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
The meadow for 15 years has been marked by a prominent sign that declares it part of the Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve supposedly managed by a partnership of the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the county Water Agency, the county itself and the city.
Bowing to intense political pressure from a group of Santa Rosa neighborhood activists, the chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has agreed to guarantee that a treasured undeveloped meadow near their homes won’t be paved over after the county sells the sprawling site of its old hospital complex to a housing developer.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane said in an interview this week that she has not yet determined the best way to officially ensure the meadow and some surrounding land remain as open space. The options under consideration include removing the roughly 10-acre parcel from the sale entirely or striking a deal with the developer, Bill Gallaher, to maintain the land as a preserve.
The about-face represents a significant concession from Zane, who previously insisted that neighbors’ concerns about selling the de facto open space would have to be addressed by the city when Gallaher’s project passed through its planning process.
Neighbors, in response, mounted an aggressive campaign, consulting an attorney, filing extensive requests for years-worth of public records on the parcel in question and placing signs — knowingly or not — in Zane’s McDonald Avenue neighborhood and along her route to work.
“It was just time to say, you know, if we have to lose some money on this in terms of renegotiating the proposal, then that’s what we should do,” Zane said. She said the decision came Tuesday after county officials and supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss the sale, though that wasn’t the only factor.
Read more at: Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow up for sale in development deal | The Press Democrat
After a long dry spell, Sonoma County builders last year created the largest number of new single-family homes in almost a decade.
In 2016, county and city governments issued permits for 581 single-family homes, according to the California Homebuilding Foundation in Sacramento. The last time more homes were built here was in 2007, when 904 permits were issued. Last year’s permit total was 236.
The construction industry remains a major employer and a significant contributor to the county economy in that way. In recent years, business and civic leaders have also looked to builders to help address a housing shortage they say is so dire it threatens to become a drag on the economic health of the region.
From that perspective, builders and others said the current level of construction activity remains well below average. And there are few reasons to expect it to increase dramatically anytime soon.
“There’s still headwinds out there for private builders and developers,” said Keith Christopherson, a longtime builder and a partner in Synergy Communities by Christopherson of Santa Rosa. For many, capital and suitable land remain in relative short supply, and most are wary of the possibility they could face another economic downturn with unsold units.
Read more at: Report: Sonoma County home construction in 2016 best since 2007 | The Press Democrat
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Four publicly owned properties around Santa Rosa could be dramatically reshaped over the next several years by a push to create large numbers of new homes, apartments and condominiums and chip away at the region’s housing crisis.
Sonoma County officials could soon move forward on efforts to build housing at the site of the county Water Agency’s former headquarters on West College Avenue, where early estimates indicate as many as 200 units could be constructed.
Any progress there this year would come in addition to plans already underway to sell 82 acres of county-owned land off Chanate Road to a housing developer, as well as a separate project to build units on part of a Sebastopol Road site owned by the county’s Community Development Commission.
Further down the line, county officials envision building housing on part of their northern Santa Rosa administrative complex, which is considered too old and spread out to meet current demands. They also may someday develop units at the site of the old Los Guilicos juvenile hall off Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley, but officials have yet to seriously move forward with any plans there.
Aside from Los Guilicos, the other four Santa Rosa sites could anchor some 1,375 units by 2022.
While that amount would mark a major effort by the county to expand the tight local housing market, it would not come close to matching the pace from the boom years before the most recent recession, when builders added nearly 18,000 houses, apartments and condominiums in the county from 2000 to 2008. The county wants to get as many housing projects as possible underway this year.
Read more at: Sonoma County eyes its own Santa Rosa property in bid to ease housing shortage | The Press Democrat
Tim Stafford, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Early in 2002, I asked then-Mayor Mike Martini if he would like to take a short hike on land that was coming up for a Santa Rosa zoning decision. I knew Martini casually because our kids went to school together. Like a lot of my neighbors, I had concerns about a developer’s plans to build houses on land where we had taken innumerable walks and where my children had spent many hours exploring. He accepted my offer, so on a rainy day I showed him the land.
I didn’t try to discuss the land-use decision with Martini, and he didn’t say much as we hiked. I had the impression, however, that he was stunned by the beauty he saw. That impression was ratified by his subsequent actions. Within days, he had talked to the major players involved and helped arrange for the Open Space District to buy the land.
The arrangement was celebrated as a win for everybody. The Press Democrat wrote an editorial citing it as a great example of government working together for the common good. Chris Coursey, then a columnist for the paper, wrote enthusiastically of the “little slice of wilderness” that had been preserved.
Joined to two adjacent parcels that run along Paulin Creek — one a small pie-shaped county-owned property known as Parcel J, the other a larger parcel owned by the Water Agency for flood control — the open-space property was named Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve and shown on Open Space District maps. A large sign at the head of Beverly Way, the only road access to Parcel J, was put up by a county agency stating the existence of Paulin Creek Preserve as an entity preserved by multiple government agencies and urging that it be used with care. We neighbors believed the matter was settled forever.
