Yes on equitable development and the UGB

Posted on October 17, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

I am writing to urge that city residents join me and vote Yes on Measure W to renew the existing Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). 

I canvassed several precincts and campaigned for the original UGB ballot initiative approved by the voters with a 64 percent yes vote in November 2000.

Between 1995 and 2010 all nine cities in Sonoma County adopted UGBs, and these cities have already renewed their UGB at least once: Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Windsor, and Healdsburg.The UGB prevents sprawl, protects open space, and promotes city-centered ‘smart’ growth. Moreover, we now know that UGBs help mitigate and control wildfires by limiting new development in the urban-wildlands interface.

The UGB is not the cause of the affordable housing crisis in our community as some developers claim. 

UC Berkeley economic geographer Richard Walker in his book, Pictures of A Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area analyzes the root causes of the Bay Area and North Bay housing crisis. These include:

  1. over the last three decades, soaring inequality and the stagnation of incomes and wages for the bottom 60 percent in Sonoma County;
  2. skyrocketing rents and housing prices driven by real estate speculation, the tech bubble, gentrification, and multiple wildfires;
  3. the dramatic decline of funding for affordable housing from both the state and federal governments and particularly the elimination by the state of the City’s redevelopment district.

The city planning department recently identified numerous sites for new housing within the existing UGB — including parcels that could be annexed. Additional housing sites can be built by constructing accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and rezoning selected commercial sites for housing. The City should provide incentives for the construction of affordable housing on these sites–particularly for low and very low-income affordable housing.

Solving the housing crisis requires a multi-faceted approach that includes raising wages and improving job quality; deterring real estate speculation and the drive for super-profits by landlords; securing new funding for affordable housing; and assuring that the updated General Plan encourages the building of affordable higher-density housing nearby services, jobs and, transit.

As the North Bay Jobs with Justice report State of Working Sonoma 2018 documents, between 2014 and 2024, more than half the new jobs created in the City and the county will pay less than $20 an hour. According to the California Budget and Policy Project, in 2017, two parents working full-time must earn $23.00 an hour or approximately $81,000 a year to support two children and pay for necessities including food, transportation, child care, rental housing, and medical care.

Moreover, according to the same report, in Sonoma County, between 2006 and 2017, median rents increased by 24 percent—but median renter earnings rose by just 9 percent – and then immediately after the Tubbs fire in October 2017, rents spiked by more than 30 percent.

The City has already implemented several policy initiatives to promote equity and raise the wage floor for low-wage workers. In 2004 the City approved a Living Wage Ordinance, which requires that the City and all city contractors pay their employees $17.31 an hour (without health benefits) and $15.81 an hour if benefits are provided. Also, in 2019 the City Council approved a phased-in citywide minimum wage of $17 an hour by 2023, covering all workers employed at least two hours a week inside the city limits. Both of these measures help to make housing more affordable by boosting pay for low-wage workers. 

However, much more must be done to fund affordable housing and make housing more affordable in Sonoma. Policies adopted elsewhere in the Bay Area the City should consider are:

First, Oakland, Emeryville, Santa Clara, and San Francisco have implemented ‘community benefits agreements’ for proposed large mixed-use and commercial projects that set labor standards, protect the right of workers to organize a union, and include affordable and workforce housing requirements;

Second, San Francisco has implemented a gross receipts tax on large companies to fund homeless services, and such a tax could also be used to fund affordable housing;

Third, twenty-eight cities in California have implemented comprehensive rent control and just cause eviction protections for renters. Sonoma must do so as well.

Finally, to promote affordable housing construction, the city can rezone some parcels designated for single-family housing to permit duplexes and triplexes as Redwood City is doing.

The UGB–when combined with these policies–is an essential component of an economic development strategy for equitable, inclusive, and sustainable growth.

— Marty Bennett, Sonoma 

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA