PD Editorial: Building on housing gains in Rohnert Park

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If there’s an overriding theme to the November election in Sonoma County, it’s the housing crunch.

There’s a housing bond on the ballot in Santa Rosa, voters in Healdsburg will weigh in on relaxing a growth management ordinance to promote affordable housing, and for candidates for practically every local office on the Nov. 6 ballot, the issue of the moment is helping people find homes they can afford.

City Council candidates in Rohnert Park are no exception.

But this is: They’re running in a city that can boast a building boom.

New single-family homes have been for sale since 2016 in the University District, just north of Sonoma State University. About 300 homes are expected to be completed by year’s end, and work is about to begin on a 240-unit apartment complex. Another large subdivision is under construction south of Sonoma State near SOMO Village.

Meanwhile, the Planning Commission is reviewing a proposal to redevelop the 32-acre State Farm campus on Rohnert Park Expressway, which has been vacant since the insurance company left town in 2011. Laulima Development wants to tear down the vacant buildings and put in commercial space, housing, a boutique hotel and a public plaza, all easily accessible to the nearby SMART rail line.

When the project is finished, the 56-year-old city will finally have a downtown.

Rohnert Park hasn’t solved the issue of housing affordability or figured out what to do about the homeless encampments along local creeks.

But the city is forging ahead with badly needed housing.

Four people are running for two seats on the City Council in the Nov. 6 election, and three of them have had a hand in Rohnert Park’s transformation.

Mayor Pam Stafford is finishing her third council term, and before being elected she was a member of the Planning Commission. During her tenure, the council made the tough budget decisions needed to break a risky habit of deficit spending, and council members forged cooperative working relationships after years of factionalism.

Susan Hollingsworth Adams and Gerard Giudice are longtime members of the Rohnert Park Planning Commission, where they have helped to shape the changes now taking place in Sonoma County’s third-largest city. They also have started work on a general plan update that the next council will need to complete.

The fourth candidate, Jackie Elward, a newcomer to local politics, wants younger families, like hers, to play a bigger role in governing their town. She is an active volunteer and, having seen a desperate need, she founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to housing at-risk youth in her native Democratic Republic of Congo, a resource-rich country plagued by political violence.

We think Stafford deserves another term based on the council’s track record during her tenure. And we think that Adams is best prepared to fill the council vacancy, which resulted from incumbent Amy Ahanotu’s decision to step down.

Adams, who moved to Rohnert Park a year before the city incorporated, understands the city’s roots as a bedroom community and shares its ambition for a signature civic space like Sonoma’s Plaza or Petaluma’s Theatre District. Her grasp of development issues is hard to match after serving on the last general plan update committee and the Planning Commission. She also is a strong advocate for including affordable units in all new housing developments.

It’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic civic booster than Giudice, and he could be an effective councilman. For now, he can provide leadership on the Planning Commission if Adams moves on to the City Council.

Elward would benefit from some experience on one of the city’s commissions before serving on the council — and the city would benefit from her perspective and energy.

Rohnert Park is headed in the right direction, and it needs experienced leadership as it builds a new downtown and updates its general plan for the next 20 years. For that leadership, The Press Democrat recommends Pam Stafford and Susan Hollingsworth Adams.

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

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