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Sonoma County housing construction fund formed by Silicon Valley trust, Santa Rosa chamber

Gary Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Link to Strategic Sonoma Action Plan.

To accelerate the development of critically needed housing for workers in Sonoma County, the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber is teaming up with a Silicon Valley nonprofit to create a $10 million housing fund.

The Sonoma County Housing Fund, a partnership between the chamber and Housing Trust Silicon Valley, is designed to raise and leverage local funds to increase the supply of affordable housing in Sonoma County.

The chamber will work to secure and deploy local investments for the fund while Housing Trust Silicon Valley will underwrite, approve and administer loans for housing development. It is modeled on a similar collaboration between the Housing Trust and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, a group of public, private and civic entities in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.

Chamber CEO Peter Rumble stated it is reaching out to major employers to invest in the fund, as well as to foundations, private individuals, developers and others.

“If our kids are going to have a good education, we need to make sure our teachers can afford to live here,” said Rumble. “If our technology companies are going to thrive, we need to be able to recruit engineers. If we are going to be able to care for our aging population, our hospitals need to keep nurses and doctors living here. If our tourism industry is going to continue to be the envy of the world, we need to make sure there is a thriving workforce in our community. All of this comes back to creating housing throughout Sonoma County, and while the Sonoma County Housing Trust isn’t the single solution, it is an important step forward.”

The chamber will be responsible for endorsing projects for funding the Sonoma County trust, in consultation with the Employer Housing Council, composed of the 15 largest employers and educational institutions in the North Bay along with the North Coast Builders Exchange. Rumble is also co-chairman of the housing council along with Keith Woods, CEO of the builders exchange.

Under a memorandum of understanding it signed with the chamber in June, the role of Housing Trust Silicon Valley is to underwrite, approve and administer loans for infill projects in urban and priority development areas. To encourage local investment and spur more affordable projects, Housing Trust Silicon Valley will provide approximately $2 of matching money for every $1 dollar raised by the chamber for the fund.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/9804595-181/housing-silicon-valley-santa-rosa-sonoma?ref=related

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BoDean asphalt plant moving to Windsor, with aim to convert Santa Rosa site to housing

Will Schmidt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The owners of a prominent asphalt plant in central Santa Rosa are planning to move their business to Windsor, laying the groundwork for affordable housing to replace an industrial operation that the owners acknowledge no longer fits into a neighborhood the city has targeted for dense residential development.

BoDean Co. founders Dean and Belinda “Bo” Soiland said their new, larger site in Windsor is better suited for continued industrial use than the current site south of West College Avenue, where the city has taken a stronger regulatory stance in recent years as complaints have mounted from neighbors.

Paperwork to build the new plant will be submitted to Windsor officials in July, Dean Soiland said. The Soilands had not finalized plans for their Santa Rosa property, though planning work there could proceed on a parallel track to development of the new Windsor plant.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9658672-181/bodean-asphalt-plant-moving-to

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A model for achieving housing goals takes shape in Sonoma County

Nadine Ono, CAFWD

Housing in Sonoma County was the top priority for political, business and philanthropic leaders who met last year after the devasting 2017 fires destroyed more than 5,100 homes. Since that first meeting participants hit the ground running to ensure the region not only recover lost housing, but also establish an environment to create new and affordable housing.

“We’re organizing a grassroots campaign to be pro-housing to support projects that come up,” said Santa Rosa Metro Chamber CEO Peter Rumble on the establishment of the Sonoma County Housing Council, which brings together 15 of the region’s largest employers to invest in housing projects and is in the process of establishing a local housing trust.

It is a much-needed vehicle in the region as there was previously no local housing fund. Added Rumble, “To be able to have a separate fund that can be used to help bridge the gap of affordable or workforce level housing in addition to any funds that might be available through the public process is a tremendous boon for the community.”

While the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber was creating the Housing Council, the City of Santa Rosa was laying the groundwork to make housing a priority.

“The big focus this past year has been on housing elements,” said David Guhin, Santa Rosa’s assistant city manager and director of economic development. “We put a number of policies into place over the past year in anticipation on focusing on infill development and setting ourselves up to be the leaders and the example of how the policies can help support achieving some of the housing goals that we want to achieve.”

The housing elements achieved by Santa Rosa include:

  • Unanimous support of housing goals from the city council and making it a top five priority for the city
  • Establishing new citywide housing policies including new accessory dwelling unit policies that reduce or eliminate some fees, feasibility study on the current inclusionary policy and an aggressive housing action plan
  • New downtown housing policies that include creating a high-density residential incentive program, increasing building height requirements and decreasing parking requirements, express permitting, designating downtown as a Federal Opportunity Zone, offering density bonuses and evaluating city property for housing
  • Create regional partnerships including a Renewal Enterprise District JPA, evaluating tax increment financing with Sonoma County and coordinating with the Employers Housing Council

    Guhin added, “This is a fairly aggressive new model, it’s one that basically says we can’t do it alone and this won’t work unless everyone participates in some way. It’s encouraging to see employers sitting around a table talking about housing.”

Read more at http://cafwd.org/reporting/entry/a-model-for-achieving-housing-goals-takes-shape-in-sonoma-county

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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