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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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Sonoma County's new crossroads for legal weed

Joe Mathews, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
Adjust your California maps: The dot marking Santa Rosa needs to be bigger.
Dramatic changes in housing, demography, and criminal justice are altering the Golden State’s geography, and no place in California stands to benefit more than Santa Rosa.
The Sonoma County seat seems poised to become the most successful example of a certain type of urbanism – the rapidly growing midsize city that serves as a crossroads between major regions. The city’s current motto – “Out There. In the Middle of Everything” – encapsulates the new and paradoxical centrality of edge cities, from Fairfield and Santa Clarita to Riverside and Escondido.
“We’re on the move and we’re interested in growing,” says Santa Rosa City Council member Julie Combs of her town.
The fifth largest city in the Bay Area, Santa Rosa, population 175,000, plays many roles. It’s the northern spillover area for people and businesses seeking refuge from the higher costs of communities closer-in. The city now boasts 88,000 jobs, its highest employment level ever.
And by dint of geography and strategy, the city is emerging as California’s weed crossroads – or, in more official language, the “farm-to-market” center for medical and recreational marijuana, connecting the North State’s cannabis growers with the retailers and consumers of the Bay Area and points south.
While other California cities have decided to limit the marijuana industry, Santa Rosa has rapidly issued permits for cannabis operations, creating a run on warehouse space. What the city wants is higher-wage professional jobs – in sales, finance, distribution or lab testing – that the newly legal industry will require.
Read more at: Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed | The Sacramento Bee