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City Council approves southwest Santa Rosa affordable housing project in vote split along geographic lines

Santa Rosa council members approved a 50-unit affordable housing project on Stony Point Road Tuesday night in a 4-2 vote that again reflected the council majority’s stance that the city’s intensifying housing crisis outweighed concerns of residents next door to proposed projects.

The two opposing votes came from Vice Mayor Natalie Rogers and Councilman Eddie Alvarez, who represent the southwestern quadrant of the city where the development is planned.

The two first-term council members voted against the project because the city had allowed a number of housing projects that are affordable or market-rate along Stony Point Road without making what they saw as corresponding investments in infrastructure, particularly traffic control, they told The Press Democrat in separate interviews.

“Historically, Roseland has been poorly funded when it comes to infrastructure,” Alvarez said. “It’s a great project, but I don’t think the area is ready for it.”

Alvarez and Rogers called for further investments in Stony Point Road, a major north-south thoroughfare, to account for the increased growth in the area.

Pressed by Alvarez during Tuesday’s meeting, city planners named four housing projects in the pipeline — both mixed use and affordable — with a total of 200 units that could impact the busy Santa Rosa stretch of Stony Point Road.

That figure, however, may be incomplete: Data kept by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority included a number of nearby projects not named in Tuesday’s rundown.

A city map shows the location of the Stony Point Flats affordable housing project the City Council approved Nov. 16.
A city map shows the location of the Stony Point Flats affordable housing project the City Council approved Nov. 16.

Rogers also cast her no vote as a measure of support for Alvarez in his opposition to a project that fell in his district, she said. “No one knows your own district better than you,” she said. Alvarez is the first person elected to directly represent the Roseland area since the city annexed the area in 2017. Before that, few if any council members in the city’s history have come from the city’s southwest corner.

The vote was not an easy one for Rogers, who hesitated for so long before casting her vote that the city clerk asked her twice.

Councilwoman Victoria Fleming was absent for the vote. In an interview Wednesday, she said she supported affordable housing but was unable to say how she would have voted, not having been present for the detailed presentation.

The project came to the council on an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval filed by a group of Roseland-area residents who voiced concerns about traffic safety and environmental impacts.

For the council majority, however, Santa Rosa’s housing shortage, fueled by years of tepid new construction and exacerbated by devastating fires and skyrocketing home prices, outweighed those neighborhood concerns.

“I’m having a hard time looking a 100% affordable (housing) gift horse project in the mouth here,” Councilman Jack Tibbetts said during the meeting. In an interview Wednesday, Tibbetts said he was “disappointed” in the two votes against the project.

When the city moved from at-large elections for council toward district-based contests, he said, he heard a refrain that now each development proposal would pass 6-1, with the opposing vote coming from the representative of the district impacted. “I hope this isn’t a mantra the council takes up,” he said.

Called Stony Point Flats, the project slated for 2.93 acres just south of the intersection with Northpoint Parkway envisions a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units for households earning between 30% and 60% of the area’s median income. The property today is mostly a lush, grassy rectangular parcel abutting Roseland Creek, with the western side along Stony Point Road occupied by a single-family home and the eastern side holding a collapsed chicken hut and other dilapidated farm buildings.

The development raised concerns from some neighbors of flooding during heavy rain events and impacts on the area’s diminishing wetland habitat.

“The ones advocating for this project are not seeing the red flags that this project is,” said resident Ryan Schwab, who opposed the project.

But one empty lot to the north is a tightly packed subdivision of large family homes that was built in the early 2000s. Stony Point Flats’ developers, Phoenix Development and Integrity Housing, have proposed raising the elevation of the lot. That proposal could change, however, if the Federal Emergency Management Agency accepts a push by the developer to change the site’s floodplain designation.

Underscoring the city’s housing woes, a large homeless camp has popped up just across Roseland Creek to the south. The collection of tents, tarp shelters, abandoned buses and recreational vehicles extends the length of the property.

That land is owned by an entity called Santa Rosa Ridge Pointe LLC. Peter Herzog, an affordable housing developer from Clovis, is listed as the registered agent for the firm. Herzog could not be reached for comment, and a voicemail left with the development company was not returned.

During public comment, some opponents of the project argued developers are overdoing affordable housing projects in southwestern Santa Rosa, a predominantly Latino and lower-income part of the city.

Both city staff and council members, including Alvarez, rejected that assertion. The entire city needed more affordable housing, those officials said, and districts including Mayor Chris Rogers’ downtown District 5 and the eastern part of the city are also getting new income-restricted units.

“Historically we have built more affordable housing on the west side,” Tibbetts said. However, as the need and incentives to build grow, he said, “we are seeing a significant sea change.”

Data on whether new housing projects are distributed equitably throughout the city was in short supply at Tuesday’s meeting. Generally, however, a concentration of high density housing projects are under construction in the city’s center, while another collection of projects are under review or approved in the southeast.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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