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Owner of Journey’s End mobile home park in Santa Rosa won’t rebuild after Tubbs fire

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The fire-ravaged Journey’s End mobile home park will not reopen, but its owner is seeking to partner with a developer to build an apartment complex on the north Santa Rosa property, residents learned this weekend.

The family that owns the 13.5-acre site at Mendocino Avenue and Fountaingrove Parkway is working with nonprofit Burbank Housing to explore the feasibility of redeveloping the property into a mixture of affordable and market-rate apartments, Burbank chief executive officer Larry Florin said Sunday.

“We see this as an opportunity to preserve affordable housing but also to create something more permanent,” Florin said. “There’s a housing crisis, obviously, in Sonoma County.”

The decision not to rebuild throws former residents into another bout of uncertainty, with the hope of someday returning to their economical, tight-knit community now gone.

The mobile home park, a refuge for low-income and senior residents for nearly 60 years, has remained closed since the October wildfires. The Tubbs fire destroyed nearly three quarters of the 160 coaches on the property, killed two of its residents, incinerated its electrical and gas systems and irreparably contaminated the well supplying water to the community.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7972490-181/owner-of-journeys-end-mobile?utm_source=home

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Altamira project gets go-ahead

“Striving to better,” William Shakespeare warns in “King Lear,” “oft we mar what’s well.”

An undercurrent of that sentiment pervaded the Sonoma City Council meeting Jan. 29, when city officials denied an appeal of a controversial affordable housing proposal – paving the way for construction of a 48-unit low-income development at the south end of Broadway, and dashing the hopes of project critics who argued it was too big, too dense and too out of character with surrounding neighborhoods.

As skeptics reminded the crowd multiple times at the Monday meeting – it would be the densest housing development in the history of Sonoma.

As if, during a housing crisis, that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Opponents of the project urged the council to do its “due diligence” and order an environmental impact report on the proposal in order to better vet potential parking, traffic and noise implications — studies which city staff had already conducted, but whose conclusions were unsatisfactory to project opponents.

The council, while acknowledging the understandable concerns of the neighbors over a project of this size in their neck of the woods, made little haste in refuting the appeal and, in the words of Councilmember Gary Edwards, getting “shovels in the ground” on this small fraction of a much-needed infusion of affordable housing stock in the Valley.

Read more at http://www.sonomanews.com/opinion/7945368-181/jason-walsh-altamira-project-gets?sba=AAS

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New Sonoma County government office will focus on wildfire recovery, resiliency

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday created a new government office to help the region bounce back from this year’s devastating wildfires and assist with charting a formal vision for the long-term recovery of the local housing supply, the economy and other key areas.

The new Office of Recovery and Resiliency will have its own budget and seven staff members, three of whom will come from the ranks of current county employees. Housed within the County Administrator’s Office, the body will for at least the next five years support the production and implementation of a plan to guide the community’s recovery and improve its ability to withstand future disasters.

Staffing costs this fiscal year will total an estimated $400,000. While the county hopes to get federal reimbursement, local officials must find their own way to pay for it — at least for now — so the Board of Supervisors is expected to consider funding options early next month.

“We have to be bold,” said Supervisor James Gore of the recovery office. “I look forward to this being the start of a really kind of good, deep discussion as we go into next year.”

The plan will focus on five broad areas where the post-fire recovery will play out: the housing market, the economy, the environment, safety net services and local infrastructure. Similar collaborations among county departments have been in place since the fires’ immediate aftermath.

“In the wake of the disaster, our communities must have the right tools to make smart, fast and agile transitions so that we can emerge from this tragedy economically, environmentally and socially stronger than ever,” County Administrator Sheryl Bratton wrote in a document this month outlining her reasoning behind the recovery office proposal. “It can be done but doing it requires a shared vision for the building of a more resilient future — a return to the status quo is not sufficient.”

