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Our County by Efren Carrillo

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Our County by Efren Carrillo - June 2016

by Efren Carrillo

An important step toward protecting the Atascadero Green Valley wetlands was taken by the Planning Commission on May 5th. The Board of Supervisors adopted a Minute Order last November directing the Permit and Resource Management Department to bring forward a proposal to update the general plan by designating the wetlands along Atascadero Creek. Previously, the Army Corps of Engineers had delineated the section north of Green Valley Rd, but the southern portion extending from there through the town of Graton and into Sebastopol had not been mapped. 

Community residents approached me last year, and noted that a study had been ordered over 20 years ago, but never completed. The Atascadero Marsh is one of the wetlands identified for additional protections in the General Plan. This area is one of the few remaining salmonid habitats in the area, and its sensitive wetlands are under increased development pressure. Designating the area as Biotic Habitat will result in a larger setback for any development from identified wetlands.

The Atascadero Marsh wetlands are also within the Green Valley Creek watershed, which the State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife have recently identified as a priority area of protection of endangered Coho salmon and steelhead. The prospect of restoring and protecting habitat for these endangered species will support and strengthen our community efforts. Once a wetland has been subjected to development, it is very hard to restore this incredibly valuable biotic resource. Preventing loss of the wetlands is the best approach and the right thing to do going forward.

The housing crisis has been on everyone’s mind this year, with rental vacancy rates at record lows and rent increases at record highs. At the county, we are working on a toolbox to expand affordable housing. This year, during our advertising hearings, the Board took a step in the right direction by allocating $1 million from Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenues to be added to the Community Development Commission’s workforce housing budget. This funding had been eliminated during the recession, but we’ve seen the increased need created by the loss of redevelopment funding - which had been used as the primary tool for most affordable housing projects – while TOT revenues have recovered and begun to steadily increase. The Advertising Committee, which I have served on since being elected in 2009, was able to set aside these funds which will be put to good use.

In the coming weeks, our Board will be receiving recommendations from the County Administrator’s office on options for improving the process to build affordable housing in the unincorporated area. Junior Second units are an exciting concept that will be part of the discussion. These units allow homeowners to repurpose unused bedrooms and bathrooms inside their existing homes to provide rental income to them and an affordable (by design) living space for individuals. It’s akin to creating a tiny home inside of an existing home. In many ways, this is a win-win, allowing older people on fixed incomes a path to aging in place, and offering affordable rental space to students and young professionals.

On May 10th, an innovative housing project was approved for downtown Graton. The property that will be developed borders the downtown business block, and contains an unused water tower that is a local landmark. The project includes 10 townhomes, 2 of these will be built by Habitat for Humanity as permanently affordable homes. 6 of the homes will have second units. So this will add a total of 16 new homes to the parcel. The funky alley will be improved, and a walkway down the middle will provide access to a new public park. The Graton Green Group has been raising funds for a park for the past few years. With this project, they were included in the development plan by Orrin and Teri Theissen. Orrin transformed downtown Graton over 20 years ago. 

The property had been owned by him years ago, and he was able to buy it back last year. Graton Green Group approached Orrin after he procured the property, and made the case that a public park on the site would be a great community asset, and an amenity for the future homeowners. Graton Green Group will be applying to the Open Space District’s matching grant program this fall, and the highly anticipated Graton park will be well on its way. As the site had been used for a community garden over the years while it sat fallow, this is a perfect outcome for the community. Much needed housing, some built by Habitat, and a new park!