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Santa Rosa discusses lifting growth cap

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa may revisit 27-year-old caps on growth in its struggle to create more places to live, as the city continues to greenlight an increasingly higher volume of homes and apartments to alleviate its housing shortage.

The city approved building permits for 431 residential units — not including hundreds of applications to rebuild homes destroyed by the October 2017 wildfires — in 2018, the third consecutive year the figure increased, according to an annual development review presented to the City Council and Planning Commission on Tuesday.

Though 1,400 Santa Rosa homes and apartments have received building permits since 2015, the city would need to approve an average of 925 housing units annually — more than double the amount it approved last year — from 2019 through 2022 to meet a housing quota it adopted in 2014.

“The need for more housing is clear,” said Amy Nicholson, a city planner and one of several staffers who relayed volumes of information to council members and planning commissioners Tuesday.

The 431 newly approved units mark a five-year peak, but the figure is well below the 800-unit annual cap set by Santa Rosa’s 1992 growth management ordinance. David Guhin, assistant city manager and planning and economic development director, expects the ordinance will be reviewed as part of a long-term citywide planning effort.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9445062-181/santa-rosas-housing-focus-may?sba=AAS

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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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Sonoma County hotel sector poised for expansion

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s hoteliers are playing catch-up to make room for the growing number of visitors.

The lodging industry is undergoing unprecedented expansion with about a dozen properties slated to open in the next few years.

The hotel building boom comes after a dearth of new lodging in the earlier part of the decade. Developers and hoteliers now appear to be making up for inactivity in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as the county remains a prime destination for wine tourism and an array of other activities and places to visit.

“This is a very strong county. … The occupancy level is very, very high,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president for STR, a Tennessee research firm and longtime tracker of the global hotel industry. “Developers see a hot market and say, ‘Let’s get into it.’”

Developers are betting Sonoma County can keep delivering more tourists. It’s averaging about 7.5 million visitors a year. Those visitors are staying in more than 7,000 hotel rooms and 3,700 campground and recreational vehicle spaces, according to Sonoma County Tourism figures.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9247313-181/sonoma-county-lodging-sector-bustling

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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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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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Op-Ed: Building boldly towards the future

Jake McKenzie and Teri Shore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

If we stay on track with city-centered growth and greenbelt protection, Sonoma County can usher in new era of thriving, affordable neighborhoods in cities and towns near jobs, schools and transit. If they stray, we could face a generation of scattered development on the urban edge and across the countryside that will cost us far more in public health, climate costs, congestion and loss of water and environmental quality, to say nothing of the natural beauty and the high quality of life that we love and enjoy in Sonoma County.

The tragic loss of homes in the October fires and the critical need for more affordable homes countywide is prompting a bold new look at how we revitalize our communities in Sonoma County. Greenbelt Alliance and our allies are looking forward, not backward, to meet the challenge of providing affordable homes to people who are vital to our communities and economy: teachers, doctors, restaurant cooks, winery and vineyard employees, young professionals and families and others. And we are convinced we can do this while ensuring the protection of our health and environment.

That is why we support investment in housing in our downtowns and existing neighborhoods to provide housing across the income spectrum while upholding environmental protections and longstanding growth policies. We reject recently published claims that we need to weaken environmental standards in order to recover and rebuild after last year’s fires.

To the contrary, our county has the chance to be on the cutting edge of creating a new generation of climate-friendly neighborhoods as we rebuild and invigorate new development.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8599327-181/close-to-home-building-boldly

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Kendall-Jackson wine family proposes housing development at former Wikiup Golf Course

Susan Minichiello, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The family that owns the Kendall-Jackson wine empire has unveiled plans to build nearly 100 homes on the former Wikiup Golf Course, converting half of the 31-acre property into a housing development.

The remaining half of the property, renamed Wikiup Commons, would be dedicated to open space or parkland, including a possible trail along Mark West Creek.

The development would place 39 homes and eight secondary housing units on 5 acres in the northern part of the property, near Pheasant and Carriage Lane. The secondary units, or “granny units,” would accompany a single-family home.

On the southern side, there would be 59 homes and three secondary units on about 10 acres. The homes would range in size from about 1,000 to 2,800 square feet, according to an open letter to neighbors by Katie Jackson, vice president for sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines.

“The diversity of housing proposed would offer first-time home buyers the chance to enjoy our beautiful community while providing those wishing to downsize a perfect opportunity to be a part of our neighborhood,” Jackson wrote after introducing the proposed plans at a July 11 meeting.

While there’s a desperate need for housing in Sonoma County, many Larkfield-Wikiup residents expressed opposition at a June meeting to high-density housing in the area. Several say the current proposal tries to squeeze too much housing into the neighborhood north of Santa Rosa.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8542844-181/kendall-jackson-wine-family-proposes-housing

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