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Sonoma County Gazette
The Board of Supervisors

Supervisors Consider New Regional Housing Planning Effort, Pass Zoning Amendments

Oct 23, 2018
by Will Carruthers


At its October 23 meeting, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from a regional housing planning group and amended the county’s planning code to allow a range of housing options between single-family homes and traditional apartment buildings.

Housing the Bay Area

A staff member from CASA, advertised as "the Committee to House the Bay Area," presented an informational report about the group’s proposed solutions to the Bay Area’s housing affordability crisis.

Rebecca Long, a planner with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the group leading CASA, told the supervisors about the three factors of affordable housing: Production, Preservation and Protection.

Long defined the crisis as a mismatch between the Bay Area’s booming economy and a lack of new affordable housing units.

Sonoma County added 12 new jobs for every 1 new housing unit between 2010 and 2016.

CASA Housing-Jobs Ratio

Every year, the Bay Area has a shortage of $1.68 billion in funding needed to create enough housing to house the region's growing workforce, according to the presentation. 

Although the federal, state, county and city funding mechanisms for housing are common, CASA hopes to identify regional funding to battle the Bay Area’s housing crisis, similar to how bridge tolls help to fund regional transportation needs.

The funding would come from a combination of new fees levied on property owners, developers, employers, local governments and taxpayers, according to the report.

The group may also supports policies that preserve existing affordable housing units and protect low-income tenants with just cause eviction requirements, tenant counseling and permanent anti-rent gouging laws.

“Building housing is incredibly expensive,” Long said. “If we can think of alternatives that keep people in their homes, that would be good.”

In Sonoma County, recent efforts to fund affordable housing and enact tenant protections have had mixed results. This year, the business and agriculture groups shot down an effort to add an affordable housing bond to the November ballot. Instead, Santa Rosa voters will decide whether or not to approve a $124 million housing bond known as Measure N.

In 2016, the Santa Rosa City Council passed rent stabilization and tenant protections for its residents. The laws were eliminated by Measure C, a ballot measure funded by the California Apartment Association on June 2017 ballot.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie, and Santa Rosa City Council Member Julie Combs are members of CASA’s steering committee.

CASA needs to receive legislative approval from law makers in Sacramento to establish a regional housing fund. The group hopes to release a new report in December of January.

Planning Code Amendments

The supervisors unanimously passed four amendments to the county’s zoning code in its latest effort to spur housing production for a wider range of income levels in the wake of the 2017 North Bay Fires.

The changes are the second wave of recommendations by staff intended to quell the county’s housing crisis and allow those who lost their homes to rebuild in new, creative ways.

The changes would simplify standards for multiunit developments, change rules to encourage smaller housing units, allow the creation of cottage housing developments and allow housing to be built in commercial and industrial zones near transit hubs.

The first amendment, easing multi-unit development standards and policies incentivizing developments with multiple small units rather than one larger building, could apply to as many as 1,577 parcels around the county, according to a staff report.

The second change, which established the Workforce Housing Combing Zone identified 1,055 lots around the county within light commercial or industrial zones and within half a mile of a transit or employment zone as potential locations for housing development.

Although the supervisors’ vote does not permanently change the zoning of the lots, the Board, property owners and developers will be able to request zoning changes to allow housing on the identified lots moving forward, according to the staff report.

One of the applicable zones, near the Sonoma County Airport, was opposed by a local environmental organization.

Missing Middle housing types

During public comment period, Teri Shore, the Greenbelt Alliance’s North Bay regional director, raised concern that the proposed housing near the Sonoma County Airport would be built in a business district, the housing wouldn’t have access to schools or other normal neighborhood amenities.

“We are supportive of three of four of the proposals,” Shore said at the meeting. “But we’re concerned that the development will not have any of the required access to schools because the area is currently a corporate area.”

In a letter sent before the meeting, Shore asked the supervisors for them to drop the Workforce Housing Ordinance until the potential impacts of converting commercial and industrial zones into housing have been studied as part of the county’sGeneral Plan update.

A study of the project site, the county's Airport Area Specific Plan, is currently paused.

Gore said that the site would provide much-needed housing for the county near a SMART train station, and voiced his support for the project.

The third amendment, allowing the development of small houses, referred to as cottages, are intended to offer an option for home ownership for “the missing middle,” people who cannot afford a single family home but want to own a property.

“By remaining smaller than a typical single-family home, they tend to be more affordable to people whose incomes are too high for subsidized affordable housing units, but who are still priced out of the current rental housing market,” the staff report states.

The last amendment extends protections to mobile home park renters when a park owner converts a rental park into an ownership park.

The full agenda is available here.



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