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November 25, 2020
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Cotati comes out against CASA

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
February 15, 2019

The Cotati City Council formalized its opposition to the CASA Compact Tues., Feb. 11th when they instructed the city’s staff to draft a letter protesting the legislative package. 

With the letter, Cotati joined Rohnert Park in opposition, whose city council drafted a similar letter at their Jan. 8 meeting. The point of opposition for both councils is that the package would bring higher taxes and a loss of local zoning control. 

“This hurts my head,” Councilmember Susan Harvey said. “We have for years and years tried to defend our small town character. There are elements in here that would create (...) monstrosities. I can only imagine a seven story building and how it might stick like a sore thumb. There’s nothing small town about that.”

The Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA) Compact is designed to ease California’s housing crisis. It hopes to accomplish this through establishing a cap on rent, strengthening tenant rights and removing regulatory barriers for new developments. The CASA Compact also includes a rash of new taxes and a minimum zoning of seven stories for neighborhoods around train stations, like the ones in downtown Cotati and Rohnert Park. 

Everything told, the CASA Compact is estimated by Cotati to cost the city $2.3 million. 

Those are some bitter pills to swallow and typically any problem for local governments would get worked out in the drafting process--but that didn’t happen this time. 

Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park council member and one of three representatives of Sonoma County to the CASA steering committee, signed onto the package without briefing the rest of the Rohnert Park City Council--an act for which the council later sanctioned Mackenzie by stripping him of his seat on the SMART Advisory Board. 

“Make no mistake, I want to be as clear as I can, this is essentially a coup. This is a power grab by the MTC because of the moneys they control,” Councilmember Mark Landman said. “Take a look at that time line: Dec. 3 to Dec. 19--16 days. Barely two weeks. While government and most people were taking Christmas off, (...) what was essentially a small fire skunking around and doing nothing for two years all of a sudden became a blazing bonfire.”

At this point there isn’t much local governments can do to stop the CASA Compact. Much of it has already moved onto the state level, and during Governor Gavin Newsom’s inaugural address, he called for the equivalent of a Marshall Plan--a sizeable government program that provides economic assistance--to solve the state’s housing crisis. 

That means Governor Newsom would likely look favorably on sweeping legislation like the CASA Compact. 

It also means that Cotati and Rohnert Park are in a difficult position. With the package moving through the state government, the only route available for the cities is to write a letter. That might seem like a token bit of resistance, but much of the legislation is still in flux. Elements of the CASA Compact will either be added or dropped and there’s still a long road to go before the package goes into law. In voicing their opinion, the Cotati City Council hopes to influence the debate. 

“Would it be worth getting a cadre of mayors and march up to San Francisco to have a frank discussion with our state’s legislatures. That’s going to be the most direct impact,” Mayor John Dell’Osso said. “Drafting a letter, that’s important. We have to do that. I think, though, that it might be a very effective tool and talk to them--setup a meeting and say, ‘We weren’t polled, but this is what we think."