The struggle to balance housing needs and growth is the dominant issue in Healdsburg in the November election, when voters will be asked to lift a strict cap on the number of new homes that can be built.
The overriding question is essentially how to build more homes at lower prices without overdeveloping the community of 11,000 people and losing its vaunted small town charm.
The debate centers around Measure R, which would more than double the number of market-rate homes allowed per year, something backers say will create desperately needed multi-family and rental housing.
Supporters say strict growth control has driven developers to build tourist-serving projects and million-dollar homes.
But opponents say there is no guarantee passage of Measure R will lead to more affordable housing and will hand the City Council broad new powers to change growth patterns without voter approval.
“Measure R is the talk of the town now,” said City Councilman Shaun McCaffery, one of two City Council incumbents running for re-election.
Both sides cast the stakes in sweeping terms.
“It will make or break our town,” said Maureen Mosley, a retired Healdsburg postal worker actively campaigning against the measure. If it passes, she said, “there will be no way to control the growth.”
Not so, say supporters. A vote for Measure R will give young families and the middle-income workforce being priced out of the community an opportunity to live in Healdsburg, according to Mayor Tom Chambers, who is not running for re-election.
“Vote yes on Measure R to give your parents, kids and grandchildren a chance to live in Healdsburg,” he stated.
Opponents, including Healdsburg Citizens for Responsible Growth, have mounted a campaign against it, walking precincts and collecting $31,000 so far to defeat Measure R. They want to retain the tight growth control ordinance that was put in place by voters 16 years ago, largely in response to big subdivisions cropping up on the edge of town.
Supporters of the measure have reported $6,500 in contributions.
Despite the passions on both sides, there is near uniformity about Measure R among the candidates vying for three seats on the City Council. Five of the six support it, including incumbents McCaffery and Gary Plass.
The only candidate against Measure R is Tim Meinken, a winemaker making his third bid for election after two unsuccessful attempts.
At a candidates’ forum last week, he described himself as “the only true progressive” in the race, endorsed by the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action, both of which are against Measure R.
“Healdsburg has an affordable housing problem,” Meinken acknowledged, but said Measure R won’t fix it. Instead, he said, the city should take inventory of the property that it owns to determine if affordable housing can be built on the parcels, come up with funding and move forward on “shovel-ready projects.”
State law exempts affordable housing units built for very low- to moderate-income people from local growth controls. But government-subsidized funding for such projects has become increasingly challenging. Another proposal on the Healdsburg ballot, Measure S, would help fill that need, raising more than $500,000 annually for housing programs by increasing the hotel bed tax by 2 percent.