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May 21, 2019
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Cotati protests CASA compact

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
March 15, 2019

The Cotati City Council issued a stern protest by letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), architects of the CASA Compact, at their meeting Tues. evening to decry the organization’s proposed legislation which would result in a loss of local autonomy. 

It might have been Cotati Mayor John Dell’Osso’s signature at the bottom, but all of the Cotati City Council signed onto the letter mailed to Theresa Mcmillan, Executive Director of the MTC. Universal agreement in government is a rare thing. Still, the CASA Compact has moved so swiftly and with such a lack of input from local municipalities that the legislative package has sounded alarm bells across the Bay Area. 

“We keep using phrases like, ‘One size doesn’t fit all.’ There’s a lot of truth to that. It really doesn’t,” Dell’Osso said. “We clearly need to do more for affordable housing. But are we going to do it with five to seven story structures near train depots? It may be appropriate in some areas, but it’s definitely not appropriate in Cotati.”

For background, the CASA Compact is a legislative package put forth by the MTC that hopes to relieve the worst of California’s housing crisis. It plans to do this through ten interlinked bits of legislation; they include a just cause eviction policy, a cap on rental prices and an overhaul to the existing housing-approval process. 

Some of the ideas sound perfectly fine to the Cotati City Council. They like the focus on transit-oriented development and the greater transparency in planning efforts and fees. 

But the council’s opposition begins where the CASA Compact starts to strip cities of development control. The package plans to require municipalities to establish minimum zoning requirements around transportation hubs, like the SMART rail stations, which can mean buildings of seven-stories regardless of whether Cotati’s citizens want them or not. On top of that there’s rules mandating usage of public land and a drastic reduction of parking requirements. 

Finally, there’s the price tag. The plan proposes to pay for all of this legislation with a slew of new taxes, which include one based on merchants’ gross-receipts. The total estimated cost to Cotati comes out to $2.3 million. 

That’s quite a lot of money for a community of 7,500 people. 

Normally, these kinds of problems would get worked out in the drafting step, but that didn’t happen this time. The MTC demanded a final up or down vote from its local representatives in the middle of Dec. 2018 when the governments of many municipalities had recessed for the holidays. Most of the representatives, which included Rohnert Park Councilmember Jake Mackenzie, signed on to the package without consulting their local districts.

So the only course left for the municipalities disenfranchised by the process was to write a letter. Cotati now joins Rohnert Park in protest, but as far as the council is aware they are only two of three cities in Sonoma County that have discussed the CASA Compact to date—Petaluma being the third.

“The next step is waiting for these cities to weigh in. Let’s see what that is. If there’s more of a strong sentiment then I say yeah, let’s get moving,” Dell’Osso said. “If it takes getting a cadre of mayors together and going to Sacramento then I’m happy to do that. But it wouldn’t be beneficial if Sonoma County was five cities opposed and four cities in favor. A slight majority isn’t quite strong enough.”