By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park’s City Council, saying it needs to attract business and development, on Tuesday voted to repeal development fees that support affordable housing and public art.
Councilman Jake Mackenzie was the sole “no” vote on both items, saying the city had to balance short-term gains against long-term benefits.
“We need to be extremely careful as we undo some of the regulations we put into place in the interest of making Rohnert Park a better place,” he said, arguing against eliminating a sliding-scale fee on nonresidential developments that that he said offsets the cost of “providing subsidized housing to a growing population of lower-income workers.”
City staff recommended repealing both the affordable housing fee, which has generated $25,000 in the past three years, and a public art ordinance that levies a 1 percent fee on commercial development projects over $500,000 to be used to fund public art projects.
“It’s essentially a tax on job creation in Rohnert Park,” development director Darrin Jenkins said of the affordable housing fee. He said that repealing the public art ordinance would make the city more attractive to business relative to Santa Rosa and Petaluma, which have similar ordinances.
The city needs to attract businesses with employees to move into its vacant housing stock and that offer jobs for residents who need them, Jenkins said.
He cited the case of a commercial developer interested in a Rohnert Park project with a tenant that would increase jobs in the city and bring it $180,000 in revenue. The housing fee would cost the developer $86,000, he said.
The developer is now “trying to decide if it’s a good business decision,” Jenkins said, although he said he didn’t know if the housing fee was the determining factor.
No one spoke against the repeal.
“Regulations of this type are just a job killer,” Ken Blackman, a former Santa Rosa city manager who works for Redwood Equities, a large Sonoma County developer active in Rohnert Park, said of the 4-year-old affordable housing fee.
Robin Miller, chairwoman of the 40-year-old Cultural Arts Commission, argued against ending the 3-year-old public art ordinance, which has yet to generate any revenue.
“We finally get it and you are eliminating it,” she said. “What kind of city do we want to build? Three years ago, we wanted to build one with art in it.”
Later, she said: “They’re sending a message,” and noted that all the council members had said they support art.
“It’s easy to talk, it’s not to take action,” she said.