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City Council must uphold affordable housing plan

Posted on January 25, 2018 by Sonoma Valley Sun
(Copy of letter sent to the Sonoma City Council)
Because the January 29 appeal of the Planning Commission decision regarding the Altamira Affordable Housing development will be heard in a packed Community Meeting Room at the peak of the flu season, I’m using this virus-free email to share my thoughts on that subject, for what they may be worth.
I urge you to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the proposed development, and move to direct Staff to immediately devise and implement a plan to resolve long-neglected traffic-related problems in the neighborhood which, unless remedied, will be greatly exacerbated by the Altamira development.  Those problems have been well-articulated by the appellants and have been the subject of valid  neighborhood complaints for years.
Between permitting of the development and completion of construction, there should be more than enough time for Council and Staff to identify and implement necessary and viable fixes.  Council should also appoint a subcommittee, including a majority of immediate neighbors, to assist it in that regard and to establish a timetable with responsibilities for completion, to be monitored as construction proceeds.
In particular, the Clay Street loading dock operations of the multi-billion dollar Marriott Corporation’s Lodge and the over-flow parking from the Train Town amusement facility have been allowed to virtually usurp the use of public streets and rights-of-way for private profit, to the safety and Quality of Life detriment of long-suffering neighbors.  Were the Lodge and Train Town new businesses applying for permits today, it is difficult to imagine they would be approved without being required to mitigate the conditions as now exist, which are directly the result of their operations.
Unless the City utilizes all the powers and processes at its disposal to alleviate the traffic, parking & safety frustrations of those who live in and travel through this neighborhood, this much-needed development will effectively add several hundred new but no-less-vocal City residents to the throngs attending future Council meetings and jamming staff phone lines to complain about these same issues.
In the interim, there is no reason to shrink, block or delay this much-needed development, as the City is in a position to remedy those concerns before construction is completed.  Significantly, the appellants do not oppose this affordable housing development; on thier website they expressly support it.  Their effort to highlight neighborhood traffic/parking/safety concerns and to demand remediation should be applauded as an effort to make Altamira an even finer asset for the City and for those who will eventually live there.   Those future residents would include many low-income working families who are the foundation of Sonoma’s — and the county’s — wine & tourism economy.  Because there is no housing here they can afford, many in those industries not only earn dismally low wages but commute long distances to enrich our community and its businesses.
[In that regard, I believe it is relevant to note that some on Council have resisted a livable minimum wage ordinance for Sonoma on the curious rationale that affordable housing needs must be addressed first, or at least simultaneously.  As proof of their professed commitment to affordable housing, and to a livable minimum wage, one presumes they will green-light this development.]
Finally, I urge you to reject not-so-subtle dog whistles professing concern about the ‘risk of concentrated poverty’ or having too many families from ‘just one income bracket’ in the Altamira development.  Save for a very limited affordable housing component, a diversity-of-income requirement has never been a factor for approving middle-class developments sprouted in various parts of town.   Viewed most charitably, such a requirement in this case would effectively dilute if not defeat Altamira’s very purpose.   Because their applications will be carefully screened, Altamira residents — regardless of income, race or ethnicity — could scarcely be less wholesome or a greater ‘risk’ than the current billionaire occupants of the White House.  In addition, Altamira will have a competent on-site resident manager to respond to their needs in a fresh and affordable place that its residents — some perhaps for the first time — can finally call Home.
Bob Edwards
PS: I surrender my three minutes of in-person public comment time on Monday (a $900 value) for use by others.

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