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The State of Housing in the North Bay

Columnist: Lawrence Amaturo
September, 2019 Issue

Lawrence Amaturo
All articles by columnist

The foundation is the most important part of every construction project because any mistakes made in the foundation will only get worse as you go up; and successful construction projects serve as the building blocks in every successful community. This issue of NorthBay biz magazine is dedicated to the construction field and its vital importance in the North Bay.

It’s been nearly two years, yet the fires of 2017 still impact most building decisions in the North Bay, and for good reason. Santa Rosa’s great rebuild has put an obvious strain on building materials, skilled labor resources and general and subcontractor bidding practices; this touches every construction project. And while some neighborhoods are beginning to take shape, residential housing constraints remain. Writer Stephanie Derammelaere profiles two Santa Rosa couples who lost everything in the firestorm and reflect on the struggles and challenges of the rebuild process, and what it’s like returning to their neighborhoods.

When it comes to losing it all in a natural disaster, more than a dozen, once-thriving businesses in Sebastopol’s Barlow district sure know what that feels like, too. This year’s dramatic and incessant rainstorms created floods that damaged or destroyed nearly half of the 40 retail, winery and restaurant operations within this privately-owned complex. Many of these were small, owner-operated businesses, without the cushion that regional or national corporations often have. The Barlow’s owner, Barney Aldridge, now faces accusations of negligence, while he simultaneously works to rebuild his passion project. Judith Wilson reports on those businesses impacted by the flooding and what lies ahead for them.

 Homelessness in the North Bay seems to grow faster than the national debt. And like our oppressive national debt, its impact is felt across all walks of life. Regrettably, California is home to more than 25 percent of the entire nation’s homeless population. This has grown in recent years and shows no signs of improving. Or does it? Bonnie Durrance reports on the chronically homeless, and how their presence impacts others in our communities and the slivers of hope she finds for their future. “Housing First” is one of those slivers and community leaders are focusing their attention on new housing models that offer a hand up, rather than the more expedient handout. You’ll also read about Veterans Village, a group of tiny, energy-efficient and imaginative homes for our veterans.

Meanwhile, rents continue to escalate for the rest of us; housing affordability has become one of the greatest challenges in all three counties. I’ve written about out-migration concerns in prior columns, but even the loss of more than 3,300 Sonoma County residents in the last 18 months has not relaxed inventory or pricing. Our elected leaders are screaming for new, affordable housing, but do they really mean it? I know of one housing developer in Sonoma County who might argue to the contrary. His fully planned, fully financed and carefully thought out 300-plus unit development has been waiting for approvals for more than three years. The only true explanation given by city officials for their delay is that they’re focused on more “urban” projects. Meanwhile, this project just sits and sits. The real losers are those stuck in sub-par rental situations, watching their rent money washing down the drain as this apparent private-public partnership withers.

Well, despite our ongoing challenges with housing, at least there’s great beer around here, right?! Craft beer has exploded over the past decade and this part of the country sure knows how to brew it! Each spring and fall, hundreds of beer-loving tourists line the streets and alleys around my neighborhood awaiting Russian River Brewing’s annual releases of specially-crafted India Pale Ale. Each county has amazing breweries and writer Bo Kearns has subjected himself to tasting them all for our mutual benefit. (As they say, thanks for taking one for the team, Bo!)

Your own housing, construction and beer-tasting experiences mean everything to me! Why not drop me a note at to share what’s on your mind? (And if you have a custom brew you’d like me to try, my office address is located on the very first page of this issue.)




In this Issue

Still Sonoma Strong

The firestorm was declared fully contained two weeks later on Nov. 6. In that time, nearly 78,000 acres were destroyed; 180,000 people were evacuated (including 300 inmates in the North County jail); ...

Healdsburg Then and Now

On a bend in the Russian River with the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Chalk Hill American Viticulture Areas on its periphery, Healdsburg has much to offer. It’s a magnet for those seeki...

Restoration Hardware

U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers are in retreat. Pier 1 Imports is planning on closing more than 140 stores and Z Gallery is shuttering 44 locations. Sears filed for bankruptcy, joining Gymboree and Pa...

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