Guest Editorial: A Petaluma building boom to benefit all

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This editorial is from the Petaluma Argus-Courier:

For a long time, self-styled progressives in Petaluma tended to be against new development. More construction, they argued, would lead to South Bay-type sprawl and environmental degradation and spoil the town’s charm.

Then came the housing affordability crisis, in which we find ourselves mired. Rents are rising through the roof due to a scarcity of housing, and many working-class families are being priced out of the city. Homeownership no longer feels attainable for people who aren’t millionaires.

Because of the social impact on a broad swath of the population, building more housing — specifically affordable housing — has become a progressive cause. But what would a housing boom look like in Petaluma?

With a new mayor and City Council poised to have a more progressive bent, and having pledged to tackle the housing crisis, we can expect to see a preference for certain kinds of development. A progressive housing boom wouldn’t create unwanted sprawl or additional traffic, or ruin the environment or the city’s character. Done correctly, new development can enhance the things we love about the city while self- mitigating the potential problems that it could create.

We expect to see more proposals for infill development near transit stations. We expect our leaders to continue to require developers to mitigate the problems they create. Traffic impact fees will help ease the burden of new residents. Requiring on-site affordable housing will ensure all segments of the population can afford to live in Petaluma. It should be common for builders of all types of development to include enhancements like bike paths, parks and public art.

Housing is a hot commodity, and we need to build a lot more to ensure it is available to those in the community who need it. A case in point is the recent move by Sonoma State University to purchase the entire 90-unit Marina Crossing apartment complex in Petaluma. The paint isn’t yet dry on the building, and already 90 highly anticipated units are off the market.

The irony is that the complex is 10 miles from the Rohnert Park campus. Meanwhile, Rohnert Park is building thousands of new housing units, including a recently approved mixed-use downtown project, all within a tweed jacket’s length of the campus.

We wouldn’t suggest that Petaluma open up to the kind of development that Rohnert Park has welcomed, though that city seems to have struck a nice balance with its downtown project. But the time for Petaluma to raise up the drawbridge and turn away any and all development is over.

For those who have been in Petaluma for decades or even generations, and live in houses that were paid off long ago, there is no housing crisis. Some of these residents would be the first in line to protest against the U.S. building a wall along the Mexican border, arguing that this country should be more tolerant and welcoming. Yet some of these same people would build a metaphoric wall around the city — now that they live here, they argue, there shouldn’t be any room for anyone else.

Petaluma is great because it is a diverse mix of people from many backgrounds and income levels. If we are unable to build housing for all, and we continue to price out certain segments of the population, then we will lose that which makes Petaluma great.

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