It’s time for NIMBY to YIMBY
Early in Jerry Brown’s third term as our Governor, he critiqued Sonoma County as a community not really interested in building new housing. Eight years later, in his first State of the State address, Governor Gavin Newsom stated, “We have to build housing for all, . . . . I want to support local governments that do things right, . . . . like Santa Rosa.” So, which of these statements is true?
Few could argue with Governor Brown. His perception accurately described our County that for over 15 years had established numerous limits to housing with voter approved Urban Growth Boundaries, the Open Space District, and Community Separator Policies. Add to that increased development/permit fees and an approval process more intensive, time consuming, inconsistent, and expensive than most every other jurisdiction in California. Together, this resulted in a cumulative growth rate far below 2% over that time.
It’s equally as difficult to argue with Governor Newsom. Even prior to the devastating October 2017, fires, both the County and the City of Santa Rosa embraced countless discussions to combat our housing crisis. Both agencies made significant changes in leadership and staffing of their planning and building departments and began the discussions for new ordinances addressing Accessory Dwelling Units, Building Height codes, Station/Specific Area Plans, and a variety of zoning adjustments. Immediate reaction to the fire kicked all of these efforts into high gear and other Sonoma County cities have instituted similar ordinance changes.
So yes, something has changed! Our elected bodies are talking the talk, and walking the walk, in support of a more welcoming process toward housing than their predecessors, and they have taken courageous steps to increase our housing supply. In response, the regulators are behind them too, meeting with developers of all levels of housing, in efforts to encourage new project construction within the properly zoned areas of our cities and county.
But clearly what has not changed is the intensity of NIMBY’s that work very aggressively to stop every development application of significance throughout Sonoma County. Residents that rarely talk to each other coalesce into an organization of loud opposition toward the latest project that they perceive will adversely impact their personal quality of life.
The NIMBY rhetoric will have some nuances but typically include traffic, water, open space, public access, views, and property values. In every case, these topics are thoroughly vetted by the respective planning agencies prior to the initial public hearings. Zoning Codes mandate these issues be addressed to qualify every development application and economist rarely find that property values decline as development increases.
What we know today is that the price of housing in Sonoma County has reached a level that threatens our social and economic fabric. We know that the workforce that we need cannot afford to live here. We know that our children that have finished their education have mostly located elsewhere or they still live at home. We know there is an alarming trend in increasing age of our County residents that will need a workforce as well as our children to support us. We know that regardless of the causes of our growing population of homelessness, every solution to improve this tragedy includes more housing. We know that we have helped create this situation by over-protecting our community under the guise of a euphoric quality of life.
It’s very popular to say, “I’m in support of housing, just not here.” Now it’s time to change this dialogue to, “I’m in support of housing, how can we make it work here?” That new home might be for a new engineer bringing a family for our schools. Maybe a doctor or nurse that our residents literally can’t live without. That new development might provide housing for those that desperately need it. That new house down the street might even bring home your children.
NIMBY to YIMBY? Our Quality of Life in Sonoma County depends on it.