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Cotati runs up against big government

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
November 13, 2020

Cotati’s City Council is angry. Really angry. 

The rage is all thanks to an update to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RNHA) which demands drastically increased housing built across Sonoma County in unincorporated areas. 

More housing is good. The median home price for a place in Sonoma County is hovering right around $650,000, average rents are about $2,000 a month, and Covid-19 hasn’t made any of this any cheaper. It’s unfortunately a story which is all too common to the Bay Area. 

Our state of California is in a housing crisis. The question is how we fix it. 

Sacramento hopes to legislate its way out of this problem. Updates to the RNHA by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) demand about a half a million new homes in the Bay Area over the next eight years. Cotati and Rohnert Park’s share of the expansion is 270 and 1260 new homes respectively. It’s a substantial increase over the previous eight-year period, but it’s not impossible. 

No, for the Cotati City Council the sticking point is the 5,250 houses assigned to Sonoma County’s unincorporated sections. 

There’s a lot which goes into building a new home: water, power, sewage, schools, shopping, public transportation, parks and recreation, garbage—basically anything and everything which makes a home more than four slabs of drywall and a roof requires some kind of commitment from the city. 

Spreading that commitment out into basically unincorporated wilderness? Well, that’s a recipe for disaster, at least according to Councilmember Mark Landman. 

“There doesn’t seem like there’s anyone who’ll listen to the rather large problems our staff found in a very short amount of time,” he said. “I mean, look at this whole concept of developing housing where we won’t even have infrastructure for decades to come.”

Other council members echoed his protest. 

“Almost everywhere in the county we’ve gone out of our way to have urban grown boundaries. This flies in the face of that,” said Councilmember Susan Harvey. 

Councilmember John Dell’Osso simply said, “We can’t sacrifice our natural resources for the sake of building more, more and more more.”

And yet building more is exactly what’s going to have to happen if Cotati gets its way and the RNHA eases up on the new requirements, according to Noah Housh, Cotati’s Director of Community Development. Housh claims that these houses will have to be built somewhere, and if not on Sonoma County’s unincorporated lands, then on the incorporated ones. 

That means Cotati and Rohnert Park. 

Housh claims Cotati will meet its previous assigned goal of 137 housing units by 2022, though Covid-19 certainly hasn’t made it easy. The city’s new goal of 270 housing units should also lay within reach. But Housh warns that if the HCD alters the deal to reassign those unincorporated housing units to municipalities, and if Cotati fails to meet her assigned quota, then it could cost the city some money. 

“The state is beginning to take a carrot and stick approach, and the stick is a reduction of grant appropriation across fields, not just housing related,” Housh warned. 

The Cotati City Council voted unanimously to send a strongly worded letter to the HCD detailing their concerns. The last time Cotati wrote a letter like this was in 2019 in protest over the CASA Compact. That letter struck a match and every municipality in Sonoma County soon sent one similar. 

Only time will tell if this letter will be the same.