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Valley Dilemma: Housing

I was recently part of a group of Valley folks gathered to discuss issues in the Anderson Valley and to suggest some possible ways forward. This was all theoretical and at the behest of a local non-profit. There were several areas of concern, but one of the biggest and the one that concerns me the most, is the lack of housing in Anderson Valley. I'm not just talking about the lack of affordable housing, which is one facet and often the one that gets the most attention. I'm talking about housing for regular folks who come to the Valley to live and work. In most cases, these folks are looking for rental housing; either they are not ready/able to buy yet, or they may not have a long-term employment contract or they aren't yet sure they want to settle somewhere long enough to buy.

What types of folks? Well, two groups are medical personnel and teachers. What does it say about a community that cannot attract a doctor because that doctor cannot find housing? Ditto teachers? But I see this all the time with all sorts of people — farmers, yoga instructors, winery employees (not just field workers, but lab technicians, managers, cellar masters, and so forth) and various small-business owners. If someone comes to me asking if I know of a rental, I laugh wryly and say, “I wish.” I also say that if I owned ten houses I would have all ten rented. Many of you probably know someone who has come to you looking for a place to live, asking how to go about it, so you know of what I write.

Three possible “solutions,” or at least steps that could lead to solutions, were brought up and I'm planning to look at each of them in turn in future columns. One idea, not a new one, was incorporation.

Incorporation was brought up by the Community Services District and the Anderson Valley Advertiser about seven or eight months ago. I don't want to rehash all of that information but suffice to say that the bottom line is that incorporating is not easy, not cheap and not for the faint of heart. I was surprised by how many in the room with me at the aforementioned meeting were actually in favor of incorporation. It seemed that much of the reaction to the CSD suggestion was negative; however, the information the CSD and the AVA was able to gather was disheartening, if not negative.

I think that the reason people like the idea of incorporation is that they like the idea of local control. In place of answering to the powers that be over in Ukiah in the County offices, there would be a local City Council and a Mayor instead of a Supervisor. Local taxes would stay local, paying for roads and law enforcement out of local tax dollars instead of sending them to the County and getting back whatever those folks decided to give us. It would also give more control over local planning issues. I think there is a lot of discontent with our local Supervisor, who doesn't appear to really care about Anderson Valley issues.

One note of interest in my research, the existing CSD actually has more power than it currently uses. It has authority over water, sewer, lighting, roads and policing; apparently there is already a lighting district here. The biggest hurdles to utilizing the power of the CSD are lack of support from the community for more services and funding. The latter includes both the fees that would have to be charged to users for the services as well as getting the County to agree to those services (this is a little beyond my current understanding, but this is what I have been told). It's like so many other things, we want more and better services but we don't want to have to pay for them.

Would incorporation actually make a difference to the housing situation? Perhaps. It could put planning control into local hands and that could make a difference. I'll talk more about planning and zoning in a future article.

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