Santa Rosa’s biggest need before this week’s election was housing.
And it still is.
Measure N, the $124 million housing bond rejected by local voters on Tuesday, wouldn’t have ended the housing crunch in Sonoma County’s largest city. But it would have been a big step forward.
“We missed an opportunity to pay attention to the issue of housing last night,” Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said Wednesday morning at a wildfire recovery conference sponsored by the North Bay Business Journal. “And I don’t expect anything will come around soon to replace it.”
Measure N got a solid 59 percent majority — the same as Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom in his landslide victory over John Cox. But a local general obligation bond needs two-thirds.
The supermajority requirement always was going to be an obstacle, but supporters couldn’t thread the needle after their erstwhile allies in organized labor launched a campaign against Measure N because it didn’t guarantee enough work for union members.
Measure N supporters believed bond proceeds could be leveraged to produce as many as 4,000 housing units in Santa Rosa for homeless people and low- and middle-income residents. Money also would have been made available to assist first-time homebuyers and victims of the October 2017 wildfires.
The bond money would have positioned Santa Rosa to compete for money from Proposition 1, a state housing bond, and Proposition 2, which will fund housing for the mentally ill homeless. Voters approved both state ballot measures.
A steering committee including local elected officials with close ties to the progressive community, nonprofit builders and housing and homeless advocates worked for a year on a housing bond, scaling back their plan once in hope of avoiding organized opposition.
A $300 million countywide measure was scrapped in June after the Farm Bureau and the Sonoma County Alliance, a business organization, objected to the cost. The focus shifted to Santa Rosa, where the City Council unanimously placed the $124 million bond on the ballot, with support from local builders, environmental groups and the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce.
But they were opposed by the North Bay Labor Council after the City Council refused to require that 30 percent of the work be set aside for union members. The council agreed to a 20 percent set-aside, but that didn’t satisfy the labor council — although several union locals, including the Teamsters and Operating Engineers, stuck with Measure N.
With funding from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the labor council attacked the proposal as “a tax scam” by “rich builders in collusion with city leaders,” a scurrilous and false description of Larry Florin of Burbank Housing, Councilman Jack Tibbetts and the other architects of Measure N.
As election returns rolled in, Jack Buckhorn, the executive director of the labor council, said he planned to start working right away on a bond proposal for 2020. He ought to start with a round of apologies to the sponsors of Measure N — and the homeless and working-class residents of Santa Rosa who won’t get to benefit from $124 million of new housing.
You can send a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org