WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa rejects Elnoka Village project

The Elnoka Village site plan


A four-story affordable housing project near Oakmont ran into a buzz saw of criticism Tuesday as neighbors called it a “monstrosity” and council members called a key report flawed.

It was the latest setback for the controversial 209-unit Elnoka Village project on the north edge of Oakmont, which developer Bill Gallaher has been trying to get approved for six years.

Oakmont resident Jean Whipple, 86, summed up the views of many area residents when she said the big building on Highway 12 in east Santa Rosa would mar views of the scenic Valley of the Moon.

“I cannot see the number of people this whole development is trying to tuck into this little area,” Whipple said. “It just won’t work.”

After a more than four-hour public hearing, the council voted 6-0 to uphold the Oakmont Village Association’s appeal of the four-volume environmental study of the project and to send the project back for further study on the visual, traffic and land-use impacts.

The 5,000-resident strong Oakmont neighborhood appealed the planning commission’s January approval of the environmental impact report prepared for the project, 30 percent of which will be affordable units.

Land-use consultant Jeanne Kapolchok, who represented Oakmont in its appeal, said the environmental impact report for the project was “faulty and incomplete.”

She said it made no sense for the report to on the one hand identify the project as having a “massive appearance that is not consistent with surrounding development” but also find the project consistent with a requirements for it to “be designed in context with existing, surrounding neighborhoods.”

“We don’t understand that,” Kapolchok said.

The overwhelming majority of those who spoke at the council meeting objected to either the size of the project, the traffic it would generate or the views of Annadel State Park they feared it would destroy.

Several took particular issue with environmental reports’ conclusion that the project was consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.

“Looking out my window at a four-story building, don’t tell me it doesn’t change the neighborhood,” said John Felton, whose property backs up to the project’s proposed parking lot. “A four-story building just doesn’t belong there.”

The study’s conclusion that there would be no impact on traffic from the project was similarly ridiculed.

“I’ve seen accident after accident,” said Richard Cohen, who said he lives near the intersection of Highway 12 and Melita Road, a quarter mile from the project. “It’s crazy.”

The report found that the collision rate at the intersection of Melita Road and Highway 12 is a third of the state average, but Councilman Gary Wysocky was skeptical. “I don’t think that road is as safe as the numbers portend it to be,” Wysocky said.

He said the fact that some elements of the project spilled over into surrounding parcels with lower zoning densities convinced him the developer was trying to cram too many units into the 9-acre parcel.

“It’s like me trying to get into my pre-election pants, I don’t fit any more,” Wysocky said.

Bill Mabry, a partner in the Oakmont Senior Living, argued that the company had put a great deal of work into ensuring the project fit in with the surrounding community. Efforts included increasing the setback from the Oakmont property line, preservation of oak trees to screen the project from view, and placing of much of the parking underground to reduce the footprint.

Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre was one of the few supporters of the developer, noting it was a local company whose Varenna at Fountaingrove project had turned out beautifully.

She said she was disappointed so few people supported the goal of providing affordable housing, and urged seniors to think about a child who is looking for a job and needing an affordable place to live in the area.

“I think I heard only three people speak about the need for affordable housing,” she said.

One of those was housing advocate David Grabill, who noted that the city designated the 9-acre site for a higher density project to settle a lawsuit his group threatened to file in 2002 over the city’s failure to build sufficient affordable housing.

“We want that settlement carried out,” Grabill said.

He called Elnoka Village an “amazing project” whose 42 units of affordable housing would go a long way toward helping the city meet its affordable housing goals, which he said the city is “way behind” in meeting.

“We need to get people back to work in the this city, as some of you have said, and we need to provide affordable housing, as others of you have said.”

14 Responses to “Santa Rosa rejects Elnoka Village project”

  1. Skippy says:

    Remarkably honest, Eric.
    “Fair” taxation? That equals the complete seizure of a “High net worth individual’s” wealth.
    That is Communism.
    Oh, and Eeevil Corporations have never and will never pay any taxes. Only their customers will. Those would be the living-wage “workers” for whom you bleed.
    Use the proceeds to create and expand Government Agencies?
    That is Statism.
    Both of those concepts are in direct contradiction to everything America has ever stood for, and when implemented, reduce the citizen to the status of serf in service to the State.
    Patriotic, motivated Americans are rising up by the millions to defeat those forms of slavery. They will be triumphant. Again.
    Americans know how to defend themselves from the tyranny of Government.
    We have done so before, and our Founders gave us the tools to do so again.
    Sic semper tyrannis!

  2. Eric Newman says:

    Affordable housing is the flip side of the living wage coin. We need more living wage jobs and more affordable housing. Solving the revenue issue by fair taxation of corporations and HNWI’s (High Net Worth Individuals) and using the proceeds for direct employment programs sponsored by state and federal agencies should be the top priority after the 2012 election.

