With the words “We have to own the future and not be owned by it,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair James Gore set an optimistic tone at the February 7, 2018 general membership meeting of the Sonoma County Alliance as the county moves from immediate recovery to an accelerated rebuilding phase.

“I refuse to submit to a pessimism and tired of doomsday scenarios about a pending economic Armageddon in our county,” Gore said. “I’m asking you to join me and become activists in finding solutions so we can build 30,000 homes over the next five years to replace those lost, catch up with pre-fire demand and keep pace with annual growth needs.”

He said county residents should not become NIMBY’s (not in my backyard) when we consider how to make space in our communities for new dwellings. In addition, he said the world is not based solely on California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provisions requiring state and local agencies to mitigate environmental impacts on every project.

According to Gore, during the post-fire housing crisis, we must find ways to cut through red tape and get people back into homes as quickly as possible by simplifying and streamlining permitting and regulatory processes. Evidence of this is already seen in the formation of special Resilient Santa Rosa and Resilient Sonoma County permit acceleration centers offering fee waivers and fast turnaround on permit applications.

“Everything is not mitigate-able,” Gore observed. “With CEQA, the process could take up to 40 months — or more — after a series of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), when displaced residents need housing now. Without a long regulatory or hearing timeframe, housing starts could begin in less than a year, and some already have.”

“We can’t live in a world of perceived perfection and keep talking about a housing crisis without doing anything. This crisis is a cancer. The immediate needs of the moment outweigh business as usual. We need outside-the-box ideas that bridge this gap and break the mold. We have got to stop having nice conversations about this issue and say what we mean.”

He said the biggest challenge is finding a series of meaningful proposals. Gore mentioned the three-part series of special meetings that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has planned during February calling for a day-long investigation of possible ways to address the need for county housing (February 6) with presentations from 12 government officials, bank experts, and builder and developer representatives.

This will be followed on February 13 by a session focusing on watershed, infrastructure and social safety net issues, and later on February 27 by an infrastructure partnership meeting with PG&E to discuss undergrounding utilities and working with emergency responders.
Gore called for SCA members and the organization as a whole to “rise up and add value to the community by contributing to pool of ideas and offering viable options needed today. There is much pain, anxiety and uncertainty out there that must be addressed.”

“We see polls saying 70% of the people support community separators. Why can’t we see a similarly high percentage favoring urban infill development?”

He said a key issue for us today is how to respond to the new normal. “There are a lot of areas in our county more at risk than Coffey Park, and everyone in and around the fire zones should have received an emergency notification of the coming disaster, and not just by Amber Alerts.”

Gore said the Board of Supervisors is getting an independent assessment of where the county is vulnerable. “We can’t adopt a plan to manage based just on risk aversion. This is not what we need going forward. We need a recovery plan that includes input from many sources, including the SCA. I want to know what you think.”

This year’s California Economic Forum will be held in Sonoma County in mid-November. “My hope is that this conference will help to enlighten us by providing examples of by-right development and entitlement models that are working around our state.”

“By-right development” refers to projects that are permitted under their current zoning and do not require any legislative action by the Board of Supervisors or the Board of Zoning Appeals. They are approved administratively and do not require public hearings.

He also referred to the upcoming General Plan revisions as an opportunity to addresses necessary changes. “Instead of a Blue-Ribbon panel or committee, we need something different – perhaps a White-Ribbon committee. I urge SCA members to direct your collective brain trust toward identifying or creating a vehicle to connect the dots with other organizations as a way to surface opportunities that can help form policies that will work, given today’s urgent needs, and not further complicate the rebuilding effort. I can’t do this without you.”

Gore said he looks to the Alliance and members like Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, to rally contractors and enlist their support in this endeavor.

“We also have to look at the reuse of public lands, including city and county property resources that can be repurposed for housing. I need to be lobbied, or pass your ideas to someone on my staff, or the county’s staff. Give me something good.”

In closing, Supervisor Gore added, “ We all have to focus on the prize, look at the General Plan, the Resiliency Plan and work closely with local community and business leaders, as well as those in Sacramento to create an innovative plan. At the end of the day, I also want to see what you can do to support this process based on collaboration, networking and your collective experience and contacts to solve these critical issues. Call Brian Ling and give him your thoughts or connect directly with me. Thank you.