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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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The sword and the shield: Is CEQA to blame for the North Bay’s housing crisis?

Tom Gogola, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The landmark California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 was intended as a shield against construction projects that imperiled the environment. But in a case of unintended consequences, critics charge that the powerful law has been wielded as a sword by labor groups, environmentalists and neighborhood groups to defeat proposed housing developments. The result, they argue, is that a well-intentioned law has driven up the cost and lowered the supply of affordable housing in the North Bay and California at large.

In a way, this is a tale of two competing points-of-view about CEQA. In one corner, CEQA critics decry the law as a leading impediment to building transit-oriented and infill housing in the state—and especially in urban regions such as Los Angeles and the greater North Bay. That’s the gist of a recent legal study by the San Francisco law firm Holland & Knight. The analysis was published in the Hastings Environmental Law Journal.

In the other corner are supporters of CEQA who say those claims are overstated, and perhaps wildly so, and that the real driver behind the region’s struggles to deal with its affordable housing crisis, or any housing for that matter, are the local agencies (zoning boards, planning commissions) that also must sign off on any proposed development.

That’s an argument advanced in another recent report published by UC Berkeley School of Law, called “Getting It Right,” which serves as a handy counterpoint to the Holland & Knight report.

This is more than an academic debate. The discussion comes at a key moment in the North Bay, which is still reeling from last year’s devastating wildfires that destroyed more than 5,000 homes in the region, making an acute housing crisis even worse.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/the-sword-and-the-shield/Content?oid=6374283

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Developer expands proposal for Rohnert Park downtown district at former State Farm campus

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans for RP development

The developer pitching an extensive redevelopment project in central Rohnert Park is seeking to both expand and accelerate its aspirations to create a vibrant downtown hub along the city’s commuter rail station.

Station Avenue, formerly called Rohnert Station, envisions a mixed-use development that would include homes, offices, retail shops and a hotel on a 32-acre campus just south of Rohnert Park Expressway. The sprawling, 320,000-square-foot facility was previously occupied by State Farm Insurance but has sat vacant since the company left in 2011.

Laulima Development, the San Francisco-based developer who bought it for $13.5 million last December, intends to submit its final development application to the city in the coming weeks.

It seeks to increase the combined amount of office and retail space to 250,000 square feet — a more than 40 percent expansion from an initial proposal — at least partly in response to high levels of interest from prospective tenants.

“For us, if we really want to create a meaningful downtown — that sense of place — we need that critical mass,” said David Bouquillon, managing partner of Laulima. “Early on, it was light. We’re always try to balance for that perfect ratio.”

The new downtown district, located next to the city’s existing SMART train commuter platform, also would include 415 units of market-rate housing spread across 150 for-sale homes and the remaining number in above-office rental lofts and apartments. While that total is unchanged from the earlier plans, the new layout also makes room for a new 156-room hotel to be built by a partner developer.

“We’ve been getting a lot of demands for hotels, and it piqued our interest,” Bouquillon said. “We found a way to make it work and it adds to the urban downtown, so we put that in the application.”

As part of the announcement last week, the company unveiled a new website with design renderings, a site plan, as well as a countdown to completion.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8413938-181/developer-expands-proposal-for-rohnert

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Piece by piece, a factory-made answer for a housing squeeze

Conor Dougherty, THE NEW YORK TIMES

California is in the middle of an affordable-housing crisis that cities across the state are struggling to solve. Rick Holliday, a longtime Bay Area real estate developer, thinks one answer lies in an old shipyard in Vallejo, about 40 minutes northeast of San Francisco.

Here, in a football-field-sized warehouse where workers used to make submarines, Mr. Holliday recently opened Factory OS, a factory that manufactures homes. In one end go wood, pipes, tile, sinks and toilets; out another come individual apartments that can be trucked to a construction site and bolted together in months.

“If we don’t build housing differently, then no one can have any housing,” Mr. Holliday said during a recent tour, as he passed assembly-line workstations and stacks of raw materials like windows, pipes and rolls of pink insulation.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/business/economy/modular-housing.html

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Deal reached in Petaluma luxury home development

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A controversial luxury home project in the hills of west Petaluma is set to move forward after the developer and an environmental group opposed to the project struck a deal that could scale back the size of the development and preserve sensitive habitat as parkland.

The Kelly Creek Protection Project reached the agreement with East Bay developer Davidon Homes this week. It would protect at least 75 percent of the environmentally-sensitive lands surrounding Scott Ranch in west Petaluma while allowing construction of up to 28 homes.

Since 2004, Davidon Homes has been attempting to develop housing on the 58-acre property next to Helen Putnam Regional Park, initially proposing 93 luxury homes. But environmental groups and numerous residents mobilized against the project, often spilling out of the council chambers at various city meetings.

KCPP director Greg Colvin, who has been on the frontlines of that fight, watched the developer’s proposal shrink with each environmental review that came before city council.

On Monday, Davidon Homes signed a purchase and sale agreement with KCPP, promising to sell 44 of the most vital acres on the property if the nonprofit can raise $4.1 million by Sept. 1. Under the deal, KCPP will not oppose Davidon’s bid to construct up to 28 homes on the north side of the property, away from the Kelly Creek watershed and red-legged frog habitat.

