In wildfire's aftermath, Santa Rosa, California, weighs housing bond

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Santa Rosa, California, may seek voter approval for a $130 million housing bond to help build affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area city that saw 5% of its housing stock destroyed in an October 2017 wildfire.

The plan represents a shift in strategy after months of discussing a regional $300 million housing recovery bond for all of Sonoma County. Earlier this month, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors said it was reconsidering the idea in the face of opposition from agricultural interests.

The Santa Rosa City Council will discuss plans for its own housing bond measure at its Tuesday meeting and has until July 24 to make a decision on putting it on the November ballot, said Councilman Jack Tibbetts, a proponent of the housing bond.

October’s wildfires destroyed 5,300 homes in Sonoma County and of those were 4,600 in Santa Rosa, county and city officials say.

Even before the fire, officials had been considering a housing and infrastructure bond but the disaster exacerbated the crisis and made the need for housing funds more immediate, Tibbetts said.

“The narrative very quickly and dramatically shifted to we need to put all our focus on housing,” he said.

The county plan had set the goal of helping to create 30,000 homes over the next five years with a substantial portion affordable to those of modest and low incomes.

But in a county with several large agricultural property owners, that plan ran into opposition from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. The group called it a tax on agriculture that would be burdensome to its members.

Concerned that any opposition could make passage of the bond measure, which requires a two-thirds supermajority, more difficult, county supervisors suggested at a June 13 meeting that they may instead pursue a less ambitious plan for a sales tax measure in unincorporated parts of the county. That proposal, which could raise about $9.5 million a year for housing, will go back to the board on July 10.

That leaves the city – which does not have the same issue with large agricultural parcels – free to craft its own plan that has a much better chance of success, Tibbetts said.

The city proposal would levy the same assessment and raise the same amount of money that would have gone to Santa Rosa under the county plan, he said.

“From my perspective, my constituents are getting the same deal,” Tibbetts said. “All we’ve done is made it easier to pass in Santa Rosa.”

Polls conducted by the city in March showed voter support for a housing bond at 74%, Tibbetts said.

“Housing is the No. 1 prevailing issue that voters want their government to address,” he said.

City officials will hear more from a consultant at its Tuesday meeting as it puts together the details of the plan, he said.

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Bond elections Housing General obligation bonds California