  3. Kay Tokerud says:

    Oakmont is a well planned neighborhood. They have services and their own bus service. Oakmont is a very low density neighborhood and it should be. Elnoka was to be very high density and is inappropriate due to its location far from city services. The city made a mistake when they rezoned this back in 2003 to settle a legal challenge. A very influencial banker is the beneficiary of this upzoning.

    Other properties rezoned then were commercial properties along Santa Rosa Avenue that were ‘downzoned’ to residential use only. The City was forced to abandon the residential zoning in that area and restore the former commercial zoning there. They admitted their mistake there. The 2003 rezonings were all a mistake and they did it without the public’s knowledge or approval. The zoning on the Elnoka site should be changed back to what it was before too.

    If Elnoka goes forward with only minor changes there will be unintended consequences. Since the project will only have 5,000 square feet of retail to serve about 500 new residents, those people will go into Oakmont for their services. They will have to contend with teenagers hanging around their stores and posing a crime risk. At this point, crime is almost non-existent in Oakmont. Why put a smartgrowth (not really) development way out in the suburbs far away from public transportation, schools and city services? I feel sorry for the good people of Oakmont whose excellent quality of life is being threatened.

  4. Kirstin says:

    @Steele, I hope both you and Councilmember Vas Dupre (who expressed similar thoughts during the council meeting) don’t think that real estate development and construction are our main means of employment addition here. If they are, we’re sunk. We must make a more concerted effort to broaden employment opportunities beyond the obvious (those mentioned and retail shop jobs). We’ve got to have skilled manufacturing, biotech, green technology. We’ve got to encourage more and diverse agriculture. We’ve got to encourage more health and service companies to make their home here and hire us. Etc. Yet, too often I hear the S.R. city council and others talk about new construction and also redevelopment projects as though they were (almost) our only source of jobs. That has to change.

  5. Steele says:

    I respect my elders but they can be a cantankerous lot.

    It is the worst economy of modern times, there are lots of tradesmen needing a scrap of work.

  6. James bennett says:

    To Reality Check: Agreed.The ‘relationship’between the citizens and the City is one of conveinience…mostly theirs.

  7. Reality Check says:

    The question unanswered is what will the developer and the city do? The city agreed, in response to a lawsuit, to provide land for low-income housing in non low-income areas. It zoned, right or wrong, Elnoka as appropriate for that type of housing.

    I oppose the project. But I also oppose Santa Rosa’s land use procedures that zone land as appropriate for a particular activity and then put the developer through legal hell, only to reject the project for political reasons.

    As a resident of Oakmont, I guess I can say this: If Elnoka is incompatible with the area, and it is, what do they think the Oakmont development was 50 years ago?

  8. Steve Klausner says:

    I don’t believe more a couple dozen cars can fit into that stretch of road on Hwy 12 between the signal at Melita RD and the new one proposed to service Elnoka. What a mess traveling east or west.

  9. BigDogatlPlay says:

    Why is it government’s responsibility to dictate or endorse “low income housing”.

    It’s called a free market…… it decides things very well.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Where were the advocates of affordable when developers were bribing a previous city council to approve houses in Fountaingrove? They suddenly made an exception to years of zoning designed to keep houses from being built on the ridgelines. That was when the city council was dominated by people from the Chamber of Commerce and they allowed developers to build that road to nowhere, Fountaingrove Parkway, to build houses on. Oakmont itself should not have been built so far from the city, much less high density housing. Let’s try not to make the same mistqkes over and over…this was a good decision.

  11. bear says:

    Power rules.

    Please be clear on who has it.

  12. steveguy says:

    Where is the low-cost housing in Fountaingrove ?

    Ohh, the Politicians were paid to leave that out.

    The developer was forced into this, and now has to scale down. They were FORCED to be denied…

    Go figure…

  13. Very interesting night in S.R. Around 35 people spoke….the majority spoke against the project…the majority were the seniors who’s lives this project would impact the most.

    These seniors, (as well as others) brought forth legitimate issues of potential dangers of traffic conditions, concerns about public transportation, placing bikers and pedestrians in harms way of Hwy 12, the placement of such a large unit so far from the fire dept who are not equipped to handle such a big emergency should something happen to the units and so many more issues.

    Kudos to those on the Santa Rosa City Council for rejecting the Elnoka Village project and those who gave so much consideration to bring up the questions that needed to be addressed!

  14. good one says:

    To councilwoman Vas Dupre and DAvid Gabrill, Low income and very low income housing should be built in areas where the property values are lower per lot. Low cost housing should not be viewed as permanent housing; in fact it should be the first step in housing for lower income folks. And what about the folks that take low cost subsidies? How about a contition that they must also take classes to improve their works skill so that they and their families can move up in housing and allow those affordable units to go to others.
    If we build low cost in areas that the lot costs are high, the low cost housing will not cover their expenses: city services including fire and police, water, waste, etc. The property taxes will be artifically reduced.
    The Elnoka project is not appropriate for low cost and very low cost housing. Keep the lot values high and lets get the most property taxes we can generate.