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Santa Rosa urged to rebuild with denser, multifamily housing

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Officials and landowners must work together for the greater good

Structures Destroyed By California Wine Country Wildfires Rises To 8400 Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As clean-up efforts continue in Santa Rosa, one of several towns all but ruined in the Northern California wildfire, thousands of people remain homeless. The North Bay city alone lost 5 percent of total housing in the blazes. And the housing issue is expected to get worse. That is, unless Santa Rosa plans on rebuilding the right way.

Only two weeks after the firestorm started, reports of rent prices skyrocketing have already made the rounds. The housing situation will be so bad that, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, roughly 8,000 displaced residents will vacate Sonoma County entirely.

And things don’t look brighter elsewhere in the Bay Area. With Silicon Valley communities and leaders complicit in the ongoing housing crisis, there are few options for working-class residents in tertiary cities.

Above all, longterm planning of the ravished town will go a long way to help people recover. In a sharply worded editorial, the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board wisely suggests:

[...] The North Bay, like many regions of the Bay Area, is dominated by single-family houses. If local officials take advantage of the opportunity to encourage the construction of more multifamily housing—which can house more people for lower prices—they can lower the cost of housing for renters and home buyers alike.

“If they revisit their zoning policies, and work with developers, local officials could encourage housing construction that’s more affordable for residents,” [said Oscar Wei, a senior economist with California Association of Realtors]

But don’t expect Santa Rosa to change its restrictive zoning laws anytime soon.

“We are not currently considering rezoning single-family-home neighborhoods as multifamily housing areas,” Coursey said flatly. “In the areas that have burned, people have a vested right to rebuild what they had before. But there are commercial areas that burned, and they might be ripe for multifamily-housing construction.”

In addition to city-owned parcels near transit corridors, Coursey said the city is seeking to speak with the owners of certain fire-damaged commercial buildings, like the Kmart on Hopper Avenue near Highway 101, about possibly transforming their properties into housing.

Multiple Wildfires Destroy Homes, Threaten California Wine Country
An aerial view of homes that were destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A few relief measures, however temporary, have recently passed in order to provide residents with some form of habitable shelter. Sonoma County approved new ordinances Tuesday that would allow displaced victims to temporarily live in parked RVs and travel trailers. Permit fees for building secondary dwelling units on existing properties will also be reduced or waived altogether.

More must be done. The Chronicle’s editorial board sums it up best, saying, “We urge local officials and landowners to work together for the good of Santa Rosa.”

Hear, hear.

Before and after shot of Santa Rosa neighborhood near Coffey Park.
Satellite via Google Maps and Photo by California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division via AP