positively impact new housing opportunities.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8453619-181/close-to-home-break-down?sba=AAS