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Santa Rosa council members reluctant to support Bay Area plan for affordable housing

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Santa Rosa council members are looking sideways at a $37.5 billion plan to ease the Bay Area’s intractable housing crisis, voicing their reluctance to subsidize housing development in other areas when the city is seeking to resolve its own dire shortage.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday gave a chilly reception to a set of 10 reforms known as the CASA compact. It came less than two weeks after a panel of eight local elected officials announced its opposition over the regional plan to boost affordable housing — and about two months after the Rohnert Park City Council booted one of its own, Jake Mackenzie, from two notable posts for publicly backing it.

City representatives and planning officials have touted recent local efforts to attract new housing, such as increasing how many units can be built per acre, changing local ordinances to stimulate the building of secondary homes, slashing certain development fees and lifting limits on downtown building heights.

Gov. Gavin Newsom held up Santa Rosa’s housing efforts as a paradigm of “local governments that do what’s right” in his February State of the State address.

Santa Rosa already has done or is trying to take all the measures outlined in the CASA compact, Councilman Chris Rogers said. The city shouldn’t foot the bill so other Bay Area cities can play catch-up, and especially not in the wake of Santa Rosa voters rejecting a $124 million housing bond, he said.

“We’re asking the public to help fund things we are already doing in places that have not taken this as seriously,” Rogers said.

While some of the regional plan’s policies might work for San Jose or San Francisco, he said they might not make sense for towns like Cotati or Sausalito.

Rogers is one of the eight local elected officials on the legislative task force that recently rejected the CASA compact, which is the Spanish word for “house” but isn’t meant to be an acronym. The plan will go up for a vote before the full Mayors’ and Councilmembers’ Association of Sonoma County in April.

The Committee to House the Bay Area, which includes Bay Area elected officials, housing developers and advocates, and representatives of big employers such as Facebook and Google, produced the compact in conjunction with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments. The 10-point emergency package was finalized this winter and includes a host of proposals meant to create new affordable housing units, preserve existing places to live, and protect low-income residents from displacement.

Other proposals include rental assistance for tenants facing eviction, minimum residential building heights near transit stations and high-service bus stop, and a look at publicly owned land for affordable housing projects.

The region would need to raise an estimated $1.5 billion a year and secure an additional $1 billion annually from the federal and state governments to fund its various proposals over 15 years.

The compact also calls for a regional housing agency to oversee spending. Of the money that would be collected through new taxes or fees, about 75 percent would be spent within its county of origin, with 25 percent shared for regional programs, Rebecca Long, an MTC staff member, explained to the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday.

Though he generally praised the compact’s contents, Councilman Jack Tibbetts said, “It’s more advantageous to go with a regional approach.”

Tibbetts is a member of the newly formed Regional Enterprise District, a joint effort between the city and county that he and other local officials see as a good way to pool resources for housing.

“I think that the RED is poised to achieve just about everything that is laid out by MTC and ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments). I really do. Only, our big hitch in the giddy-up is going to be our ability to fund it.”

Tibbetts, a leading proponent of Santa Rosa’s Measure N, the $124 million housing bond rejected last year by voters, said the regional district could be a way to “crack that nut.” He indicated his support for joining CASA down the road while emphasizing his desire to stay the course the county and city recently chose.

The compact progress is now being tracked in the form of at least 20 pieces of legislation submitted in Sacramento, many of which are “spot bills” and do not have meaningful substance. This includes bills that resemble CASA compact ideas, even if they were not directly inspired by the plan.

Councilwoman Julie Combs, who helped craft the compact as a member of the CASA steering committee, acknowledged that some aspects of the compact could pose “negative consequences.” She suggested Santa Rosa could seek to exempt itself from any regional funding hub and said it was important for members of the public to speak up as state lawmakers start to fine-tune bills.

“We have a real opportunity to influence legislation,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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