It’s back to the drawing board to publicly finance new housing projects in Sonoma County, with the likely prospect of yet another fight in the future over who gets to draft the plans.
Last week, Santa Rosa voters rejected a $124 million housing bond measure, a key proposal that would have leveraged state and federal aid to build an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 homes.
The defeat came after a campaign that opened a wide rift between supporters, including city officials and many civic leaders, business and environmental groups, and opponents led by the region’s largest organized labor coalition and a politically emergent Indian tribe.
Now city and civic leaders say they still want to use public money to help address the county’s longstanding housing shortage, driven by the sharp drop in residential construction a decade ago during the housing crash and severe recession.
The predicament worsened after the 2017 wildfires destroyed more than 5,300 homes countywide, including more than 3,000 in Santa Rosa.
Any tax-raising plan that emerges over the next year likely will produce less money than would have been available through Measure N, the failed bond proposal, officials say.
And it could renew the fight between nonunion builders and labor leaders that shadowed Measure N, over what percentage of the money should be governed by union terms. Disagreement over that share led to the North Bay Labor Council formally opposing Measure N, attacking the proposal in newspaper advertisements bankrolled by key ally the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, owner of the Graton Resort and Casino outside Rohnert Park.
Santa Rosa Councilman Jack Tibbetts, who helped spearhead the Measure N campaign, said the dispute showed the disagreement over so-called project labor agreements — deals guaranteeing union rules and benefits for taxpayer-supported construction — is “pretty entrenched and longstanding.” Past disputes over such policies have roiled both the Board of Supervisors and the board of trustees governing Santa Rosa Junior College.
“Until that issue gets resolved, I don’t see those two sides getting together on project construction financing,” Tibbetts said.
The bond measure’s defeat came three years after business, civic and elected leaders began to widely lament the housing shortage in Sonoma County.
From 2000 to 2008, builders had constructed about 18,000 houses and apartments in the county, according to state Department of Finance estimates. In the next eight years, construction fell to about 6,300 homes. Officials consider that difference of almost 12,000 homes as an approximate count of the residential construction shortfall since the downturn.
The calls for action grew louder after the North Bay wildfires in October 2017 burned more than 6,200 homes across the region.
What resulted were reports, conferences and plans to build homes on surplus government land. Yet, to date, officials can’t take credit for many new houses and apartments here.
The housing bond was meant to change that. In addition to subsidizing construction of new homes, it was slated to pay for homeless housing projects, provide down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers and aid for residents seeking to rebuild after the 2017 wildfires.
The campaign in support of Measure N did bring together an unprecedented coalition of business and environmental groups, plus support from teachers and two other union groups that stuck with the bond proposal — the Teamsters and operating engineers.
Measure N defeated
Proposed: $124 million Santa Rosa housing bond
Voters: 58.8 percent yes; 41.2 percent no*
Purpose: Build up to 4,000 homes
Supporters included: Greenbelt Alliance, Sonoma County Alliance, Santa Rosa Teachers Association, Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce
Opponents included: North Bay Labor Council, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria
* Based on latest reported election results
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.