One year after fires, Sonoma County drives to meet housing goals

580 200 Ed Coghlan

Leaders from the Sonoma region meet in Santa Rosa to discuss housing and more at Pepperwood Preserve (Photo Credit: Ed Coghlan/CAFwd)

The need to build more housing in Sonoma County didn’t start last year. The beautiful area north of San Francisco has been a magnet for businesses and individuals to relocate for many years. The economy there is doing well.

But the housing issue became worse when the horrible fires in the fall of 2017 devastated the county—5,300 housing units were destroyed—people died. Families were displaced.

The response of the county’s political, business and philanthropic leaders over the last year has been to find ways to truly work together to clean up after the massive fire—and begin to address ways to rebuild the area faster than they would normally.

Last week, a group of leaders met for a day to look for answers to a very specific question:

How can the public and private sector take specific steps together to implement Sonoma County’s housing goals?

And the goals are ambitious—to build 30,000 new homes by 2025.

As Margaret Van Vliet of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission pointed out that is quite a change from recent years when less than one thousand new units were permitted each year.

“We have been conflicted about whether want to grow,” she told the group.

For Oscar Chavez with the Sonoma County Department of Human Services the idea of a creating policies in a local region that continues to provide job opportunities and housing was even more personal.

“I’m the father of four and I want to make sure my children can live and thrive here when they are adults,” he said.

Peter Rumble, executive director of the Santa Rose Metro Chamber which hosted the day’s discussion, termed the day-long session not a “rebuild meeting” but rather one that can energize the community’s major employers and builders into a commitment to action.

That mission seemed to be accomplished.

In a pro bono contribution to the effort, the Deloitte consulting firm has been working with leaders and drove the meeting agenda to identify what needs to be done to address the housing issue.

By the end of the day they had identified four main priorities that will drive their work to meet the ambitious housing goals they have identified.

  1. Establish a Sonoma County Housing Council
  2. Support by-right legislation that will help make permitting predictable
  3. Identify new funding sources
  4. Educate the residents on the “30K by 2025” goal.

“This won’t be done overnight,” Rumble pointed out. “We are giving ourselves goals of what we can do in the next week, in the next five weeks and the next five months.”

The California Economic Summit annual meeting will be held in Santa Rosa on November 15-16—and the work done last week, and which continues for the next month will be part of the Summit program.

As California Forward President and CEO Jim Mayer pointed out, “the work being done to pursue solutions to expand a regional economy that is prosperous, equitable and sustainable is not only necessary to address the future here, but also can help other regions in California develop best practices on how to address their needs.”

To be in the room with these local leaders was educational and, yes, a little inspirational. This county was hit hard by Mother Nature—and they are fighting back.

We heard the stories of the impact of the wildfire on the communities of Sonoma County—how the recovery has gone for the past year—what the area has learned from the experience and what all of the state’s regions can “learn from they learned”.

That knowledge transfer promises that the Summit’s seventh annual gathering this fall will help advance not only the objectives of this very resilient region of California, but also will instruct all of the regions of California that when public, private and philanthropic forces work together on a common objective, real change can occur.

To register for the 2018 California Economic Summit, click here for more information.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan