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July 6, 2020
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Affordable housing resolutions fail

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
June 26, 2020

At their June 23 meeting, a series of resolutions concerning a proposal to build an additional 36-units of affordable housing in Rohnert Park failed to be approved by the city council. The resolutions were numbered 2020-58 through 61. The first would amend the General Plan. The next one would have amended the specific plan for the “Southeast Specific Plan Project.” The third would have allowed a revised development area plan for this project. The last one would have authorized the city to issue a funding commitment letter for the proposed project. All four needed to pass to allow the project to go forward.

These agenda items started off smoothly enough with a staff report providing background and support for the proposal to consider a revised development plan in the WillowGlen project. This project is in the southeast area of the city off Valley House Road. If approved, an undeveloped lot previously approved for 10,000 square feet of commercial development would be eliminated. In its place, an additional 36-units of affordable housing would be built in Rohnert Park to supplement the 36-units already approved for this area of the city. 

The staff report presented the need. 46.7 percent of Rohnert Park residents would fall within the guidelines making them eligible for these units. The countywide waiting list already has 12,000 applicants. So, the need is undisputed. But the driving force for this switch was the availability of one-time monies from the state. Those funds were designated to assist with building more affordable housing in the thirteen counties that lost housing units during recent wildfires including Sonoma County. The availability of those funds, one billion dollars in total, was only finalized last Thursday and the application deadline is July 1. Many communities will be competing for these funds.

But the rush to beat the July 1 deadline also played into the defeat of these resolutions. One factor was that Councilmember Susan Adams was absent, recovering from surgery. That left four voting members available to consider these resolutions. It takes three affirmative votes to pass a resolution. Then, Mayor Joseph Callinan had to recuse himself. He explained that his son has been running the day-to-day operations of his company. So, when his son saw the council discussing this item, he called his dad and told him the company had started working with the project builders. Thus, the mayor had a potential conflict of interest and had no choice but to recuse himself. Now there were three voting members. 

Vice Mayor Mackenzie had to step up and deal with this series of resolutions. Seeking advice from the city attorney, he considered the options available to the council. They could continue the item to a later date such as the July 14 regular meeting; however, the application deadline wouldn’t be met. They could continue the public hearing, but it was obvious in discussing options with his other council members that these resolutions would be unable to pass with the required three affirmative votes. Mackenzie made a motion to continue the item but neither Belforte nor Stafford seconded his motion. Therefore, the motion failed. That meant, action was required by the council tonight.

It also meant that the public hearing would start, and public comment would be heard. According to the city clerk, 54 comments in support of the resolutions had been received; however, 105 comments in opposition to the resolutions were also received. After discussion and guidance from the city attorney, the council authorized on a 3-0 vote to limit public comments to 30-minutes only. The city clerk would read comments in support or opposition for 15 minutes each. However, all comments would become part of the public record.

Then, one by one, each resolution was put to a vote. Each failed 1-2-1-1 with Mackenzie voting aye, Belforte and Stafford nay, Callinan recused and Adams absent. The city attorney then advised the vice mayor that one more motion was required, which was a motion to deny the project. That motion was made and it passed 3-0. Mayor Callinan then returned to the meeting to complete the agenda items for this marathon four and one half hour meeting. That included the passing of various budget resolutions on 4-0-1 votes; staff report on COVID-19 updates and the other more routine staff and council reports.