Sonoma’s 20-year-old urban growth boundary (UGB) is up for renewal. The current language is said to allow annexing land at the city edge for affordable housing, 50-80% of area median income (AMI). (In Sonoma today, 80% AMI is $86,400 for a family of four— teachers, firemen, and other mid-level earners.)
But when a land-use attorney was consulted, their opinion was that the language of the current ordinance actually works to prevent this affordable-housing development.
When non-profit developer Habitat for Humanity proposed a 62-unit project at 285 Napa Road that would serve people who make 80% AMI or less, the difficulties it faced reveal the weaknesses in current UGB language.
To make the UGB ordinance friendlier for affordable housing, we propose the following changes:
Since the current housing crisis leaves all of the area-median-income cohort burdened by housing costs, the language should be revised to make it possible to build housing for all levels of those who work in Sonoma, 100% AMI and down.
This could make for endless arguing about what “reasonably feasible” means and what constitutes “underdeveloped land.” Since a great many Sonoma lots have been built on over the last 20 years (most of them for “market-rate” housing), Habitat found no equivalent to 285 Napa Road within the UGB.
In the middle of a major housing crisis, why would Sonoma want to limit affordable housing to the minimum the state requires? The current displacement rate of the AMI workforce, and the demographic imbalance of Sonoma to white and wealthy, calls for more than affordable-housing minimums.
We hope these proposed language changes help start a discussion on how to make the next UGB ordinance friendlier and more flexible for the type of housing that Sonoma most needs.
— Dave Ransom, chair, Sonoma Valley Housing Group. Dave Ransom lives in Santa Rosa and goes to church in Sonoma.