Read more at: New Sonoma County government office will focus on wildfire recovery, resiliency

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After fires, Sonoma County speeds sale of Santa Rosa property eyed for new apartments

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County has for several years wanted to sell a vacant building complex it owns in west Santa Rosa, but with the devastating October wildfires having intensified the region’s housing crisis, local officials now hope to get the property in the hands of a private developer faster than originally planned.

The county’s Community Development Commission this week released a request for developers to show their qualifications and interest in building new housing at 2150 W. College Ave. Prospective applicants have until 3 p.m. Monday to respond, and county supervisors could decide to move forward in some fashion the next day.

“We already had a housing shortage, and so every development that can be expedited and we can get out of the way in government to make stuff happen — I think that’s the order of the day,” said Margaret Van Vliet, the commission’s executive director.

County officials previously estimated the 7.5-acre site could support 170 apartments. Van Vliet thinks the property could ultimately house closer to 200 units.

The commission bought the property, which was formerly the headquarters of the county Water Agency, for $4.2 million this summer and then kicked off a process to select an apartment developer. But after the fires last month wiped out 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock, along with thousands of other homes outside city limits, the county decided it needed to speed up the process as much as possible.

Read more at: After fires, Sonoma County speeds sale of Santa Rosa property eyed for new apartments

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Post-fire housing challenges

Vesta Copestakes, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

We’re about the enter a new phase in Sonoma County, one that we were trying to achieve through environmental awareness and social and political activism.

Housing and homelessness have been our challenges and nothing we were doing was fixing the problem. Compassionate, intelligent people got together to find solutions, but ideas have been making a slow transition to implementation. People looked to tiny houses in tiny villages, or ADUs (Auxiliary Dwelling Units), but they just aren’t sprouting up fast enough to solve the problem. As housing prices rise, homes have become vacation rentals taking them out of the housing circuit. Rents have increased so high, people are forced to move out of the county and commute long distances to jobs.

Fire raged through the center of our county taking out thousands of homes, wiping out businesses, scorching the earth and devastating lives. Now we have newly homeless people who were happily housed and secure until flames destroyed what they had worked so hard to achieve. Now there are less homes and more homeless.

How are we going to fix this one?

The day after we go to press, our Board of Supervisors will be proposing some expansive changes in the way things get done around here. Right now we have a very pro-active board. One of our board members, Susan Gorin, was a victim of this fire like so many others. She is now homeless. Sure, she is among those who have insurance, and eventually, her home is likely to be rebuilt. I doubt very much that she is sleeping in an evacuation shelter, but no person can go through this kind of experience without being altered in some way.

Read more at: Post-Fire HOUSING Challenges

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Santa Rosa may boost housing densities in exchange for affordable units

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Finley Community Center Auditorium, 2060 W. College Ave, Santa Rosa

How much additional housing can — or should — your Santa Rosa neighborhood be asked to absorb?

The city is seeking feedback from the public Monday on its plan to dramatically increase housing densities throughout the city, especially downtown and near its two train stations.

The plan calls for increasing incentives known as density bonuses for developers that could allow up to 100 percent more housing units on a particular property than regular zoning would allow.

“This is an important tool in our tool chest to address the housing crisis,” said David Guhin, director of planning and economic development. “It’s not going to solve all of the issues, but it’s an important one.”

Currently, developers who build affordable units in their projects can be granted the right to build up to 35 percent more units than normal.

Read more at: Santa Rosa may boost housing densities in exchange for affordable units | The Press Democrat –

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Developer drops plans for controversial Sonoma boutique hotel in favor of housing 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Faced with a lengthy approval process and unrelenting opposition from a citizens’ group, developers have dropped plans to build a boutique hotel project northeast of the Sonoma Plaza.Caymus Development Group of Sonoma said they are eliminating a proposed 30-room hotel, restaurant and bakery and will concentrate instead on building more housing than originally planned on the 3.4 acre site.

