Lately, while so much council attention is paid to our Plaza trees, homes in the hillsides, and the exact right number of food trucks to attend farmers market, a critical issue is left out of the discussion.
For the working class of our community, Sonoma is becoming or has already become an unattainable possibility. Countless engaged, productive members of our society have been forced to leave due to skyrocketing rent prices and a lack of housing. While we argue over the issues of the day, the systemic problem that faces our city goes largely undiscussed by our leadership. Many references to a “housing crisis” are made but no studies are done, no creative solutions are offered or explored.
Due to a lack of clear direction, developers have attempted to frame any amount of housing as affordable, pretending that any increase of housing stock will immediately decrease housing prices and solve the problem. Hotels have been proposed that completely waive their housing requirements arguing the “economic benefits” they bring exempt them. Large and dense projects have been brought to the table under the guise of workforce housing when in reality only offering the bare minimum of affordable units to those on the lowest end of the spectrum and nothing for those who make a teachers, firemans, or servers salaries.
For the community’s part, strong opposition is mounted to any project of any quality anywhere. Appeal after appeal slows down the process to the point where nothing can get done. While many of these complaints are legitimate, others are not and serve to protect individual interests over what’s best for Sonoma.
What gets lost in all of this confusion is the loss of community. We’ve all gotten so wrapped up in what we want for ourselves, that we have no vision of what’s right for Sonoma as a whole. The question we need to start asking is what’s best for Sonoma — what will make this town a better place, and where we are willing to compromise to achieve that goal.
So, what do we actually want? Do we want teachers, firefighters, hotel staff, and winery workers to be able to live in this town?
If yes, then we need to build more housing to serve people making between 30 and 150 percent of the local average income. Keeping workers in the city can reduce traffic and help local businesses survive and thrive.
Do we want to build workforce housing while preserving and protecting our natural surroundings? If yes, then we need to accept the fact that to avoid building in our natural surroundings we need to build higher density infill housing.
Do we want to build cohesive neighborhoods? If yes, then we need to ensure that good faith efforts are made to provide the public enough time to understand and give input on new developments. Input from all interested parties make projects better and more likely to succeed.
We have to come together as a community if we want to Sonoma to continue to thrive. We have to find creative solutions to the problem of housing. In this well-touristed town there are plenty of creative funding solutions to explore. Sonoma is a hotspot for developers to build, but it’s imperative that these developments are built to truly serve the members of our community. We must insure that housing opportunities on commercial builds are and that precious infill resources are not wasted on housing out of the reach of our workforce.
But most of all we need to start having this conversation. We have to attack this systemic problem in Sonoma head on. Many destination cities in California have already become stale representations of what they once were. The threat is real, and if this town keeps missing the forest for the trees, we’ll all lose in the end.