Healdsburg residents are protective of their town — understandably so.
With its mix of Wine Country charm and big city chic, Healdsburg is a popular destination for tourists, entrepreneurs and urban transplants alike. The local economy is thriving, and Healdsburg is often featured in articles about the best small towns or the best places to visit. But a family earning $150,000 a year would have a hard time buying a median-priced house in Healdsburg, forcing many people who work in town to commute long distances.
That’s the Marin County model.
Healdsburg residents want to be more inclusive. The high price of housing and a lack of housing options were the top concerns in a city-commissioned poll earlier this year.
Measure R on the Nov. 8 ballot would chip away at the problem by raising the cap on new market-rate housing units from 30 per year to 70 per year.
The 30-unit cap, enacted in 2000 by voters concerned about rapid development, dramatically reduced residential building. As a result, Healdsburg’s population has grown just 5 percent over the past 16 years, compared to more than 10 percent between 1990 and 2000.
Healdsburg isn’t the only city with a housing shortage, as opponents of Measure R point out.
And, as opponents also say, the city can’t build its way out of the problem.
But that can’t become an excuse for allowing the situation to get worse — a likely scenario if Measure R fails.
The median price of a single-family home climbed above $870,000 this year, and most available rentals are going for well over $2,000 a month. If nothing is done to meet the demand, prices will climb even higher. More renters will be pushed out, and only the wealthiest families will be able to afford a house.
Healdsburg residents can be excused for believing their city is growing as fast as it did in the 1990s. In recent years, however, most of the development has been commercial — hotels, restaurants, retail outlets. That kind of development isn’t restricted by the growth management ordinance. Indeed, strict limits on residential building are an incentive to focus on commercial projects that fuel demand for scarce housing.
Measure R isn’t a blank check for developers.
Instead of 30 residential building permits per year and a maximum of 90 over any three-year period, it would allow an average of 70 permits annually over the next six years. Measure R also would double the required number of affordable units from the current 15 percent to 30 percent of any residential building project, and an accompanying ordinance gives top priority to multi-family housing and high-density housing such as duplexes and triplexes.
The City Council could frontload the process, issuing permits for more than 70 housing units in a single year so long as the six-year total didn’t exceed 420. That’s a concern for opponents, who favor a slower pace. But with a stepped-up mandate for affordable housing, flexibility could be crucial to ensuring that projects pencil out.
Strong protections against unchecked growth remain in place under Measure R, most notably a voter-approved urban growth boundary that prevents sprawl development.
Healdsburg needs more housing, and it has only a few sites remaining where significant development is possible. If the annual cap on residential development is too tight, that could increase pressure to use these sites for commercial projects instead. That would be a missed opportunity for Healdsburg. The Press Democrat recommends a yes vote on Measure R.