Santa Rosa mayor, one year after the fires: ‘Building denser downtown is the future of this city’

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One year after a disastrous wildfire ravaged his city and exacerbated its shortage of affordable housing, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey says the city can’t do much about property owners who insist on rebuilding in fire-prone areas, but that its next incarnation will involve more housing in less risky areas near the civic core.

“We’ve done a lot with our policy and regulatory powers to create an atmosphere and ability to create denser, higher, more-transit oriented projects in our downtown Santa Rosa area,” Coursey said on Gimme Shelter, the California Housing Crisis Podcast. “Building denser downtown is the future of this city.”

Last year’s wine country wildfires destroyed nearly 2,700 homes in Santa Rosa, knocking out 5 percent of the city’s already scarce housing stock.  Along with the practical difficulties of resettling and rebuilding, city leaders were confronted with two thorny and related questions: 1) whether and how to rebuild in fire-prone areas, and 2) whether to build more housing than was originally there to help ease the city’s sky-high housing prices.

On this episode of Gimme Shelter, Coursey talks about his approach to those issues and the constraints he had as a mayor in shaping the rebuilding process. He says Coffey Park, the Santa Rosa neighborhood most devastated by the fire, will likely look much the same as it used to.

“Coffey Park was a mature neighborhood of single family homes. It’s not gonna become denser,” said Coursey. “There was some talk about that from some folks who didn’t live there, but that was never the intent of the city council.”

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