I want to sincerely thank you – from the bottom of my heart – for giving me the opportunity to serve you and the City of the Santa Rosa. It has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I feel so lucky to wake up every day and work on behalf of community that I love.
You elected me to get things done. I promised to make housing my top priority, to continue to identify solutions to alleviate the City’s persistent homelessness crisis, to support our veterans, and to care for all members of our community, balancing their interests to the best of my ability, regardless of citizenship status.
I also promised to support policy changes that mitigate the impacts of climate change and steadfastly continue to support everyone affected by the 2017 fires.
I hope you have found me to be true to these campaign promises. These past two years have flown by, but I look back on them with pride for our important accomplishments.
What We’ve Accomplished:
On the Issue of Affordable Housing, the Council and City Staff have gone to great lengths to create policies that we hope will incentivize new housing construction, particularly housing in the downtown, and promote the development of affordable housing in market rate development projects. We’ve eliminated many fee barriers, streamlined the planning process, and passed the City’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance that will democratize home construction by empowering homeowners to build a granny unit and lease it to an individual or family. If you are curious about building a granny unit in your backyard, click HERE (https://srcity.org/adu).
As many of you know, I was a strong proponent of Santa Rosa’s Measure N – The Housing Recovery Bond – which received just shy of 62% approval from the voters but needed 66.7% to pass (https://ballotpedia.org/Santa_Rosa,_California,_Measure_N,_Housing_Bonds_(November_2018). Although disappointing, much good came from the effort. Most notably, the City Council finally passed a resolution based on a concept I introduced during my first year on the Council to divert existing Real Property Transfer Tax Revenue from the General Fund into the City’s Affordable Housing Trust, thus dedicating about $4 million more every year to support the construction of affordable homes, using revenue from a fee levied on the sale of real estate. Combined with existing funding in the Trust, the City now has between $7 and $10 million every year to put towards its housing priorities, such as workforce housing, veteran housing, and homeless-dedicated housing. Despite this significant advancement, more work needs to be done, especially in the wake of the fires.
Supporting Immigrant Members of Our Community has been something I have been very passionate about. There’s a lot that needs to be done to create a fair immigration system at the federal level, but one thing I, nor the City, can do is stand idly by while families are split apart. All too often, that is the result of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid. To prevent this, the City passed the Indivisible City Ordinance (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6636698-181/santa-rosa-declares-itself-an), which disallows ICE from coordinating with local law enforcement on immigration raids. However, recognizing that we can only control city property and resources, I began working with members of the community and the County to develop the Sonoma County Secure Families Fund (https://www.sonomacountysecurefamilies.org/). This fund serves as a financial resource to help pay for the legal defense of a family facing deportation, among other services. Furthermore, the City of Santa Rosa made a financial contribution to this fund. We can debate at length about what the best solution to immigration is, but during these times we must all agree that the debate will never begin, or include, policies that result in the separation of families from one another.
Another highlight of the previous two years was Supporting Veterans, Particularly Homeless Veterans and At-risk Veterans. In this area, the City also took some positive steps. First and foremost, the City Council approved a resolution that I proposed allowing veterans to ride free on any Santa Rosa City Bus (https://www.srcity.org/1658/Fares). As a result of this appropriation, the City has experienced a significant increase in Veteran ridership, which both helped Veterans access different areas of the City, and removed some vehicles from the roadways. In addition to the Veterans Ride Free Program, the City financially supported the development of the Benton Veteran’s Village Housing Project https://www.communityhousingsc.org/benton). Last but not least, the Veteran’s Tiny Home Village Project (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9092655-181/sonoma-county-tiny-home-village). took flight. During my first internship out of college, I developed this proposal, and it was subsequently picked up and championed by Supervisor Shirlee Zane. It was great to see that proposal come full circle almost six years later. Thank you to the many people who made this project come to fruition. That said, going forward, policymakers need to more proactively engage our knowledgeable Veteran Service Organizations to develop stronger projects and initiatives with their input. Over the next two years, I will do my best to actively listen and engage with these organizations.
Goals for the Next Two Years:
After the Fires, I think many of us were reminded, or made immediately aware, of the catastrophic consequences of Climate Change. There is a clear and urgent need for bold policy changes to immediately drawdown greenhouse gas emissions and begin to build a more climate-resilient community. To date, I have supported and introduced policies that will require all new construction be all-electric ready, and I’ve asked City staff to explore transitioning city facilities to an energy portfolio that is 100% derived from renewable energy sources. According to the City’s Climate Action Plan, 18% of Santa Rosa’s GHG’s come from natural gas-fueled homes. By promoting homes that can immediately be connected to rooftop solar, or be energized by the 100% renewable energy offering from Sonoma Clean Power, we can significantly reduce our City’s GHG footprint, providing an example for other communities throughout California.
