Sunday, March 6, 2016

Don't Sell Chanate Short

Don’t Sell Chanate Short

Housing and homeless advocates have been dismayed by the County’s plan to dispose of its 100+ acre site on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa to the highest bidder. That means we’d likely see dozens more million dollar homes plus a few token units affordable to low or moderate income families. We’d like to see the site developed with housing that’ll address some of the area’s critical housing needs - for government workers, teachers, and others of modest income; for lower income families; for persons with serious mental health problems and for persons transitioning out of being homeless.  

The County issued a request for proposals (‘RFP’) last month for the site. Applications must be submitted by interested developers by April 7th. A 'pre-application' meeting and tour of the Chanate site that was advertised for 11 am on March 2 was switched to 9 am by County officials without notice to many of the interested participants. What’s up with that?

There are many perfectly usable buildings on the Chanate site. Most, like the Norton Mental Health crisis center and the well-designed shelter for women and children, are currently in use. County officials claim the two former hospital buildings are not earthquake safe, and want them demolished, But earthquake standards for emergency hospitals are much stricter than for residential uses. Rehabbing older buildings is normally vastly less expensive than tearing them down and starting from scratch.  Repeated requests to inspect the hospital buildings with our own expert inspector have been rejected by County officials who claim that the two buildings are too unsafe to even enter. What’s the problem with letting an independent expert evaluate whether and how this can be done?

- County Supervisors talk about the urgent need for workforce and affordable housing, "Housing First" is official County policy for reducing the huge numbers of homeless persons in and around Santa Rosa. Supervisor Shirlee Zane published an Op Ed here recently citing the dire shortage of  County emergency mental health services, but these services are being provided at Chanate and have been provided there for decades.  Why close these urgently needed facilities down and sell off the land to the highest bidder?

- County officials claim they want to sell the land to help fund construction of new County office buildings down the hill in the county administration complex.  No doubt, it'd be more convenient to get registered for food stamps and MediCal all in one location without traveling to two or three different county offices.  But is that 'convenience' more important than addressing the housing crisis and urgent mental health needs which this site has and could continue to do? If not at the Chanate site with land and buildings already zoned and used for these purposes, then where - and when? 

- Thousands of public employees working in the County’s administration complex, and  at the Santa Rosa Junior College campus a few blocks away can't find or afford housing in Santa Rosa. Many live far from work sites. They drive long distances to work because there's so few places to rent or buy that are affordable to regular county employees and regular SRJC staff. Why not build workforce housing at Chanate, with preferences given to households with a member working for a local public agency? Their 'convenience' should count for something. And count the tons of toxic GHG pollutants avoided if housing were available close enough to County employment and the SRJC to allow employees to walk or bike to work. 

This wonderful 100+ acre property shouldn’t be sold off to the highest bidder for high end development. County elected officials need to walk their talk and come up with a plan to re-use this land, which has been devoted to meeting urgent public health and housing needs for a century. Save the family homeless shelter, save the mental health Wellness Center and Norton crisis beds. And find a way to keep the Bird Rescue Center on the property. Injured birds need a home too. 

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