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.