When I was 26, I was able to purchase my first home with the support of family. It was a big day for Ali and I because we knew that every month when we paid the mortgage, we would be giving ourselves a check that would build equity in something that would grow in value overtime. It brought us an overwhelming sense of security and financial independence. We felt like we had become part of the Middle Class. For the first time, we felt like we had a secure future in Santa Rosa.
But I recognize, many people - young people in particular - do not have parents in a position to give them that jumpstart. I recognize how fortunate we were, and I want to help develop a policy that gives others a similar opportunity. Being able to obtain a 20% down payment is nearly impossible for anyone in this community who is currently renting. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without help. That is why I will be exploring a proposal that utilizes existing funds to be issued to low and moderate-income families in the form of down payment assistance. This is not a giveaway of public funds, as the assistance would come in the form of a silent second mortgage. Once the conventional mortgage is paid off, the silent second is subsequently paid off, thus returning the funds to the taxpayer, which can then be issued to another family.
Over the course of the next two years, I will be particularly interested in continuing to build affordable housing and homeless-dedicated housing. This is, and must remain, a priority of the Council, especially with the passage of Propositions 1 and 2 at the state level, which will provide a lot of financial matching opportunities. Many policies have already been developed that will make affordable and workforce housing construction more viable, but at the end of the day, the City needs to put its own financial skin-in-the-game if we are going to make an appreciable impact on housing the City’s workforce, the homeless, and lower-income families.
One thing that surfaced during the Measure N Campaign was the question of not should we build, but how should we do it? Specifically, the question arose, “should workers building the housing earn a prevailing wage and receive benefits.” I think the answer to this question is yes. It is true that paying prevailing wages increase the cost of housing. There’s no doubt about that. And, as a result, one can presume that fewer units may be constructed. While this may be the case, so many financial matching opportunities are coming available to counter this notion. And, at its most fundamental, philosophical level, it is so important to make sure that the man building the home understands that his hard work will one day result in his ability to buy a home just like it in his community. As such, I will be interested in exploring a policies that will expand the City’s use of prevailing wages in its city-sponsored affordable housing developments, as well as provide a clear enforcement path to ensure that the ordinance is always followed. Measure N provided us with the beginnings of a roadmap to follow on the responsible way to develop city-sponsored affordable housing, and I will look forward to continuing that discussion.
Completing the Roseland Community Library
About four years ago, I had the chance to work among a group of dedicated community members to finally introduce a library to the Roseland Community (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/4424274-181/roseland-library-fundraising-effort-wildly). It was a huge effort that required coordination between the County, the Library, donors, and the Roseland Neighborhood itself. After months of work, a temporary library was introduced, with the intent that a permanent home would be built in the new Roseland Community Neighborhood Development that had gotten underway. Now, as the old site is slated for tear down, it is crucial that we ensure that the temporary library does not incur a lapse in service until the final building gets completed.
Pursuing a Public Bank
One thing I have found to be the biggest impediment to progress is the City’s inability to source the funding needed to implement a new policy. The conventional forms of municipal finance are archaic, expensive, and burdensome. Our City is way too heavily funded by sales taxes. During a recession like the one experienced post-2008, the City had to make dramatic cutbacks on staff and services that took over a decade to recover from. We are vulnerable, and we need to find alternate sources of funding. The other common funding sources are property taxes and bonds. Property taxes are severely limited due to Proposition 13, but new market-rate construction can make significant, positive impacts to the City’s budget. That is why I believe market-rate projects should be pursued within the Urban Growth Boundary of the City, shaped by community input during General Plan process. Bonding, however, is tremendously expensive. It’s a great way to find the funding you need today, but the taxpayer will be paying it off for decades to come. In the case of a $100,000,000 bond, taxpayers could be on the hook for up to $20,000,000 in interest paid, depending on the interest rate and repayment term. That’s tens of millions leaving our local economy! Although this concept needs extensive investigation, the concept itself merits it. A separate fund, dedicated to lending and financing local municipal projects—such as road repair, affordable housing, libraries, fire stations, and student loans for local students (https://ilsr.org/rule/bank-of-north-dakota-2/), etc.—is no less ambitions and achievable than the idea that local governments could break away from incumbent power utilities and source its own clean, renewable energy, and return profits back to the community in the form of savings, more renewable energy, electric vehicle promotion programs, and subsidies to reconstruct fire-ravaged homes in an environmentally friendly way. When we agree to look at these big concepts and commit our time and energy to them, the task seems less daunting and more achievable.
Again, I want to thank you for allowing me this opportunity to work with you on these issues on behalf of Santa Rosa. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve, and I look forward to working with you over the course of the next two years. If there are any issues you are interested in and would like me to help with, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.