Rebuilding Santa Rosa: A Winning Strategy

Nooh Palizi | Nextgen Marin

In 2017, a massive fire struck Santa Rosa and the surrounding areas, tragically resulting in 22 deaths and the destruction of 5% of the city’s housing stock: approximately 3,000 homes. In addition to the displacement of longtime residents, the fire threatened to exacerbate a housing shortage that had already resulted in widespread unaffordability across the North Bay. Despite this setback, Santa Rosa has taken creative steps to bounce back from the fires and is now taking action to revitalize its downtown area and the local economy.

While the rebuilding process has not been easy, Santa Rosa has taken some constructive steps to facilitate the building of new housing. The city’s strategy includes encouraging construction by giving developers the economic incentives needed to build in Santa Rosa.

Incentives include:

  • A maximum density bonus permitting up to 35% more units

  • A reduction of all impact fees involved in a development

  • Streamlining of the approval process

  • Loosening of parking requirements for projects

  • Raising building height caps

What has resulted from these incentives? A significant amount of construction proposals have been given to the county of Santa Rosa in the years following the fire. By the end of 2017, 70 units had already been built and 251 were under construction. Since then 1,700 of the 3,000 homes that were destroyed were either approved, under construction, or rebuilt.

The maximum density bonus, which allows for twice the number of units allowed on the land, has allowed for the creation of more affordable housing. It ultimately allows for developers to build up to 35% more units if a share of it is on-site affordable housing. Due to the expedited process for redevelopment, the city was receiving 60 to 90 new building permits a month. An example of this is a newly proposed housing project in Santa Rosa called Caritas Village, which will provide 126 permanently affordable housing units.

In a recent interview conducted with David Guhin, Assistant City Manager and Director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Santa Rosa, he stated that the city is changing policies, reducing barriers, and lowering costs to develop more housing. To accelerate the development process for the homes that were destroyed, a new process was implemented called “Resilient City Zoning,” which sets a geographic area where the fires affected many homes, allowing them to be rebuilt faster due to an expedited permitting process.

Despite the setbacks that Santa Rosa has faced, the city has taken a huge step to jump-start housing construction in the area. Santa Rosa serves as a great example of how permitting and review processes can be streamlined and incentivize development for the purpose of building much-needed housing and infrastructure.

The most affected region in Santa Rosa, Coffey Park, now serves as an example of the success of the streamlining process. Of the 1,026 permit applications submitted, 689 homes are under construction and 191 homes are already completed. The city was expecting for 700 new homes to be occupied by fall of 2019. The ongoing reconstruction in Santa Rosa has also sparked a revitalization of the Downtown Area. This consists of a 650-acre area at the center of the city that includes Courthouse Square, Railroad Square, and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

What does this mean for downtown Santa Rosa? Well, there are three new conceptual alternatives for the area being considered:

  • The Vibrant Core concept

  • The Village Centers concept

  • The Transit-Forward concept

The Vibrant Core concept would create a downtown core, with new buildings having a minimum height of 6 stories and there would be no maximum building height limits. This alternative would bring 3,620 new jobs and 7,000 new homes. The Village Centers concept is the second alternative for the downtown area, and would involve interconnected village centers, each with its own characteristics. This new housing project would accommodate new high-density housing, but building heights would not exceed 6 stories at any location. This would bring 2,115 new jobs and 7,000 new housing units.

The final alternative, Transit-Forward, would entail higher density buildings near high-frequency transit corridors. This alternative also promotes walking, biking and transit use over single-occupant vehicles. Transit-forward development would include a mix of residential, office, retail, and entertainment options in addition to transit and parking facilities in buildings 6-to-8 stories tall. This will bring 2,965 new jobs and 7,000 new housing units. Each are great ideas that would bring in new jobs and additional housing to the area.

While incentives for development are helping to ease the county’s affordability issues, it should be noted that people are still suffering from the effects of the fire. The victims of the Tubbs fire are still struggling to rebuild their lives after the loss of their homes. We encourage anyone reading this to get involved or donate to help families still struggling in the wake of the fire.

If you would like to donate to ongoing fire relief efforts in Northern California, please follow the link below:


(415) 763-5047

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