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Valley Forum: UGB has served Sonoma well

When I first moved to Sonoma nearly 30 years ago, I paid $400 a month rent for a small house. Then after 14 years I had to move and pay double the rent. After my mother died, I lived in her affordable mobile home in 7 Flags. Today I live with my partner, Stan, who bought us a house. If I had to rent now, I couldn’t afford it.

So I totally sympathize with the woman who can’t afford to return to Sonoma, who was featured in a recent column by Jason Walsh (“City of No Return,” Dec. 13). But I strongly disagree with the view that land conservation and the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) are why housing costs are high.

The current housing crisis has resulted from multiple factors, mainly loss of state and federal funding, stagnant wages for most workers and the high costs of labor and materials. The loss of homes to wildfires exacerbated the need. Luxury homes and vacation rentals reduced supply. It is not because of the UGB.

We know that simply sprawling into greenbelts outside cities does not provide affordable housing. Just look around the Bay Area. In fact, we must double down on protecting land, water and greenbelts and building better inside our cities if we are to provide enough living space and survive the climate crisis.

The UGB has served us well for 20 years by preventing sprawl that is unhealthy for residents and expensive for the city. Our town remains small-scale and inviting. The surrounding green buffers helped protect the city from wildfire. Living here is still more affordable than the rest of the Bay Area. And the UGB costs taxpayers nothing.

The good news is that we have room to grow. Right now at least 200 more new living units are on track to be built in the city over the next two years, half affordable. And there’s plenty of room inside the UGB for another 800 to 1,000 new living units under current policies. If we grow another 20 percent in the next 20 years that’s about 2,000 people and 1,000 units. We can already meet that need. And we can do more.

Now is the perfect time to ask the City Council to encourage innovative housing types such as granny units, junior dwelling units, and smaller “missing middle” units as they urgently work on updates to the zoning code to meet new state mandates for housing. New state funding is on the way to help get more affordable homes built.

There is lots of work to do to create a climate-healthy, diverse, livable city with our neighbors and friends so people like “Molly,” the woman in Mr. Walsh’s column, can come home and others can afford to stay.

Instead of wrestling over a divisive and false choice between land conservation and housing, let’s keep our commitment to a balance between open space and community. But time is running out. The city needs to start the public process soon to put a ballot measure before the voters to renew the existing UGB for another 20 years before it expires at the end of next year.

Sonoma resident Teri Shore is the North Bay regional director of the Greenbelt Alliance.

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