Placeholder Image photo credit: Sonoma County PRMD
Sites upzoned in Penngrove to 20 units per acre

A number of Sonoma County's fairly secluded rural villages may welcome thousands of new residents by early next decade---though perhaps the word 'welcome' is a bit of a misnomer. 

After hours of deliberation Tuesday evening, a reluctant Board of Supervisors unanimously approved documents guiding development in areas of the county not within any city or town.

Under pressure from Sacramento, officials agreed to re-zone a number of spots, from Forestville to Graton to Penngrove and Glen Ellen. That rezoning allows much denser development--up to 20 units per acre.

The county essentially received marching orders: create places where more than 3,800 housing units could rise, or risk losing state funding.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins says county decision-makers are left with few real options.

"We're kind of between a rock and a hard place in terms of the numbers...that is even a greater loss of control than up-zoning a property which ultimately enables to do the groundwater studies that we need to do in order to verify whether that development can actually move forward," Hopkins said.

Supervisor David Rabbitt put the number in perspective.

"Our numbers are not small, and again, it's 1.3 units per day for eight years. Think about that, 1.3 units per day, everyday, for eight years," Rabbitt stated.

Supervisor Susan Gorin wondered how more people could be accommodated at the chosen sites, noting few have sidewalks, traffic signals, sewer or water service. She said the county's track record on delivering such things is abysmal, saying residents in her district have been waiting more than a decade for a bike lane to get painted along Arnold Drive. 

"Ma'am, we're going to get jammed, because the population of Glen Ellen and that part of the valley, this number of units will probably quadruple the population in that area," Gorin declared.

While elected officials and the public lamented state pressure and that decisions were made without local context, Rabbitt noted the ease with which developments could be blocked in the past likely greatly contributed to a housing crisis Sacramento is now determined to solve.

"Everyone's in favor of all the affordable housing, they just don't want it near them, and I get it, I get it, that's what happens. And that's why the state reaction has been to swing the pendulum back the other way and slap us upside the head, saying that, 'we're taking local control away from you because you haven't been able to prove that you can do it," Rabbitt said.

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