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The tragic loss of homes in the October fires and the critical need for more affordable homes countywide is prompting a bold new look at how we revitalize our communities in Sonoma County. Greenbelt Alliance and our allies are looking forward, not backward, to meet the challenge of providing affordable homes to people who are vital to our communities and economy: teachers, doctors, restaurant cooks, winery and vineyard employees, young professionals and families and others. And we are convinced we can do this while ensuring the protection of our health and environment.

That is why we support investment in housing in our downtowns and existing neighborhoods to provide housing across the income spectrum while upholding environmental protections and longstanding growth policies. We reject recently published claims that we need to weaken environmental standards in order to recover and rebuild after last year’s fires.

To the contrary, our county has the chance to be on the cutting edge of creating a new generation of climate-friendly neighborhoods as we rebuild and invigorate new development.

Sonoma County residents have supported preserving farmlands and greenbelts for decades. Urban growth boundaries, community separators and environmental protections haven’t caused the housing crunch. Eighty percent of voters supported renewal of community separators for another 20 years in 2016. They’re one of the policies that have kept Sonoma County the gem of the Bay Area.

The challenge of providing homes that people can afford extends far beyond the borders of Sonoma County and the Bay Area to places where sprawl rules and freeways dominate the landscape. The housing squeeze is a result of multiple factors starting with job growth outpacing the construction of new homes at a rate of 12-to-1. This is further complicated by the significant loss of state and federal housing dollars, loss of redevelopment, income inequality, banking policies and market forces.

When it comes to the California Environmental Quality Act, we need to uphold this bedrock of state environmental law. CEQA provides ample provisions for speeding good infill and projects without cutting out essential neighborhood input and environmental health. Sacrificing endangered tiger salamanders or leveraging public open space lands to ease the way for developers, as some have suggested, is a tired and flawed approach that fails to meet the realities of climate change, fire risk and sustainable communities.

That said, in downtowns and specific areas where cities and unincorporated communities have finalized and adopted environmental review documents, projects that meet all the requirements shouldn’t need additional CEQA review.

At that point, we will need to step up for good projects. Greenbelt Alliance will use its development endorsement program to help make sure that the best projects move forward.

To address the housing challenge more holistically, Greenbelt Alliance is engaged on the Committee to House the Bay Area, which brings together 46 leaders from across the Bay Area to come up with regional housing solutions. CASA was convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to stay and thrive in the Bay Area.

If we stay on track with city-centered growth and greenbelt protection, Sonoma County can usher in new era of thriving, affordable neighborhoods in cities and towns near jobs, schools and transit. If they stray, we could face a generation of scattered development on the urban edge and across the countryside that will cost us far more in public health, climate costs, congestion and loss of water and environmental quality, to say nothing of the natural beauty and the high quality of life that we love and enjoy in Sonoma County.

Jake Mackenzie is on the Rohnert Park City Council and Greenbelt Alliance’s board of directors. Teri Shore is Greenbelt Alliance regional director for the North Bay.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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