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Rough paths forward for projects promising 1,200 housing units on Sonoma County land

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Housing units constructed in Santa Rosa in the last 5 years: 1,258

Housing units possible on 3 county-owned sites in Santa Rosa: nearly 1,200

Chanate Road, former county hospital complex
Size: 82 acres
Total units proposed: 867 (162 affordable)
Sales price: $6 million — $11.5 million

2150 W. College Ave., former Water Agency headquarters
Size: 7.5 acres
Total units proposed: 144 (29 affordable)*

*New development proposals being solicited

Roseland Village shopping center, Dollar Tree site
Size: 7 acres
Total units proposed: 175 (75 affordable)

Sonoma County wants to transform three large taxpayer-owned properties in Santa Rosa into new housing, with plans calling for as many as 1,200 units, a surge of supply in even greater demand after the destruction wrought by last year’s wildfires.

But with each of the county properties, which are either vacant or in need of improvements, the goals of government and developers have proven elusive, slowing the creation of new housing at a critical time, after nearly 5,300 homes were lost in the county in October’s fires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8213280-181/rough-paths-forward-for-projects

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A bold, divisive plan to wean Californians from cars

Conor Dougherty and Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s an audacious proposal to get Californians out of their cars: a bill in the State Legislature that would allow eight-story buildings near major transit stops, even if local communities object.

The idea is to foster taller, more compact residential neighborhoods that wean people from long, gas-guzzling commutes, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

So it was surprising to see the Sierra Club among the bill’s opponents, since its policy proposals call for communities to be “revitalized or retrofitted” to achieve precisely those environmental goals. The California chapter described the bill as “heavy-handed,” saying it could cause a backlash against public transit and lead to the displacement of low-income residents from existing housing.

State Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s sponsor, responded by accusing the group of “advocating for low-density sprawl.”

In a state where debates often involve shades of blue, it’s not uncommon for the like-minded to find themselves at odds. But the tensions over Mr. Wiener’s proposal point to a wider divide in the fight against climate change, specifically how far the law should go to reshape urban lifestyles.

Although many cities and states are embracing cleaner sources of electricity and encouraging people to buy electric vehicles, they are having a harder time getting Americans to drive less, something that may be just as important.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/16/business/energy-environment/climate-density.html

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After fires, a push to fix housing crisis

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As it emerged from the Great Recession and a moribund housing market, Sonoma County in 2011 needed seven years to build nearly 5,000 new homes.

The fires of October wiped a greater number of houses and apartments off the map here in a single day.

The unprecedented disaster deepened an existing housing crisis and fueled calls by local officials to dramatically accelerate the pace of new home construction — perhaps to a level never before seen in the county, even in the decadeslong building boom following World War II.

By two recent estimates, a yawning gap exists between the housing stock the county had before the fires — about 208,000 homes, apartments and other units — and what is needed to keep the economy growing and to comfortably house a wide range of workers and families.

It could be as high as 30,000 units — equivalent to what exists in Rohnert Park, Windsor and Sebastopol — according to county supervisors, who set that figure as an ambitious five-year building target that would include both the burn areas and surrounding communities.

“We are eroding the character of our county by not allowing people who work here to live here and be a part of the community,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore. The county, he said, came up with its estimate of 30,000 homes “not as a hopeful aspiration, but as an analysis of how much we’re short from a healthy housing market.”

But some leaders in the local building and real estate industry say there is no conceivable way for the county to build 6,000 houses and apartments a year, equivalent to completing 16 homes a day. The obstacles, builders say, include insufficient levels of labor, materials and projects ready to go.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8011910-181/fires-fuel-a-daunting-push

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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 –