For many years, the Sonoma City Council has talked about addressing the need for more affordable housing, while preserving city character. Somehow nothing seemed to get done, perhaps because a council majority was content with the status quo. Now the city has a council majority ready to act on these issues. They are looking at a serious proposal to address local housing issues, and there is focused movement towards adopting a $15 city minimum wage two years earlier than required by the state.
These are good signs, signs we predicted in an earlier editorial, of an activist, progressive council ready to act on their campaign issues.
It’s safe to say that Rachel Hundley and Logan Harvey of the council’s ad hoc housing committee are on the right track here. Why? Area median income (AMI) housing is a top state issue for the Gavin Newsom administration, and a top regional issue identified by the Committee to House the Bay Area, known as CASA. Addressing social equity issues in housing is also a top priority of Sustainable Sonoma, Alliance for a Just Recovery, Los Cien, La Luz, and the Sonoma Valley Housing Group. AMI housing is a top concern of climate groups, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by keeping people local. The Sonoma Valley Fund’s Hidden in Plain Sight study identified AMI-level housing as the number one area that local philanthropy has not addressed.
For developers, housing is also a top issue, but for different reasons. Developers see obstructionism as the main problem. Housing in boom-and-bust California has the baggage of past environmentalist vs. developer fights about sprawl and growth. High-density infill is the new planning mantra, but developers are now encountering resistance from those wanting to preserve small town character. While past growth boundary fights are mostly settled, mistrust remains, and all parties make political capital out of blaming city hall for housing impediments.
The reality is that in Sonoma Valley, property owners and developers have controlled the housing location debate. Renters and entry-level home buyers have been left on the sidelines as the housing market has catered to the affluent. A majority of the new council seems to be looking to include AMI stakeholders, and to balance “community character” through action on housing. City hall is on the move!
The council’s ad hoc housing committee is now proposing that Sonoma take up a template of the Housing Action Plan (HAP) adopted in Healdsburg. The Healdsburg HAP identified eight priority recommendations. These are: revise the growth management and inclusionary ordinances, revise impact fees for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), find funding, create density incentives, focus code on serving the AMI spectrum and make a new “middle income” category of up to 160% AMI, and address parking and design quagmires. These priorities are pretty much common sense, and Healdsburg’s plan is relevant for Sonoma.
The HAP process, if adopted, will also dovetail with city and county General Plan updates, the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) renewal, and the Springs Specific Plan EIR. A synergy of integrated and inclusive housing planning is possible. We hope that the council can keep up the good work; act to address local AMI housing issues; provide solid, multi-stakeholder leadership; and direct the city to meet its proportional housing obligations.
SUN Editorial Board