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Frequently Asked Questions

General FAQs

What is the purpose of this project?

California law requires all cities and counties in California to adequately plan and zone for housing to meet the community’s housing needs (Government Code Section 65583(a)(3)). The California Department of Housing and Community Development, in coordination with regional planning bodies, determines how much housing each region must plan for. The regional planning bodies allocate the housing need amongst all of the cities and counties in the region—this figure is known as the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA). The  Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is responsible for calculating the RHNA for Bay Area cities and counties, including Sonoma County.

Local governments show how they are planning to accommodate their “fair share” of the RHNA by zoning sites for housing and reporting the site inventory in their housing elements (an element of the general plan). Adequate sites must be maintained throughout the housing element planning period.

This project will add sites to the County's Housing Element site inventory to comply with new inventory requirements, including additional scrutiny by HCD on sites that are not vacant, replacement of sites that are identified for low-income housing but which are developed with market-rate housing, and more detailed reporting requirements.

This project will also implement current General Plan Housing Element policies and programs including Policy HE-2f, to consider a variety of sites for higher-density and affordable housing, and Housing Element Programs 11 and 20, which encourage the identification of urban sites near jobs and transit that may accommodate additional housing.

Learn more about the Regional Housing Needs Allocation and Housing Elements

What is the project?

To satisfy State requirements to plan and zone for housing sufficient to meet its fair share of RHNA, the County must identify and rezone sites appropriate for housing. This project will identify potential housing sites and analyze the rezoning of those sites under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The ultimate site inventory will be determined through the CEQA process. County staff will present the EIR and the proposed zone changes to the Planning Commission for their recommendation. The Board of Supervisors will then consider certification of the EIR and approval of the proposed zone changes. The final number and location of the sites to be recommended for rezoning will not be known until the EIR is near completion.

Why not wait until the next General Plan update?

The County will begin its General Plan update in 2020, but housing elements are on a different schedule for adoption, pursuant to State Law. The County’s next Housing Element must be adopted by the end of 2022, before the broader General Plan update will be complete. Identifying and rezoning sites now is essential for the County to meet its legal obligations under Housing Element law.

Failure to adopt a housing element on schedule and in compliance with Housing Element law can have serious consequences affecting a jurisdiction’s ability to regulate land use and access State funding. A non-compliant Housing Element can put a jurisdiction’s General Plan at risk of being deemed inadequate. A jurisdiction that fails to comply with Housing Element law must prepare updates to its housing element more frequently until they are consistently compliant. The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) may impose fines for violations, and HCD may also refer violations to the Attorney General for prosecution.

Learn more about Accountability and Enforcement from the Department of Housing and Community Development

How long will the process take?

We anticipate selecting a consultant to prepare the EIR and awarding a contract by early 2020. Once a consultant is engaged, a more detailed schedule will be developed.

Where did the list of sites come from?

In late 2018, the County asked for the public’s help in identifying sites, and over 100 sites were nominated. County staff evaluated all nominated sites to determine if they met the basic eligibility criteria. (Learn more about the basic eligibility criteria.) Some sites that will be evaluated were included in a prior housing element, but the County proposes to include them in this analysis so that the potential for cumulative impacts can be analyzed. The environmental review process will further refine the sites to be proposed for rezoning.

How is this project funded?

The project will be funded by the California Department of Housing and Community Development SB 2 Planning Grants Program. SB 2 (the Building Homes and Jobs Act) was part of a package of State housing legislation passed in 2017. It established a fee on recorded documents and a grant program funded by those fees.

When does the public get to be involved?

The County issued an request for proposals for consulting services to prepare an EIR as required under CEQA. Once a consultant is engaged, a public scoping meeting will be scheduled. We will have multiple ways for members of the public to learn about the project—in-person public meetings, and using online resources. Please sign up for updates so you are sure to be notified of upcoming public outreach efforts.

Where can I find out more information?

Please visit our website and sign up for updates for all the latest news and public outreach efforts related to this project. Email if you have questions.

FAQs for property owners

What is the County planning to do with my property?

This project will only identify and analyze sites for rezoning. No development is proposed at this time, by the County or any other developer, agency, or entity.

Each city and county in California must identify sites appropriate for housing, zone them accordingly, and report them to the California Department of Housing and Community Development as part of their Housing Elements. This project does only that.

Is my property going to be rezoned?

The final set of sites proposed to be rezoned will only be established once the environmental review process is complete. The list of sites to be evaluated will be available for public comment once the scoping process for the EIR begins.

What will the new zoning for my property be?

Potential proposed zoning designations for each parcel will be determined as part of the environmental review process is near complete. Possible zoning designations will be R2 Medium Density Residential or R3 High Density Residential, or the WH Workforce Housing or AH Affordable Housing combining zones. Factors that will determine the most appropriate zoning will include the property’s current zoning, General Plan land use designation, and density; neighboring property zoning, land use designation, and density; adjacent uses; and distance to jobs, transit, and/or services.

My property is for sale; what does this project mean for me?

The rezoning effort will not be complete until at least mid-2020. No changes will take place before then. Property owners or potential buyers should not make plans based on any potential new zoning designation until the zone changes take effect.

Do I have to do the kind of development the County anticipates as part of this project?

Not necessarily. To meet its obligations under California Housing Element law, the County must show that it can meet its share of the region’s housing need by planning and zoning for housing, which is the purpose of this project. Also, in order to analyze the effects of development on the environment, the environmental review process will assume that sites will develop at a density that reflects its probable development potential, including any available density bonus. But no land use entitlements are granted as part of this project, and property owners are under no obligation to develop the property at all.