Today’s Housing Crisis is a product of cumulative land use decisions made over the past three decades combined with a significant increase of unnecessary and/or duplicitous rules and regulations. There is no question that the October Fire tragedy put an exclamation point on the Housing Crisis, however it is imperative to reverse this trend of housing barriers before the community agrees to further tax ourselves toward a solution.

The Board of Supervisors, Santa Rosa City Council, and their Planning Departments should be commended for implementing policies in order to expedite rebuilding in the fire zones and priority development areas. However, there remain additional opportunities that must be applied to all development within the respective General Plans, not just those within the fire zones. The Sonoma County Alliance believes taking action is required to positively impacting new housing opportunities.

For over 25 years the County and Cities have collected in lieu fees and Real Estate Transfer Taxes intended to be re-invested in affordable housing, but there is no transparency toward how much has been collected, spent, or reserved. Publicly detailing these assets and aggressively investing them appropriately, could give an immediate boost toward much needing housing projects.

The extreme cost for mitigation of the California Tiger Salamander and other endangered species has essentially disqualified any projects from being developed in those affected areas. We encourage our local officials to work with State and Federal Regulatory Agencies to identify available subsidies and locations with the objective to create cost effective alternatives toward compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Many of these alternatives exist within our current public and privately owned land, including the Ag and Open Space District. With the complexity of multiple agencies being involved, these efforts need to begin immediately and with a constant sense of urgency.

We all love Sonoma County but the protections we have implemented such as Growth Ordinances, Urban Growth Boundaries, Community Separators, 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 the current General Plan guidelines particularly those within Transit Oriented and other Priority Development Areas. We (NIMBYS too!) all voted in these protections in order to support the growth of new urbanism concepts. We all need to support these projects now.

To date, permits have been issued by Santa Rosa and Sonoma County Planning Departments to replace approximately 10% of the homes lost last October. While it is fair to expect that pace to increase, it will very likely be 5-7 years to replace all our lost homes. And this does not begin to address the housing crisis we faced before the fires. The approval processes are too long, too expensive, and almost non-attainable. We need to be aggressive in making changes in how we get things done. There is no reason to expect a different result as long as we keep doing the same thing. We need to collectively maintain a “can do, will do, must do” attitude towards moving projects through the approval process.

There will be a significant debate ahead regarding the value of taxing ourselves with proposed housing bond(s). There will be no debate about the urgent need for solutions. My own children are among the many that have already committed their future outside of Sonoma County and California. Until bold change is implemented, this sad trend will only continue. We’re asking our elected leaders to be bold and our community to be supportive every step of the way.

Brian Ling
Executive Director
Sonoma County Alliance