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A Success Story

[whitespace] One local city that takes affordable housing seriously

By Janet Wells

WHEN IT COMES to affordable housing in Sonoma County, Petaluma is in the rare position of attracting more kudos than criticism. "Petaluma had a City Council that was willing to sit down and address the problem and provide the leadership. Many other city councils just react to the pressure that is put on them," says Arnold Sternberg, former Burbank Housing Development Corp. director.

With a burgeoning telecom industry pushing housing prices through the roof and making rental properties ever scarcer, Petaluma's housing market is the tightest in Sonoma County. But the city is making a discernible effort to ease the crunch for lower-income residents.

"I don't think we're the only city [addressing affordable-housing]," Petaluma housing administrator Bonne Gaebler says. "But for a city of our size, our City Council is certainly the most pro-active."

The Petaluma City Council, Gaebler says, "doesn't vote no on [affordable-housing] projects. In our community their direction is to provide for the whole spectrum."

Using redevelopment money, state and federal funds, and developers fees, 1,200 units of affordable housing have been built in Petaluma in the last 10 years.

Gaebler says the city will "easily be able to meet" ABAG's projections that Petaluma will need 597 more units of affordable housing by 2006.

"We have 300 [units] on the drawing board right now," Gaebler says, with the rare assessment that ABAG's projections for above-moderate housing needs are too high. "I'm really shocked," she says. "We would not consider that a need."

When ABAG released its housing projections in 1990, Petaluma hopped to it, and had a certified housing element by the following year. A decade later, several Sonoma County communities still do not have a state-certified plan for accommodating affordable housing.

"We did ours when we were supposed to do it. It's the right thing to do," Gaebler says. "We want to build affordable housing. That's what it comes down to."

As for the NIMBYs that plague other cities, torpedoing affordable-housing projects, Gaebler says they are nonexistent in Petaluma. "It's a wonderful community. People are very caring about others who have less than they do. "If I could put [that good will] in a bottle and take it to other communities, I would."

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From the January 6-12, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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