We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change the fate of our Valley, throwing our support behind a creative, future-looking proposal for the 945-acre campus of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). A plan that provides sufficient, truly affordable housing for workers, young people and others who cannot afford to live here. This is arguably our single greatest need. And we need to address, not exacerbate, climate challenges.
We are almost two-and-a-half years into the three-year planning process specified by California when it granted $3.5M to Permit Sonoma to create a proposal for this incredible public resource.
State parameters include protecting open space and natural resources as a public resource; prioritizing affordable housing and housing for individuals with developmental disabilities; and “penciling out,” that is, its development not depend on financial support from local or state government.
Late November saw a rollout of three draft alternatives by the professional planning team hired by Permit Sonoma. The proposals do not reflect the “guiding principles” they articulated, based on the Supervisors’ mandate. A cornerstone of all three is a hotel, and lots of market rate housing with only 25% “affordable,” and that by Area Median Income guidelines that favor developers, not the working class.
The Supervisors held public meetings, and appointed a Planning Advisory Team (PAT) of 15 private citizens, mostly from Sonoma Valley, to give input. PAT members have felt shut out of the planners’ work. Most believe there needs to be a fourth, smaller alternative.
At the first of three recent public meetings over 200 citizens joined the planners and county staff on Zoom. Over 75% attending preferred a fourth alternative. Most wanted no hotel; attention to traffic, greenhouse gases, wildfire and drought; expansion of wildlife corridor and creek setbacks; much more affordable housing. At the Spanish language meeting the target public observed that the proposed housing would result in higher rents and prices, and that jobs at hotels are low-paid. At the larger Zoom meeting presenting the alternatives to Springs MAC (Municipal Advisory Council), North Sonoma Valley MAC, and Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, there was ire at the planners for having ignored public input. A majority supported building less housing, and of that, more affordable housing than the specified 25%.
Decisions about this public-owned asset will change the destiny of our Valley. We can become a model of social, economic and environmental action. Or, if we allow market forces to prevail, we will neglect workforce housing, settle for 20th century infrastructure, give our best resources to tourism, and overbuild in a drought-and wildfire-challenged area.
There are public financing options – grants, community land trusts, etc. – that will make it possible to “pencil out” without relying on dense development and a big hotel complex. The Sonoma Ecology Center has provided an exciting, creative vision that addresses the inseparable social, environmental and economic possibilities. See also Eldridge Enterprises’ SDC Complex proposal.
We join Supervisor Susan Gorin who recently urged your participation in “rigorous, constructive conversation and visionary ideas as our community considers the options for what will ultimately be transformative for our region.” Commit to the future for everyone in our Valley by making your voice heard. Keep informed, contact your supervisor and your state legislators. Care, and act on that.
— Sun Editorial Board