Plans could include the empty dormitories at the Sonoma Developmental Center
Recent developments in Sacramento could bring significant changes to Sonoma Valley neighborhoods and perhaps alleviate the county’s homeless crisis.
Governor Gavin Newsom has announced he will issue an executive order enabling cities, counties, and nonprofits to use vacant state properties to house homeless residents.
Presumably, that could include the empty dormitories at the Sonoma Developmental Center, whose final residents left at the end of 2018. The SDC was on the governor’s 2019 list.
In the Legislature, State Sen. Mike McGuire co-sponsored an amended version of last year’s contentious SB50. The bill would override local zoning to permit mid-rise apartments near transit hubs. It would also override zoning to permit condos and apartments of up to four units in residential neighborhoods everywhere.
The amended SB50 requires that 25 percent of multi-unit housing built near transit be affordable. It includes no such requirement for the duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes that might be built in Sonoma and the Springs. Presumably, they would be sold and rented at the top-dollar market rate, well beyond the means of most Valley residents.
McGuire, the former north-county supervisor, represents both Santa Rosa and the Springs. State Sen. Bill Dodd has also endorsed the bill. The former Napa County supervisor represents El Verano and the city of Sonoma.
McGuire joined San Francisco State Sen. Scott Wiener in re-writing Wiener’s 2019 bill. Wiener is thought by many to represent real-estate. Last-year’s bill was shelved after cities and counties around the state showed they weren’t much interested in giving up zoning powers.
McGuire, Wiener, and Dodd now face a tight deadline to get SB50 through the senate. When the Southern California senator who shelved the bill last year said he smelled a rat, Senate president pro-tem Toni Atkins moved it to another committee, where it is more likely to get to the Senate floor.
Wiener says the amended version should be more palatable to local governments because it gives them two years to get up to steam.The board of supervisors in San Francisco, Wieners home turf, has already voted against it. “It’s essentially a giveaway to developers,” said one supervisor. But Governor Newsom’s executive order might give Sonoma County governments a serious opportunity to alleviate the homeless crisis.
Newsom announced that the state would also contribute trailers and modular tents to sites if local governments agree to manage the emergency shelters and help people into permanent housing.
Late last year, Sonoma’s city council agreed to a small number of safe-parking spaces for homeless residents to spend the night. Shelter head Kathy King told the council that homelessness in the Valley had increased by 40 percent over the last year.
The 900-acre Sonoma Developmental Center is state-owned, but sits in the jurisdiction of the County Board of Supervisors. The BOS has an agreement with the state on a multi-year transition. Affordable housing is already part of the state’s mandate to the county.
The BOS decided two weeks ago to temporarily house 60 homeless in glorified garden sheds on county land across from Oakmont. At last count, that leaves 2,940 still without a permanent roof. If the governor lists the SDC among the sites available for housing homeless residents, the ball will be in the county’s court.
Dave Ransom is a retired journalist. He lives in Santa Rosa and goes to church in Sonoma.