Dropping the commercial portion, they said, will allow for additional units over the 27 condominiums and five single-family homes they were proposing. Under the city’s general plan there could be as many as 70  residential units on the site, but the developer declined to say if they would seek the maximum amount.

They portrayed their decision as driven by the urgent need for housing in the region. They also downplayed opposition to the proposed hotel, in a neighborhood some call Sonoma’s “backyard” — a collection of Little League ballfields, a senior center, a veterans hall and Depot Park that offer a respite of sorts from the bustling tourist-dominated plaza.

The hotel on First Street East was dropped “because housing is a humanitarian crisis,” said Caymus executive Ed Routhier. “We need to step up and do everything we can.”

Read more at: Developer drops plans for controversial Sonoma boutique hotel in favor of housing | The Press Democrat –

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Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Eyeing both the region’s persistent lack of affordable homes and the more recent labor shortage in its signature wine industry, Sonoma County is advancing plans for five vineyards to build housing for more than 170 farmworkers.

The Board of Supervisors will consider authorizing agreements Tuesday for two 37-bed bunkhouses that would shelter workers at vineyards in the Geyserville area. If approved, the agreements would follow similar plans supervisors signed off on last month to bring bunkhouses with nearly 100 total beds for farmworkers near Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Annapolis.

“We certainly have a labor shortage in Sonoma County, but I think that’s an effect of a housing shortage — there’s not enough affordable housing,” said Cameron Mauritson, vineyard manager for Mauritson Farms, which will host one of the bunkhouses.“

The way we saw it is we didn’t have a choice: We can’t not have people here to get the work done, but if they can’t afford to live here, then we have to figure out as a business how to make sure that we can control some housing that our employees live in.

”The bunkhouses are targeted for workers hired through the federal government’s H-2A program, which allows the agriculture industry to employ foreign guest workers for jobs that last as long as 10 months. Local grape growers have increasingly turned to the program as a way to address a short supply of available vineyard labor, hiring about 300 workers through H-2A this year, but employers have to provide housing in order to participate.

Read more at: Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers | The Press Democrat –

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Density helps new homes be more affordable

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A long-planned Roseland housing community designed with affordable prices in mind is moving forward in a big way, with construction poised to ramp up over the next month or so and the first crop of residents possibly moving in early next year.

At the Paseo Vista subdivision on Dutton Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa, houses in the first phase will start at $390,000 — a far cry below Sonoma County’s latest median home price of $644,000. The project keeps prices low through dense development and by having key sections of the homes built at a factory in Riverside before being shipped north for assembly in place by construction crews.

The 12.2-acre site has for about two years hosted three model homes advertising the property’s future potential. As final subdivision maps are recorded next week — they were previously approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in August — the developers expect houses to arrive in mid-October, putting the community on track to welcome its first residents sometime after the first of the year.

The project is planned to include 122 single-family townhouses for sale and 15 triplexes, each of which will include a studio, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom apartment for rent, the developers said. Among the 45 rental apartments, 32 units will be reserved for low income and very low income households, according to county officials.

Read more at: Santa Rosa developers moving forward on Roseland subdivision where homes start at $390,000 | The Press Democrat –

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How the state’s housing crisis happened

Angela Hart, SACRAMENTO BEE

Developers, housing advocates and some state lawmakers say it makes sense to build higher-density housing in cities, to accommodate more people, restrict suburban sprawl and preserve sensitive environmental areas. But community opposition often kills large-scale projects and leads to less dense housing.

California’s high housing costs are driving poor and middle income people out of their housing like never before. While some are fleeing coastal areas for cheaper living inland, others are leaving the state altogether.

Homelessness is on the rise. California is home to 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 22 percent of its homeless people. Cities that have seen dramatic rent increases, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, attribute their spikes in homelessness directly to a state housing shortage that has led to an unprecedented affordability crisis.

Read more at: California housing crisis has roots in slow pace of building | The Sacramento Bee