Asked how to best welcome thousands of future residents to unincorporated Sonoma County, locals urged ways to make housing less costly, while wondering aloud if more residents would overwhelm infrastructure and services.
The on-line meetings are part of an update to the county general plan's housing element. Before your eyes glaze over about some arcane document, the process also fits in with an edict from ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, a sort of bay area regional government entity, requiring about 500 new housing units each year in unincorporated Sonoma County between now and 2030.
Bradley Dunn is with PermitSonoma. "If we don't have a plan for building the 3,800 housing-ish units, the state of California can take over all of our zoning decisions, right, and all of the housing for the county for a number of years." That's something of a regular threat sent to local governments around the Bay failing to meet a quota under the 'Regional Housing Needs Allocation,' a document aimed at alleviating the region's housing crisis by assigning housing production goals to local governments. ABAG has yet to sanction any entity for not following through.
Those joining an online meeting Tuesday evening repeated refrains common to those following California's decades old housing affordability crisis. Permit prices are too high. Modular, pre-fabricated and 'tiny' units, along with RVs and mobile homes could reduce costs and enable more diverse communities.
But attendees also wondered how these goals could impact areas with scant rural bus service without worsening already bad traffic congestion, "In my experience, people's schedules are all over the place. If there is no other option besides a car, you will use the car," said a woman who identified herself as Katie.
Margaret who lives along the Gravenstein Highway said right now, it just isn't realistic to expect residents of unincorporated areas to leave their cars at home. "Sebastopol proper is a town that has bike lanes but I would never feel safe riding my bike to get there, it's just not feasible. The infrastructure in Sonoma County, it's beautiful, but we have these very narrow roads that don't accommodate anything but cars."
Participant Lynn, who calls Sonoma Valley home, said residents fearful of change with too much time on their hands are able to shepherd development decisions, worsening existing issues. "Neighbors have way too much say in what's going on in their neighborhoods. The county, or the valley has come up with some really good housing ideas, and the neighbors just go crazy! Like, 'not in my neighborhood,' and they have way too much influence."