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Roseland affordable housing project advances with broad support, except in the shopping center next door

A long-heralded apartment complex in Roseland secured its second favorable Santa Rosa City Council vote Tuesday, but it came over the objections of nearby business owners who say the project threatens their livelihoods.

Casa Roseland is planned with 100 market-rate housing units and, in a separate building, 75 units for families earning between 30% and 60% of the median area income. It would anchor a development called Tierra de Rosas, which elected officials have been talking about since Sonoma County bought the property in 2011.

MidPen Housing, a nonprofit regional developer, could break ground on Casa Roseland in late 2022, said Ali Gaylord, the organization’s housing development director. The Sonoma County Community Development Commission is scheduled to begin constructing the larger development’s infrastructure — which includes streets, walkways, a public plaza and an open air market structure — in the first quarter of 2022.

The ultimate schedule and direction of a planned civic building that could finally create a permanent home for a Roseland public library remain uncertain.

City and county elected officials have long pledged to increase investment in Roseland, a predominantly Latino neighborhood of more than 6,000 residents.

“The community is extremely behind this project,” Gaylord said. “They’ve been wanting to see something happen to this property for a long time. It’s definitely underutilized.”

The site today is dominated by an empty parking lot, though during the pandemic a temporary plaza lined by food trucks has thrived there.

Not everyone celebrated the project’s advancement, however, as tenants of a shopping mall just east of the county-owned property worried the proposed project would sink the mall by robbing it of shopping.

Many tenants of the Roseland Village Shopping Center have been there for decades and are minority-owned businesses.

There is an immigration law office, a barber shop and two churches. Camacho’s Market offers Mexican and Central American food products. El Patron Fashion sells cowboy boots, hats and flashy pearl snap shirts that are snapped up for rodeo and night club outings while Chula’s Party store next door carries festive goods for Quinceañera parties. A tamale stand and Taqueria El Favorito offers a quick, inexpensive bite to eat.

A number of business owners, and their landlord, John Paulsen, say Casa Roseland, which was able to take advantage of reduced housing requirements for affordable housing developments, will choke off their businesses by gobbling up parking spaces.

“Taking our parking is taking our sales,” said Sylvia Camacho, who has owned and operated Camacho’s for decades. Camacho, who fears the planned housing development also will block the exit route big trucks use after delivering to her store’s loading dock, said the ultimate impact from the civic project, known in the whole as Tierra De Rosas, remains unknown.

But the worst-case scenario — where customers who are unable to quickly park and run an errand decide to go elsewhere — could force a move she is not sure her business and the 25 to 30 jobs it offers her Spanish-speaking employees could survive, Camacho said.

“I don’t want to think about that,” she said.

The dispute among Paulsen, Sonoma County, which purchased the site in 2011, and MidPen has been argued both in court and in the Santa Rosa City Council chamber. Paulsen has so far been unable to stop Casa Roseland’s progression.

Paulsen’s tenants have long enjoyed the use of the adjoining lot under a 1957 agreement with the county property’s previous owners. Paulsen says the agreement guaranteed parking for his shopping center and should still apply.

Paulsen has been dealt an initial court loss by a Sonoma County Judge. He has vowed to appeal the case as far as the State Supreme Court, motivated he says by a desire to protect his longtime tenants.

“I’m not just some white guy who is against affordable housing,” Paulsen said.

“I think it will force them out of business,” he said of the plan’s impact on his tenants.

MidPen considers such concerns unfounded, and along with city and county officials say the project design creates sufficient parking. The development, which has garnered $35 million in associated state funding for transportation projects, will help business by enhancing public transportation and foot traffic in the area, proponents say.

“There will be a lot more folks that are just readily available and (will) patronize these businesses than currently,” Gaylord said.

The project will include 300 parking spaces, and 108 of those will be for unrestricted public use, Gaylord said. Those spaces on the west, north and east of the housing buildings and along some of the newly planned streets into the development, Gaylord said.

Trucks will be able to deliver to Camacho’s from the front, Gaylord said, though the grocery’s owner told The Press Democrat she felt that wasn’t possible.

A schematic of the proposed Tierra de Rosas development posted online by MidPen Housing shows how it abuts the Roseland Village Shopping Center. (MidPen Housing)
A schematic of the proposed Tierra de Rosas development posted online by MidPen Housing shows how it abuts the Roseland Village Shopping Center. (MidPen Housing)

Paulsen argues those parking spaces are insufficient given the amount of parking the project will wipe out.

Government officials and the developers have not studied the impact the project will have on places like the Roseland Barber Shop, owner Hosea McQuilla said.

McQuilla, who is Black, was certain the change wouldn’t help the barber shop he’s run for 28 years, he said, but wasn’t certain to what extent.

“We’re just going to have to play it by ear and see how it goes,” he said.

Outside the Village Center, the project has broad political support. While several of Paulsen’s tenants spoke in favor of his appeal, a flood of letters to city council called on officials to speed the project’s approval and allow construction to begin.

Among the organizations signing letters were Los Cien and Latino Service Providers, two of Sonoma County’s prominent Latino advocacy groups.

But Paulsen and his tenants say that as the project has gathered momentum over the last decade, there has been little effort at pursuing those goals while also protecting the long-running family businesses paying him rent.

Three shopping center business owners interviewed by The Press Democrat said city or county officials had never reached out to them about the project, aside from hearing notices required by law.

MidPen has held outreach events ranging from public meetings to five “drive in” movie events in the parking lot next door, Gaylord said.

“I would assume they would’ve come to those engagement events if they had any concerns,” she said.

As a landlord Paulsen has kept rents affordable and even let them slide for a while when events ranging from a debilitating car accident to the ongoing pandemic made payment impossible.

“They should work with him because he’s a good dude,” McQuilla said.

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

Andrew Graham

City of Santa Rosa, The Press Democrat 

As Sonoma County's largest city, Santa Rosa, its policy and politics, crime and its economy affect the lives of North Bay residents both inside city limits and beyond in ways both obvious and unseen. I aim to document those impacts and give voice to city residents.

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