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A housing boom to benefit all

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For a long time, self-styled progressives in Petaluma tended to be against new development. More construction, they argued, would lead to South Bay-type sprawl, environmental degradation and spoil the town’s charm.

Then came the housing affordability crisis, in which we currently find ourselves mired. Rents are rising through the roof due to a scarcity of housing stock, and many working class families are being priced out of the city. Home ownership no longer feels attainable for people who aren’t millionaires.

Because of the social impact on a broad swath of the population, building more housing — specifically affordable housing — has become a progressive cause. But what would a housing boom look like in Petaluma?

With a new mayor and city council that is poised to have a more progressive bent, and that has pledged to tackle the housing crisis, we can expect to see a preference for certain kinds of development. A progressive housing boom would not create unwanted sprawl, additional traffic or ruin the environment or the city’s character. Done correctly, new development can enhance the things we love about the city while self-mitigating the potential problems that it could create.

We expect to see more proposals for infill development on vacant, blighted parcels near transit stations. These kinds of housing complexes encourage residents to get out of their cars and walk to nearby stores and restaurants and use public transit to commute to work.

Higher density and increased building height means that we can fit more new residents into a smaller space, lessening the impact on the environment while also providing greater returns for developers so they will be encouraged to build.

We expect our leaders to continue to require developers to mitigate the problems they create. Traffic impact fees will help ease the traffic burden of new residents. Requiring on-site affordable housing will ensure all segments of the population will be able to afford a place to live in Petaluma. It should be common for builders of all types to development to include enhancements like bike paths, parks and public art.

Housing in the region is a hot commodity, and we need to build a lot more to ensure it is available to those in the community that need it. A case in point is the recent move by Sonoma State University to purchase the entire 90-unit Marina Apartment complex in Petaluma. The paint is not yet dry on the building, and already 90 highly anticipated units of housing are off the market.

The irony in this situation is that SSU bought the apartments for staff housing, but the complex is 10 miles from the Rohnert Park campus. Meanwhile, Rohnert Park is building thousands of new housing units, including a recently approved mixed use downtown project, all within a tweed jacket’s length of the SSU campus.

We would not suggest that Petaluma open up to the kind of development that Rohnert Park has welcomed, though that city does seem to have struck a nice balance with its newly approved downtown project. But the time for Petaluma to raise up the drawbridge and turn away any and all development at the gate is over.

For those who have been in Petaluma for decades or even generations, and live in houses that have been paid off long ago, there is no housing crisis. Some of these residents would be the first in line to protest against the U.S. building a wall along the Mexican border, arguing that this country should be more tolerant and welcoming. Yet some of these are the same people who would build a metaphoric wall around the city — now that they live here, they argue, there shouldn’t be any room for anyone else.

Petaluma is great because it is a diverse mix of people from many backgrounds and income levels. If we are unable to build housing for all, and we continue to price out certain segments of the population, then we will lose that which makes Petaluma great.