Davidon will sell the entire property to KCPP if the nonprofit can raise $11 million by Dec. 1.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8402528-181/deal-reached-in-petaluma-luxury

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Petaluma housing development moves forward despite concerns

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The 14-year-old Sid Commons, one of the largest proposed residential projects in Petaluma, continued its slow crawl toward approval thanks to a split city council vote on the development’s preliminary environmental report after a lengthy meeting Monday night at City Hall.

Residents near the project site, located on 15 acres at the terminus of Graylawn Avenue between the train tracks and Oak Creek Apartments and just south of the Petaluma River, trumpeted trepidations for a draft environmental impact study they felt came up short on traffic analysis and mitigating the potential harm to the area’s hard-fought flood protections.

The council echoed those concerns to the developer, J. Cyril Johnson Investment Corp., and city staff. On a 3-2 vote, with council members Gabe Kearney and Chris Albertson absent, the council allowed preparation of the final environmental impact report to begin contingent on an updated traffic study of Payran Street, which has steadily become a main thoroughfare, connecting Petaluma Boulevard North and East Washington Street.

“People use it to avoid East Washington and Petaluma Boulevard and they use it to get to the north end of the boulevard,” said councilwoman Kathy Miller. “There’s quite a bit of traffic there … you sit for a long time.”

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8354231-181/petaluma-housing-development-moves-forward

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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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Op-Ed: What Santa Rosa needs most right now: modular housing

Amy Appleton and Steve Birdlebough, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

High quality factory-built housing has been popular in Japan since the 1960s and has been widely used to expedite housing construction in Europe for over a decade. Unfortunately, too many of us here think of a run-down trailer park when someone mentions modular housing.

In the light of our ongoing housing shortage, worsened by the wildfires, new approaches such as assembly line construction are needed to speed the delivery of enough places for people to live here.

Factories can complete four to eight living units per day, whereas the on-site construction of a home takes close to a year.

Many fire victims now in hotels or Federam Emergency Management Agency trailers must find affordable housing elsewhere by April of 2019 — likely an impossible task for most. Factory-built living units may be the key to make timely housing available for these people.

Many fire victims have been taken in by family or friends. But life in a crowded home can be wearing. An extra factory-built room or granny unit to accommodate them could save relationships.

Also, we need to bring back the important members of our workforce who are now commuting from distant places. And how will we accommodate the construction workers needed to rebuild? More housing and shared housing are what thousands of people need.

Santa Rosa’s commendable goal is to enable speedy replacement of the 3,000 homes in the city that burned,and construction of more dwellings to restore the housing market. But with fewer than 100 building permits issued since the fires, little rebuilding is likely to finish by April 2019. Many more housing options are needed right away.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8171380-181/close-to-home-what-santa

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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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Why Is California rebuilding in fire country? Because you’re paying for it

Christopher Flavelle, BLOOMBERG NEWS

At the rugged eastern edge of Sonoma County, where new homes have been creeping into the wilderness for decades, Derek Webb barely managed to save his ranch-style resort from the raging fire that swept through the area last October. He spent all night fighting the flames, using shovels and rakes to push the fire back from his property. He was even ready to dive into his pool and breathe through a garden hose if he had to. His neighbors weren’t so daring—or lucky.

On a recent Sunday, Webb wandered through the burnt remains of the ranch next to his. He’s trying to buy the land to build another resort. This doesn’t mean he thinks the area won’t burn again. In fact, he’s sure it will. But he doubts that will deter anyone from rebuilding, least of all him. “Everybody knows that people want to live here,” he says. “Five years from now, you probably won’t even know there was a fire.”

As climate change creates warmer, drier conditions, which increase the risk of fire, California has a chance to rethink how it deals with the problem. Instead, after the state’s worst fire season on record, policymakers appear set to make the same decisions that put homeowners at risk in the first place. Driven by the demands of displaced residents, a housing shortage, and a thriving economy, local officials are issuing permits to rebuild without updating building codes. They’re even exempting residents from zoning rules so they can build bigger homes.

State officials have proposed shielding people in fire-prone areas from increased insurance premiums—potentially at the expense of homeowners elsewhere in California—in an effort to encourage them to remain in areas certain to burn again. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spent a record $700 million on fire suppression from July to January, yet last year Governor Jerry Brown suspended the fee that people in fire-prone areas once paid to help offset those costs.

Critics warn that those decisions, however well-intentioned, create perverse incentives that favor the short-term interests of homeowners at the edge of the wilderness—leaving them vulnerable to the next fire while pushing the full cost of risky building decisions onto state and federal taxpayers, firefighters, and insurance companies. “The moral hazard being created is absolutely enormous,” says Ian Adams, a policy analyst at the R Street Institute, which advocates using market signals to address climate risk. “If you want to rebuild in an area where there’s a good chance your home is going to burn down again, go for it. But I don’t want to be subsidizing you.”

Read more at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-03-01/why-is-california-rebuilding-in-fire-country-because-you-re-paying-for-it