Other than the weather, the homeless and the Giants, the most popular topic in Ukiah is our lack of affordable housing.
But unlike the weather, the Giants and our ever-swelling homeless population, at least someone is doing something about housing. Drive north, look to the west where Alex Tsarnas’s wrecking yard once stood, and marvel at the construction going on. It’s major.
This is a good step, but it wouldn’t take much effort to make it great. Ukiah’s best neighborhoods, those with gracious homes people admire and line up to buy, sit on the town’s west side. There are minimal cookie-cutter blocks clogged with houses made of ticky tack on the west side. In fact it’s hard to find two houses that look alike.
The west side generally came about piecemeal, house by home, many built by small teams of carpenters and plumbers without benefit of power tools (think about electricity in 1895, for example). They are quirky, charming and most of all, solid and well-built. They have character.
Ukiah has other neighborhoods filled with tract housing and, while always serviceable and often admirable, do not add substantially to its reputation. They look alike, were built from the same specs by the same companies using similar blueprints.
Few have the unique charms of the beauties tucked up Clay Street, Hortense Avenue, Oak Park or West Perkins. When Ukiah wants to impress out-of-towners west side houses are the ones pictured in brochures, and in terms of generating revenue (in multiple ways) it’s the most valuable real estate inside city limits.
Here’s a question:
Why not copy the west side when mapping out the future of local housing? Why not work as partners with construction companies to make a better, prettier Ukiah? We should take an enlightened view of tomorrow via thoughtful analyses of yesterday.
Let’s expand our base of high quality, sought-after homes that will appeal to buyers today and a half-century from today by offering incentives to builders:
1) Cut restrictions and red tape; approve permits quickly at minimal cost.
2) Waive sewer connection fees, offer other discounts where possible.
3) Appoint a committee of Judy Pruden-types to suggest architectural styles, flourishes and designs to synchronize new houses with older ones.
It doesn’t mean we launch a construction boom of expensive houses for wealthy people that instantly prices out locals. Streets and blocks should intersperse numerous nice, modestly priced, cozy one- and two-bedroom homes among larger ones.
Some houses might benefit from desirable amenities like second story balconies, gingerbread or an occasional turret with spiral staircase. All the houses in this hypothetical new development should include high quality doors and windows, hardwood floors where appropriate, high ceilings and plenty of bookcases and breakfast nooks.
Build various size houses, small and big, that are faithful descendants of Ukiah’s early Victorians, Tudors and Craftsman styles. Add solid red brick houses and sprinkle them among Art Deco styles on display Hollywood Square.
The kicker: The city of Ukiah and county of Mendocino should pay for these enhancements and improvements. They should demand upscale designs, furnishings and old fashioned quality, and be willing to pay the difference to make sure those improvements are included in the new development. Build unique, old fashioned new houses with designs suggesting great American homes from 75 or 100 years ago.
The immediate payoff is a better-looking Ukiah, a town we can be proud to call home. Long-term, increased revenue via property taxes (and other revenue routinely generated by high income residents). Downside? A few dollars lost in 2022, but at interest rates we’ll laugh at in subsequent years.
I don’t know how much extra a two-story house with a turret, a winding staircase and curved, stained glass windows might cost, and I don’t know how much extra home buyers will pay for such whimsical, charming design and solid, old-style construction.
But pay they will, and that means increased revenues today and every time the house is sold. It’s hard to think of a safer investment than higher taxes on pricey homes in a great new neighborhood in California.
Let’s include bigger parcels, bigger lots, and hire professional landscapers to snazz the entire project up. Donate land for parks, gazebos, community areas with BBQs, a baseball diamond, benches, pickleball courts and playgrounds.
It would cost a modest amount, percentage wise, to turn what would otherwise be another humdrum series of houses that are efficient, marketable and boring into a highly desirable new part of town. Think of the write-ups in Sunset Magazine and a dozen others:
“UKIAH: The City That Knows How.” Or has that phrase been used?
It’s a gamble with a relatively small downside, but a huge upside. Could we make a similar bet on the future of the Giants or the weather?
(Tom Hine, the Daily Journal’s new east coast correspondent, is ambivalent about continuing his “Assignment: Ukiah” column into the future. TWK, who contributes less to the weekly writing chores than you might think, is unaware of even having relocated.)