Lisa Westwood, ECORP Consulting, Inc.
Metro Chamber Land Use & Natural Resources Committee Chair.
& Michael Strech, North State BIA
Few issues in our region are as polarizing as new housing development. Whether it’s rooted in the quality of life or environmental responsibility, there is no question that our community cares. This passion regularly surfaces at city council and planning commission meetings and during most election cycles, where concerns over traffic, water supply, and infrastructure take center stage. No matter where you stand on the spectrum between pro- and anti-growth and development, housing is one of the issues that affects all of us, regardless of one’s stage in life, economic status, or personal circumstances. There is no “one size fits all for life,” and it doesn’t exist for housing either.
In Part 1 of this article, we examined the current state of housing in the Sacramento region – one that mirrors California and the nation. Our region has a critical shortage of housing because new development is hindered by public opposition, burdensome regulations, high labor costs, and legal challenges. These lead to demand outpacing supply, which drives up home prices, making home ownership more and more difficult for a larger segment of the population.
As dire as this sounds, there is hope! In the Sacramento region, we are fortunate that our communities have a voice. Local control over what and where gets built has led to existing zoning and building codes, which ensure that our development is mindful of where we want to develop and at what densities. Existing laws and regulations already address environmental damage, water supply issues, traffic congestion, and other concerns that are regularly voiced in public hearings.
The time is right to move forward through collaboration by investing our energy in molding our communities into something that reflects the community’s character and desires so that everyone has the opportunity for home ownership.
This potential is exemplified in many developments in our region, and take a variety of forms: master-planned community development, infill development, and redevelopment.
SUCCESS IN MASTER PLANNED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. In 2004, as the plans for development of 3,500 acres of land south of Highway 50 in Folsom was ramping up, concern mounted over future water supply, traffic, infrastructure, schools, and open space – the latter being the signature characteristic of Folsom’s motto, “Distinctive by Nature.” In response, the City proposed an amendment to the City Charter – known as Measure W – to ensure local control over the land and provide assurances to the community that these values will be preserved. Measure W was approved by an overwhelming 69 percent the city’s voters that year. Now, 30 percent of the Plan Area – including more than 500 acres of contiguous oak woodlands – have been set aside as open space. A stable water supply has been guaranteed, citywide infrastructure is being repaired and upgraded, and the development is underway to provide Folsom with the housing, schools, parks, and circulation networks that it needs to support a growing population. In addition, the project is designed to create a jobs-housing balance, with 320 acres dedicated to commercial/office space that will create nearly 8,000 new jobs.
SUCCESS IN INFILL DEVELOPMENT. A pocket of undeveloped land in East Sacramento sat vacant among a historic community of older single-family homes, with larger lots but insufficient off-street parking or higher density to meet growing demands of a slightly different demographic. In response, McKinley Village was designed with lower maintenance and repair costs compared to the surrounding neighborhoods and prewired with solar and electric vehicle chargers to reflect the community’s growing desire for environmental responsibility. Residents are connected to healthy living with urban village parks, walking paths flanked with art and sculptures, and recreational facilities. The project also allowed for a costly upgrade and improvement to the Union Pacific railroad tracks, a great example of public-private partnerships that improve infrastructure that can’t be executed with public funding alone.
SUCCESS IN REDEVELOPMENT. One of Sacramento’s flagship redevelopments is the abandoned Union Pacific Railyards property just north of downtown and south of the River District. Once viewed as blighted, community leaders and developers recognized its potential to serve as a “dynamic, urban mixed-use hub for residents, workers, and visitors” to revitalize a portion of the city that encourages use of public transit, less commuting, and reduced traffic. The initial rehabilitation of light and heavy rail hubs is complete, infrastructure and streets have been constructed, and eventually, the Railyards specific plan will include critical high-density housing as well as office space, theaters, parks, hotels, museums, a hospital, and a sports stadium. The Railyards answered the call for higher density near downtown and along rail, while preserving the history and character of Sacramento that its residents are so rightly proud of.
These projects are just three examples of how critical needs for housing and infrastructure can be met through local community input and collaboration. Ultimately, fixing the supply problem is good for Sacramento and California because it makes housing more affordable, creates local jobs, attracts skilled talent and businesses that bring jobs, provides improvements to infrastructure, and boosts revenue for local governments to provide more services to everyone. More importantly, “housing matters” because it supports a thriving economy and creates a place where we and our kids want to live. Now, that’s something that we all can get behind.