Santa Rosa, California, adds $124 million housing bond to November ballot

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Santa Rosa, California, will ask voters to approve a $124 million bond measure in November to help create more housing in the city still reeling from a devastating October 2017 wildfire.

The City Council, which had been debating the proposal for a few months, unanimously agreed Tuesday on the size of the bond after considering amounts between $80 million to $180 million.

The council also agreed to place another measure on the ballot seeking a quarter-cent sales tax increase to close the city’s deficit.

City officials say both measures are needed to help the city deal with a housing crisis and budget shortfall that were exacerbated by last year’s fire that destroyed 5,300 homes in Sonoma County – 4,600 of those in Santa Rosa.

Even before the fire, the city has been considering a housing bond to meet its housing needs. The Association of Bay Area Governments has said Santa Rosa needs another 5,000 units to meet the regional planning agency’s housing goals.

The housing bond would levy $29 per $100,000 of assessed value on property owners, raising $124 million, Mayor Chris Coursey said at the meeting.

The city would be able to leverage those funds with other sources to create 1,200 housing units, he said.

The funds would be used to acquire, renovate and construct affordable housing. The city would assist in preserving existing affordable housing and assist residents with loans and grants.

The city would prioritize assistance to those at 80% below the median income, who lost their homes in the fire or are homeless, according to the measure.

Before deciding on the bond, the city had conducted additional surveys in July to gauge the level of support for different amounts.

The survey found that 64.7% would support an $80 million bond and 58.8% would support a $124 million bond, according to a staff report. The bond measure will require a two-thirds supermajority to pass.

Coursey said the polling was “all over the map” but he believed resident’s biggest priority was solving the city’s housing problems.

“There’s no ambiguity about what people in Santa Rosa feel is the most pressing issue,” he said. “That is housing. That‘s our biggest problems. It’s our biggest need and we need to address it.”

Originally, Sonoma County was considering a $300 million housing bond measure in which proceeds would be shared with other cities including Santa Rosa. But the county Board of Supervisors decided not to pursue it due to opposition from business and agricultural groups.

Santa Rosa officials then decided to go ahead with their own bond measure.

The sales tax – which would be in place for six years – is needed to address needs in fire-damaged areas of the city including repairing parks, streets and debris cleanup, according to a city staff report.

The city’s recently adopted budget includes a $14.9 million deficit which the tax measure will help close by providing $9 million a year, said Alan Alton, deputy director of finance.

The council also considered another proposal to raise its hotel tax by 3% but ultimately voted against the idea – worried that too many measures could dampen voter support.

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Housing Bond elections California