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Springs Specific Plan sets worthy goals

The Springs Specific Plan or SSP is a county planning effort to modernize and improve the Highway 12 corridor through the Springs, and over onto east Verano and Donald Avenues adjacent to Sonoma. The SSP website says, “the Springs Specific Plan will be used to guide future development and gradually shape the area into a more vibrant and sustainable pedestrian-oriented community with a focus on active transportation and enhanced transit opportunities.” If the ideals of this plan are realized, the SSP would certainly be a boon to the area; if residents could stay local and shop affordably, the neighborhood would be actually sustainable with a capital S. Given that transportation greenhouse gas emissions represent the biggest deficit in state and county climate plans, keeping residents local, in a walkable, bikeable, sustainable community, is a worthy goal. The Springs is classed as a USA or Urban Service Area, an unincorporated urban area served by municipal sewer. The Springs is also a Rural Community Investment Area or RCIA. The SSP website says, “RCIAs are centers and corridors of economic and community activity surrounded by agricultural, resource, or protected conservation lands.” County growth and development is being steered to USAs and RCIAs. The SSP represents the county being forward looking and doing its part to address the future in a comprehensive way. Current county plans to increase housing stock, include Workforce Housing Combining zones that specifically target Area Median Income residents, a Cottage Housing Ordinance, a density equivalent concept, and protections for mobile home park renters. Some of these plans may come to fruition in the SSP. One question: if rezoning to force developers to serve AMI housing needs is possible, why is there not more of it? Or is the SSP like the Regional Housing Needs Assessment goals, basically voluntary and for show? In the process so far, alternatives concerning land uses, zoning, circulation, transportation, level of growth, as well as housing density have been presented and deliberated upon by consultant planners, PRMD, the public and a community advisory team. Initially there were three alternatives, one was for community housing and mixed use (higher density), two was moderate growth, three was keeping existing zoning. The public preferred a moderate level of growth but also preferred higher density housing. The fires and their impacts on an already bad county housing situation puts an onus for the SSP to favor higher density housing. Somebody around here has to step up and address AMI housing needs. In the end, the final SSP will reflect a balance and finessing of stakeholder interests, as well as addressing bone fide regional and valley demographic and commercial needs. The real challenge for the voluntary planning parameters of the SSP, is will and can market forces really step up, act sustainably, and meet the community’s needs? Is there incentive for market rate developers and businesses to serve Area Median Income resident’s interests? If SSP suggested uses are voluntary, what chance is there that any AMI housing and shopping needs will be met? Or will Sonoma Valley continue to see more of the same working class segregation and displacement, and more proliferation of high-end economy that externalizes workers, gentrifies housing and commerce, and adds to a seemingly unstoppable generation of commuter transportation greenhouse gases? From the beginning of the SSP process there has been a comprehensive effort by the county to reach out, and to be responsive to community stakeholders. Commercial interests have been engaged, as well as citizens of all stripes, from those desiring a more cosmopolitan Springs area to those concerned about affordable housing and to the potential displacement of the Latino community. Good news for the AMI community, 40 units of Springs senior apartments have just begun.All the plans and meetings, considerations, and guidelines boil down to whose interests will be served in the end. Hopefully an intentional SSP plan will realize the widespread public benefit it aspires to. And hopefully Sonoma can follow the SSP example and act to bring a similar level of forward looking, sustainable planning to its slice of the lower valley urban area.
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