In Coursey’s column, he quoted Martini saying, “I didn’t know places like this existed in Santa Rosa anymore.” Fifteen years later, it still does. But it may not, if the county’s plan to include Parcel J in the sale of the old Sutter Hospital property goes through. Parcel J has nothing to do with the hospital properties. They are adjacent, but they don’t access each other, not even on foot. But Parcel J is critical to the Paulin Creek Preserve. Without it, the other two properties are cut off from each other.
To be clear, the neighbors trying to separate Parcel J from the land sale have no objection to the development of the hospital lands. We know that housing is needed, and even though we live very close to that potential development, we aren’t opposed to it. What we hope to preserve is the small, beautiful swath of meadow and oak-studded hills, the wetlands and the creek that make up the Paulin Creek Preserve.
Read more at: Close to Home: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping | The Press Democrat
Read the latest plan for the Southeast Greenway here.
A subtle struggle is underway in southeast Santa Rosa between providing housing and preserving open space, and the pressure to provide housing appears to have the upper hand.
The latest design for a 57-acre greenway running on Caltrans right-of-way from Farmers Lane to Spring Lake calls for about 190 units of housing, most of it apartments clustered at the western end of what’s being called the Southeast Greenway.
That’s a 26 percent increase over the most intensely developed of the three options presented to city leaders late last year. It’s also 153 percent more units than the minimalist design favored by the group that’s been advocating for a greenway for eight years.
The revisions, made publicly available last week, followed months of public input and direction from members of the City Council and Planning Commission in November, many of whom stressed that the plan should reflect the city’s top priority, which is housing, and ensure the project can pay for itself, which more development would theoretically allow.
So Tuesday’s follow-up joint meeting of those two city bodies should prove a telling study in where city leaders are leaning when it comes to developing the ribbon of vacant land once eyed for the extension of Highway 12 over Spring Lake.
Will they embrace the new higher-density plan as presented, scale back development out of deference to neighbors hoping for the lightest footprint possible, or set aside even more land for housing near Yulupa Avenue and Summerfield Avenues?
Read more at: Santa Rosa greenway design makes room for more housing | The Press Democrat
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.
Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the surrounding Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.
But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal — the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units — has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.
A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”
Read more at: Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat
For more than a decade, the leaders of Sonoma County’s largest city have dreamed of transforming a cluster of vacant properties along the railroad tracks in downtown Santa Rosa into a vital new village filled with people opting for lower-impact urban living.
Time after time, proposals to develop the western side of Railroad Square have fallen apart, victims of political infighting, neighborhood opposition and economic slumps.
But the impending arrival of a $428 million regional rail system is breathing new life into efforts to create high-density housing around the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit platform in Railroad Square.
SMART has narrowed its search for a development partner as it prepares to start trains rolling through Santa Rosa later this year. Next month, SMART and the finalist in its quest for a development partner will present a detailed plan to build out the property.
As early as next summer, construction could get underway on a complex of market-rate and affordable apartments, retail spaces focused on food and wine, and a public plaza on a 5.4-acre site just west of the Railroad Square station.
OP-ED: Daniel Borenstein, CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Now the hard work begins.
Leaders of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Wednesday temporarily halted their ham-handed bid for a hostile takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments. Instead, the two regional planning agencies have promised to work cooperatively toward a needed and long-overdue merger.
There’s much at stake. The Bay Area must better align housing, jobs and public transit. We spend too much time stuck in traffic. It will only get worse if we fail to build densely near transit centers and continue to approve sprawl along highway corridors already filled to capacity.
Unfortunately, for decades we’ve had two regional planning agencies — one for transportation, the other for housing — that have been engaged in passive-aggressive and sometimes open warfare.
Read more at: Daniel Borenstein: Much at stake for Bay Area in regional planning merger talks – ContraCostaTimes.com
Right outside city boundaries, more than 17,000 acres of land in Sonoma County has been put off limits to most development for more than a quarter-century to reduce sprawl, protect farmland and natural habitat and provide some scenic buffer between urban areas that most county residents call home.
But some of the curbs that established those so-called community separators, first adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 1989 and strengthened by two voter-approved ballot measures in the late 1990s, are set to expire at the end of next year. Their enactment decades ago marked a key win for the county’s environmental movement, with current leaders making it a top priority to see the protections renewed.
So far, however, they haven’t had the reception they’d hoped for from the Board of Supervisors, which has balked at fully endorsing an extension at the ballot box in 2016. The issue could become a key one in races for three board seats up for election next year.
Teri Shore, the North Bay’s director for the Greenbelt Alliance, an environmental group spearheading the campaign, said a September poll shows that there is widespread public support for extending the protections indefinitely. They currently exist outside most cities and towns in the county, except for Cloverdale and Penngrove, where supporters hope to enact new limits.
Waffling by supervisors could undermine the protections, Shore said.“Without the voter-backed initiatives, the community separators are weaker and at risk of being developed because supervisors could easily change them,” Shore said. “These are important, major protections that shield open space and agricultural lands from development, and they keep Sonoma County from sprawling from city to city like you see in other parts of the Bay Area or Los Angeles.”
The issue is re-emerging as housing costs in the county continue to escalate, putting pressure on elected leaders to fast-track construction of units, especially for working- and middle-class families.
Read more at: Amid housing crunch, push to renew Sonoma County’s | The Press Democrat