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Read more business coverage of the Nov. 6 local elections: nbbj.news/vote1118

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

The $124 million housing bond proposal going before Santa Rosa voters in the Nov. 6 election is the city’s most high-profile move yet to address a persistent crisis deepened by last year’s fires.

It is also a test of whether property owners are willing to tax themselves at higher rates to spur the creation of new homes for others in the city.

The campaign has scrambled some long-established alliances, with business and environmental groups that are often at odds uniting behind Measure N, while organized labor and an emergent political force — the tribe that owns the Graton Resort and Casino outside Rohnert Park — are linking up to oppose the measure.

That high-stakes bout is not over the pressing need for new housing in the city — a largely unquestioned necessity, especially in the aftermath of the devastating October 2017 wildfires. Instead, the dispute centers on how the bond proceeds would be spent and who stands to benefit should the measure be approved by at least two-thirds of voters.

Measure N would hike property taxes by $29 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, or about $110 per year for the typical Santa Rosa home. The proceeds could be used to build new affordable housing, preserve existing units, aid residents seeking to rebuild homes lost to the fires and help first-time homeowners make down payments, among other initiatives.

Repayment costs on principal and interest would top $258 million over a 30-year term, according to city officials.

Santa Rosa Councilman Jack Tibbetts, who has spearheaded the push for the bond measure, characterized Measure N as a stimulus that could fuel Santa Rosa’s housing recovery from last year’s fires, which took out more than 3,000 homes within city limits, or about 5 percent of the housing stock.

“This is our one shot to make this work at a time when the community needs it,” Tibbetts said.

Supporters of Measure N include the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, the Santa Rosa school board and the Greenbelt Alliance, among other groups.

Opponents want terms

But opponents, including the North Bay Labor Council, the largest organized labor coalition in the region, and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who own the Bay Area’s largest casino, have joined forces to defeat the ballot measure.

Their central argument is that the bond plan crafted by the City Council lacks terms sought by organized labor, including guarantees of union rules and benefits for covered construction projects.

Under the current proposal, the opponents allege, developers and builders would siphon off millions of dollars from taxpayers while paying in some cases below prevailing wage for laborers.

Labor leaders unsuccessfully sought guarantees that a share of the work would be reserved for unionized workers and questioned the city’s rush to pass a housing bond this year.

“I do believe it’s an opportunity missed because our local elected leaders failed in their primary responsibility, which was to bring the entire community together in this trying time,” said Jack Buckhorn, the labor council’s executive director.

Supporters say the bond money is crucial to attract matching state and federal funds. Each dollar of bond revenue could add up to $8 or more of matching money, adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars for projects to expand the affordable housing supply.

Read more business coverage of the Nov. 6 local elections: nbbj.news/vote1118

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

“It’s a hugely needed measure for affordable housing,” said Larry Florin, CEO of Burbank Housing, the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit developer that works across the North Bay.

Florin said Burbank Housing has about 17,000 people — equivalent to nearly 10 percent of Santa Rosa’s population — on its waiting list for affordable housing. Once matching funds are secured, Tibbetts said, the bond proceeds could generate 3,000 to 4,000 units of affordable housing.

Other possible projects include new housing for homeless people and funds to spur development of affordable secondary units on existing residential properties. It’s unclear when the first projects would start, though city guidelines call for developers to spend funds within five years of being awarded bond proceeds.

Majority favorable

A majority of prospective voters surveyed in the city view the Measure N favorably, according to polling paid for the pro-bond committee, said Chris Grabill, a Santa Rosa general contractor and chairman of Yes on Measure N campaign.

The two-thirds threshold remains a daunting one for most local tax measures, going by the history of narrow defeats at the ballot box. But proponents remain confident, pointing to a broad cross-section of community and interest groups backing the measure, spotlighted in the supporters’ campaign name: “Yes on Measure N — Committee for Housing Recovery, Resiliency and Affordability, a Coalition of Teachers, First Responders, Seniors, Families and Business Leaders.”

The campaign has raised at least $335,000 this year to cover polling, consulting, mailers and Facebook ads, according to campaign finance forms filed with the city of Santa Rosa.

Bay Area housing developers have accounted for most of the donations, including Burbank Housing ($50,000); MidPen Housing Corp. ($50,000); EAH Inc. ($40,000); Eden Housing Inc. ($40,000); and Bridge Housing Corp. ($25,000).

No formal committee exists to oppose Measure N. Buckhorn, the labor council head, attributed that to what he described as extensive efforts to reach a compromise his side could support — “or at least (be) neutral,” he said.

The Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council PAC, with Buckhorn as treasurer, has spent $5,000 on social media advertising to oppose Measure N. Buckhorn said last week the labor council planned to spend at least $5,000 more on the opposition campaign.

Tribe joins unions

The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which previously brokered deals to have union workers build its casino and staff the Rohnert Park-area gaming resort, has joined the labor council in opposing Measure N.

The tribe recently paid for a full-page advertisement in The Press Democrat’s Sunday edition urging voters to “Stop The Santa Rosa City Council Tax Scam.”

The rift between the two camps stems from guidelines the City Council approved in August to outline how Santa Rosa would use the bond proceeds. Council members agreed that at least 75 percent of the money would be spent to increase housing options for low-income households, with the remainder for addressing housing needs for moderate-income residents.

Other requirements the City Council set include paying prevailing wages on bond-funded projects, albeit with exemptions for self-help housing projects, certain rent-restricted lower-income housing projects and other qualified projects that may be exempt under prevailing wage requirements state labor laws. The City Council’s resolution also included provisions that would prioritize hiring Sonoma County workers when possible; and giving preference to environmentally progressive developments and those near mass transit.

A key labor council demand that would have required 10 percent of bond-funded work to go to skilled union workers on top of 20 percent for apprentices under state prevailing wage requirements didn’t pass when council members deadlocked.

Buckhorn said the defeat of that guarantee was a prime cause of his group’s opposition.

Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Graton Rancheria, said he was “strongly opposed” to Measure N during an interview earlier this month at the Graton casino. He suggested the measure would allow builders to profit at workers’ expense.

“I call it disaster capitalism, and I don’t dig it,” he said.

While Sarris did not offer specifics for his plan to oppose Measure N, he said, “We have a plan to move ahead and make sure that it’s sunk. ... We are going to get very aggressive at the end.”

Other veteran building industry representatives have been equally forceful in their support for the measure.

Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, said the bond “looks like a good investment” and said the builders’ exchange decided to support Measure N after hearing a presentation from Burbank Housing.

The builder’s exchange has contributed $5,000 to the Yes on N campaign and represents union and nonunion contractors. It contends no special carve-outs or labor conditions for taxpayer-funded work should exist.

“We want the marketplace to dictate who will do what work,” Woods said.

Tibbetts described the guidelines approved by the council in August as the strongest way the city could legally dictate to future councils the desire to pay prevailing wages for bond project labor.

“We are just dumbfounded and perplexed as to why labor unions would oppose something like this,” Tibbetts said.

Staff Writer Robert Digitale contributed reporting to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.