The Guest Editor – Elnoka: another view
By Dick Latimer
In “Forum Oakmont – Elnoka, the untold story” (2/1/11), Yvonne Frauenfelder cites many Oakmont residents’ opposition to Oakmont Senior Living’s Elnoka Village, a development of multi-age and income apartments and condominiums planned for 9.2 acres next door to Oakmont’s western end. The May, 2007, news of the plans, Ms. Frauenfelder says, “...hit most Oakmont residents like a thunderbolt out of the clear blue sky.” Many had long believed “...an adult community akin to Oakmont would eventually be developed.”
Supporting the project are local affordable housing advocates such as the Sonoma County Housing Advocacy Group, whose volunteer members include retirees, lawyers, teachers, social workers, housing industry employees, people who need affordable housing – people with varied backgrounds. They support Elnoka Village because if realized, it will reflect Santa Rosa’s socio-economic and age diversity by reducing segregation based on income level. Also, where people live affects the educational opportunities and achievement of schoolchildren.
If Elnoka Village gains City approval, 70% of the housing units will be sold at market rate. (The following examples are for families of four.) In 2010, according to the City of Santa Rosa, the median income for a Santa Rosa family of four was $80,400. The developer pledges that 20% of the units will house people of moderate income (81-120% of median). 10% of the units will be for low-income residents (51-80% of median income) or very low income (under 50% of median).
Most existing housing now affordable to low and very low income Santa Rosans is either west of Highway 101 or in central Santa Rosa, with very little in eastern Santa Rosa. When Santa Rosa passed its inclusionary zoning ordinance in the early 1990s (requiring inclusion of some affordable units in housing developments of 15 acres or more), Oakmont was exempted from including units affordable to low and very low-income residents. Elnoka, of course, is not part of Oakmont.
California Government Code 565584 mandates the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to determine every five years a city or county’s regional share of housing needs. ABAG’s economic analysis takes into account a community population’s income levels: above moderate; moderate; low income; and very low income. Cities and counties are required to identify suitable sites for new housing for residents at those income levels. For several years, Santa Rosa failed to identify in its General Plan Housing Element sufficient sites for housing affordable to Santa Rosans of low and very low income. As a result, the Housing Advocacy Group (HAG) sued the City on Oct. 11, 2002. In a settlement signed February 13, 2003, Santa Rosa agreed to “...specifically identify suitable sites with appropriate zoning and infrastructure to permit the development of housing affordable to low and very low income households...in sufficient quantities so as to meet or exceed the City’s regional share of need for such housing...”
Councilwoman Jane Bender signed the settlement for the City. Then the City changed the Housing Element language to include sufficient sites – including the Elnoka property – appropriate for affordable housing. Unfortunately, not until the summer of 2008, and a letter reminder from HAG about the 2003 settlement agreement, did the City change the Elnoka property zoning to medium density occupancy, to allow the higher building density that affordable housing needs. HAG’s May, 2008, “Affordable Housing Progress Report” indicated that “...Santa Rosa has met 47% of its regional affordable housing need for the very-low income sector…” and “...to meet its regional housing need, 881 very low-income units must be permitted.”
The state-required Environmental Impact Report(s) (EIR) for Elnoka Village took many months. In response to comments the Planning Commission received about aesthetic impacts, traffic, and creek setback requirements, City staff reported to the Planning Commission on January 13, 2011, that “...changes have been made to the project. As a result of these changes, all significant and unavoidable impacts have been reduced to less than significant with mitigation.” The Planning Commission then certified the Final EIR. Elnoka Village opponents have appealed the Planning Commission’s EIR certification to the City Council.
According to Ms. Frauenfelder, the anti-Elnoka Village opposition’s main objection is based on: “... Section H-A-4 of the General Plan which stipulates that the goal of meeting Santa Rosa’s housing needs, through increased density should be consistent with the preservation of existing neighborhoods, and developments must be designed in context with existing surroundings.” However, I also note Goal H-A of the Santa Rosa General Plan: “Meet the housing needs of all Santa Rosa residents.” The City’s policy statement (H-A-1) to implement this goal: “Ensure adequate sites are available for development of a variety of housing types for all income levels, including single and multifamily units, mobile homes, transitional housing, and homeless shelters.” Again, Elnoka Village is planned to include families, singles, and age diversity. Remember: Housing that is 70% market rate; 20% moderate income; 10% low and very low income.
If the City Council upholds the Final EIR, then the developer’s design plans will journey through the design review process toward final City Council approval or disapproval. Elnoka Village opponents and advocates will have their say before the Council decides its fate. I hope and expect the result will be consistent with the Housing Element of Santa Rosa’s General Plan. That would help address Santa Rosa’s overall need for more affordable housing; and it would address the scarcity of such housing in eastern Santa Rosa.
Dick Latimer is an Oakmont resident.
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