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Healdsburg at a Crossroads

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Healdsburg at a Crossroads

By Jay Beckwith

It’s hard to believe that not too long ago Healdsburg was a rough farm and lumber town with more bars than churches. 20 years ago it got a dose of Windsor-like development, which precipitated a backlash and a Growth Management Ordinance (GMO). About the same time the town decided it was a great idea to promote tourism. What could possibly go wrong?

Having seen that unintended consequences can come back to bite you, the City Council has bent over backwards to insure that changes to the GMO are well researched and supported by the community. And study they have, to the extent that at the last community meeting there was an overwhelming consensus that the main problem now is a lack of leadership, i.e. ”Do something!” and a call for more housing, a lot more housing.

There are very few in town who have not been touched by the mass exodus of residents and small businesses. So while the community leaders continue to fret over whether ballot measure in November should set the limit at 45 units per year or 60 and what percentage should be market rate or affordable, the town continues to hemorrhage the very people who have been its backbone.

Old-timers who want to downsize can’t even cash in on the goldmine that their homes now represent unless they move out of town since there are no homes they can buy with their profits. So they hang on for now but at some point, in the not too distant future, they too will join the diaspora.

Meanwhile SoFi, the rapidly growing lending company has come to town bringing in over a hundred employees to the downtown. While people generally like SoFi, they contribute both to an already difficult parking situation and housing market.

As people continue to decry the loss of the traditional Healdsburg small town character they don’t recognize that that ship has already sailed. There are really only two roads ahead. Healdsburg can continue to try to “manage” its growth which will pour gasoline on the already flaming housing market, or it can move forward with an aggressive community building program that includes a majority of deed restricted homes that will forever remain affordable. The only action on the docket is a GMO in November. What could possibly go wrong?