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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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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

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Windsor voters approve 22-year extension of urban growth boundary

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Windsor voters overwhelmingly approved a 22-year extension to the town’s urban growth boundary, endorsing a plan established in the 1990s to limit sprawl and focus development inside core areas.
Measure H won with 74.8 percent of the ballots cast in Tuesday’s election, which was conducted entirely by mail.
The measure expanded the area for development, adding three parcels totaling 22.5 acres and zoned for light industrial use. The additional parcels will allow existing businesses to expand their operations within the boundary, said Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge.
“This vote means that the boundary for Windsor will remain for the next 22 years,” Fudge said.
Fudge said the urban growth boundary is a necessary tool to protect local agriculture and to maintain the region’s rural quality, which she said gives Sonoma County its high quality of life.
“The last thing people up here want is to become another Silicon Valley, where the cities run into each other without any green spaces,” she said.
Read more at: Windsor voters approve 22-year extension of urban growth boundary

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Blazing speed: UGB's come up for a vote and post-fire rebuild plans come into focus

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
It would be inaccurate to say that the fire-limiting qualities of so-called urban growth boundaries and community separators were vindicated in the North Bay fires.
After all, as Teri Shore notes, the catastrophic Tubbs fire swept through the Fountaingrove neighborhood, crossed the community separator there, jumped into Santa Rosa’s urban growth boundary (UGB) and then burned it up.
Shore, regional director at the Greenbelt Alliance, has embraced UGBs and community separators. Urban growth boundaries took root decades ago in places like San Jose, Boulder, Colo., and Sonoma County as part of a new urbanism vernacular of “livable cities,” “walkable cities,” “resilient cities” and other sobriquets to indicate a civic emphasis on high-density development in order to keep the surrounding lands pristine in their agricultural and biodiverse glory—as they set out to reduce sprawl, not for fire protection per se, but to save farms and communities and local cultures. The community separators indicate the area between developed areas which comprise the urban growth boundary.
It would be a “huge leap to say that the community separator or urban growth boundary could have prevented [the fires],” Shore says. “On the other hand, it could have been worse if we had built more outside of the city boundaries.”
In other words, the regional UGBs may have played a role in the fires akin to the “chicken soup rule” when you’re sick: in the event of a catastrophic fire, UGBs can’t hurt, and they might even help limit the damage to property.
“We’re thinking through it,” says Shore of the relationship between preventing fires and the rebuilding path forward, and the role of greenbelts in the rebuild.
“I don’t know if there’s a correlation,” she says, “but clearly keeping our growth within the town and cities, instead of sprawling out, potentially reduces the impact from wildfires.”
Read more at: Blazing Speed | News | North Bay Bohemian

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Windsor looks to extend the life of its urban growth boundary

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Environmental groups, including the Greenbelt Alliance, support Windsor’s proposal, although they said the town should consider charging developers to offset the loss of agricultural lands and protect them elsewhere in the town’s jurisdiction.

Almost 20 years ago, Windsor voters approved an urban growth boundary designed to keep a greenbelt and discourage sprawl. Now they are being asked to do it again.
The Town Council last week scheduled a special election for Nov. 7 to extend the life of the boundary encircling the town for another 22 years — until 2040 — with slight modifications.
“I’m really proud that this boundary has held for 20 years and that it will basically hold for 22 more. That’s 42 years,” Mayor Debora Fudge said of the expected enactment by voters.
This time around, the council is asking voters not only to reaffirm the boundary, but slightly expand it by adding 22 acres of agricultural land south of Shiloh Road to the town’s future jurisdiction.
Town Council members say they want to accommodate two existing Windsor businesses with expansion plans.
“It’s to keep our valuable business partners in Windsor,” Fudge said.
Read more at: Windsor looks to extend the life of its urban growth boundary | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County voters to decide on extending open space protections 

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
On an already bulging ballot, Sonoma County voters this fall will be asked whether to extend open space protections that for the past 20 years have helped shield more than 17,000 acres of farm and untouched lands from large-scale development.
community separatorsThe Board of Supervisors last week voted to place on the Nov. 8 ballot a measure extending for another two decades the county’s longstanding rule requiring property owners seek additional voter approval for projects such as large housing subdivisions, for example, or commercial projects on largely undeveloped county lands separating cities.

Open space advocates argue such protections affecting buffer zones between cities, known technically as community separators, help curb urban sprawl and contain growth. They do not prevent development outright, but make it more difficult by requiring voter approval to increase the intensity of development in designated rural areas. The protections, in place since 1996 and 1998, are set to expire at the end of 2016 and 2018, respectively, though other rules regarding the parcels will remain in place.

“This doesn’t remove development potential. Whatever people are allowed to do now, they’ll still be allowed to do,” said Teri Shore, regional director for the North Bay office of Greenbelt Alliance, the nonprofit spearheading the initiative. “This is essential if we want to maintain our rural landscape. The voter protections simply help strengthen the community separators.”

Supervisors last week approved a parallel proposal through a general plan amendment that will triple the amount of land included in the buffer zones. The new greenbelts, slated for final approval by supervisors in August, include 37,700 acres of largely undeveloped county land north of Santa Rosa, east of Sebastopol, around Cloverdale and Healdsburg, south of Petaluma and between Penngrove and Cotati.

