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GUEST OPINION: Railroad Square project needs open meetings

  • Allen Thomas

On Sept. 1, the SMART board will consider renegotiating a contract with the San Francisco-based John Stewart development team. This would allow the developer to use state grant funding to finish his private development by shifting affordable units from the SMART site to his private parcel.

The developer applied for an $11 million grant last summer to build 68 units of affordable senior housing above a public market on the Santa Rosa Railroad Square station site. This meeting, discussion and decision needs to be open to the public. Right now, it is scheduled to be held behind closed doors.

SMART has required the developer to negotiate with the Accountable Development Coalition, a group made up of unions, environmental groups and affordable housing advocates. This makes the ADC the major stakeholder, as it professes to fight for justice for the less privileged among us, while making the surrounding neighbors and businesses secondary stakeholders.

Since the beginning, the ADC has ignored input from other stakeholders regarding the number and type of affordable units to be built on the SMART property. The public grant application called for 68 affordable senior housing units to be built above the new public market hall on the SMART property.

The ADC has not yet publicly agreed to the 68 units of affordable housing being shifted from the SMART parcel to the adjoining privately owned parcel. Without the ADC and the SMART board publicly signing off to allow the units to count for the required affordable units for the project, the neighbors have to expect additional affordable units to be built on the SMART property, with additional requests for changes to the project.

A course of action that targets more affordable units being dumped in an area that is already below the medium average for Santa Rosa would likely shift the debate to the courts.

The West End Neighborhood is made up a wonderful mix of people, and, over the years, it has come together as a community. This community has many differing viewpoints, and we do not claim to speak for the viewpoint of the neighborhood. However, the facts are clear that the west side of Santa Rosa has a greater concentration of affordable housing units than most parts of Marin and Sonoma counties.

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