Housing, the impacts of tourism and scarce parking are the top issues to emerge in the runup to a special Healdsburg City Council election in June.
At a forum Wednesday night, four candidates vying to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Councilman Eric Ziedrich broadly agreed on what the problems are, but showed some differences in their approach to solving them.
With Healdsburg homes increasingly snapped up by second-home buyers, candidate Leah Gold, an educational consultant and former mayor, suggested a tax be placed on such transactions to help create revenue that could be used to build affordable housing.
“I don’t want to beat up on people who buy second homes,” she said, but they are having a tremendous impact on reducing housing stock. She suggested a tax on second homes, either paid at the time of purchase or annually.
The applause in the audience of about 125 people was loudest when Gold said she is eager to get a “robust income stream” so the city can partner with developers to build affordable housing.
Gold, who led a campaign in 1996 to encircle Healdsburg with a growth boundary, is endorsed by progressive and environmental groups.
Candidate Gary Plass, who was appointed to temporarily fill the council seat until the election, said, “I don’t know that taxing is the answer.” He questioned how the tax would be administered, adding “it could create a lot of problems.”
Candidate Erica Whisney, 34, a teacher and certified behavioral analyst, said there could be legal problems attaching such a tax to second-home buyers.
And, she said, “We need to unite our community and bring everyone who wants to be here in on it — rather than divide.”
Candidate Rosie Fabian, a care provider and advocate for the homeless, said perhaps second-home owners should be taxed if they aren’t going to live in Healdsburg “a certain percentage of the year.”
Like the other candidates, she agreed there is a dire need for more affordable housing.
“I want to see our kids come back, see young professionals able to buy homes,” she said, adding that the city also could encourage tiny homes in some areas.
Tourism, a double-edged sword, also was a persistent topic Wednesday, along with the parking problems it can exacerbate.
But the candidates spoke of the need to create a more bicycle-friendly community and better enforce parking regulations rather than install paid parking meters.
Candidates also pointed to some of the benefits tourism provides. Fabian spoke of a tourist who bought a $50,000 piece of art.
Gold said that bed tax revenue is up and tourism is a real success story.
But, she said ”our infrastructure is getting a little bit overwhelmed.”
The June 6 special election was sparked by the departure of longtime Councilman Ziedrich, who resigned following the resounding November defeat of Measure R, a housing initiative that he backed.
Plass, a retired Healdsburg police sergeant and real estate agent, narrowly lost his bid to be re-elected to a fourth term on the council in the November election.
The City Council couldn’t agree on a replacement to fill Ziedrich’s remaining term, which runs through December 2018.