Read more at: Sonoma County voters to decide on extending open space protections | The Press Democrat

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Windsor Council considers asking voters to reaffirm growth boundary 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two decades ago, amid debate over how fast and far the town should grow, Windsor voters approved an urban boundary intended to curb sprawl, preserve agricultural land and maintain the open space that separates it from neighboring cities.
At the time the urban growth boundary — a sharp line showing how far the town can expand — was controversial because it deleted 273 acres outside the city north of Arata Lane that the Town Council had previously designated for future low-density housing.“Development forces were very strong and Windsor had just incorporated,” Councilwoman Deb Fudge recalled Tuesday. “We had 1,800 homes in the pipeline and developers wanted to put 800 more north of Arata. There was seemingly no end to housing development in Windsor.
”The growth boundary ended up being approved overwhelmingly by 72 percent of voters, but it also had a 20-year life span, and now is due to expire at the end of next year.
The Town Council Wednesday is scheduled to discuss renewing the boundary, and direct staff to prepare a ballot measure that could come before voters in November’s presidential election. The council also could seek voter approval for the boundary in a special election next year, or wait until the November 2017 general election.
Read more: Windsor Council considers asking voters to reaffirm growth boundary | The Press Democrat

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Community separators could be a voter favorite in 2016

Jay Gamel, THE KENWOOD PRESS
Measure to curb urban sprawl set to expire next year
Many organizations concerned with the future of the county’s Community Separator program are being proactive about the impending sunset of the voter-approved measure coming up next year. A survey commissioned by the Greenbelt Alliance indicates strong voter support for not only re-approving the concept of preventing urban sprawl, but even strengthening it to include a wider area of protection, such as riparian habitat, and protecting drinking water, among others.
Community separators basically seek to preserve a greenbelt around each Sonoma County city by prohibiting increased building density without a public vote. They do not restrict any other permitted development within the designated zoning overlay. To qualify for a county mandated community separator, each city had to establish its own Urban Growth Boundary – a limit on how far the city would seek to expand in the future.

Map of Northeast Santa Rosa Community Separator
The Northeast Santa Rosa Community Separator (shown in yellow) encompasses 3,300 acres. (Map courtesy of the Greenbelt Alliance)

With a few exceptions for schools, fire departments and other public interest developments, the community separator concept has been successful: there have been no increased density developments within them for the past 18 years, though there have been developments, such as Kenwood’s La Campagna/Sonoma Country Inn on the Graywood Ranch property, which was permitted through an exception for “overriding considerations,” such as enhanced tax revenue.
Two years ago, the county’s Board of Supervisors budgeted time and resources for its Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) to examine the effect of the community separators and what to do when they expire. A PRMD analysis is expected to be delivered before the end of the year. The direction was to review and strengthen General Plan community separator policies.
However, as far as strengthening the law, Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin said, “PRMD has limited resources to work on the necessary outreach to consider adding extensive land to the separators, in anticipation of a ballot initiative.”
The process for renewal of a similar or expanded community separator law involves either the supervisors putting it on the ballot, or it being created through a voter petition, requiring nearly 15,000 signatures in Sonoma County. The former is the preferred process of just about everyone concerned.
A wide range of interested people gathered at the Sonoma Land Trust office in Santa Rosa on Oct. 8 to hear the Greenbelt Alliance survey findings. Those present included representatives from the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, Valley of the Moon Alliance, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Sonoma Land Trust, Wine & Water Watch, American Farmland Trust, Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy, Greenbelt Alliance, Preserve Rural Sonoma, and city council members from Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
Read more at: The Kenwood Press – Community separators could be a voter favorite in 2016

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County, Lytton tribe sign agreement

Robin Gordon, THE WINDSOR TIMES
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signed an agreement on Tuesday with the Lytton Rancheria of California that supports a tribal housing project west of Windsor and outlines parameters around the development.
The 124-acres of land owned by the Lytton Band of Pomo is slated for 147 housing units and, a community building, roundhouse and, in the future, may include a winery and resort.
County officials said that agreeing to the terms before the land is taken into trust would help ensure best management practices when the county no longer has control. The tribe agreed to $6.1 million in mitigation payments for impacts to roads, administrative costs, woodlands and parks surrounding the Windsor River Road property.
“This is something that was in no way spelled out before. Any kind of work that they do on the location now has to fit county code and general plan reviews. We have had examples around the country where a tribe has moved their lands into trust and then there is no interaction whatsoever, it annexes out of the jurisdiction of the county and then you have no way to deal with impacts,” Supervisor James Gore said.
The memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the county and the representatives of the tribe outlines the county’s relationship with the tribe and the importance of coming to an agreement that addresses land use, environmental impacts and their mutual goals.
“This is a big deal, let’s be honest, this is a very big deal. We talk about this as a memorandum agreement but it is also important to realize who has authority over what when we get into discussions with the county…the tribe has certain rights to take legally owned land into trust and govern that land outside of the local jurisdiction and governments,” Gore said.
Currently the tribe is in the processes of transferring the land out of fee-based property status and into a federal trust. Typically, once the land is taken into trust, no property taxes are paid and local zoning laws no longer apply. Through this agreement, the tribe agrees to develop lands consistent with Windsor’s General Plan and the County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
Read more at: County, Lytton tribe sign agreement – The Windsor Times: News