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Tuesday March 3, 2020 — Primary Election
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County

Sonoma CountyCandidate for Supervisor, District 3

Photo of Chris Coursey

Chris Coursey

Retired Newspaper Columnist
14,421 votes (52.39%)Winning
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • Affordable Housing
  • Homelessness Solutions
  • Climate Action

Experience

Experience

Profession:Retired Newspaper Columnist
Mayor, Santa Rosa — Appointed position (2017–2018)
City Council Member, Santa Rosa City Council — Elected position (2015–2016)
Spokesman and Community Outreach Manager, SMART (2008–2011)
Reporter, The Press Democrat (1980–2007)

Education

University of Northern Colorado in Greeley Bachelor of Arts, Journalism and Sociology (1977)

Biography

Biography at www.courseyforsupervisor.com

Who supports this candidate?

Featured Endorsements

  • Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
  • North Bay Labor Council
  • The Sierra Club

Organizations (8)

  • Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA)
  • Wine Country Young Voters
  • UNITE HERE Local No. 2850
  • Teamsters, Local 665
  • Santa Rosa Manufactured-Home Owners Association
  • Coalition for a Better Sonoma County
  • Health Professionals for Equality and Community Empowerment (H-PEACE)
  • Latino Political Action Committee of Sonoma County

Elected Officials (42)

  • State Senator Noreen Evans (ret.)
  • Congresswomen Lynn Woolsey (ret.)
  • Santa Rosa Mayor Sharon Wright (ret.)
  • Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Reilly (ret.)
  • Sonoma County Supervisor Janet Nicholas (ret.)
  • Sonoma County Supervisor Jim Harberson (ret.)
  • Sonoma County Supervisor Ernie Carpenter (ret.)
  • Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Cale (ret.)
  • Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner Vicki Duggan
  • Rohnert Park Planning Commission Chair Gerard Giudice
  • Windsor Unified School District Board President George R. Valenzuela
  • Santa Rosa City Schools Board Trustee Omar Medina
  • Santa Rosa City Schools Board Trustee Laurie Fong
  • Santa Rosa City Schools Board President Jenni Klose
  • Windsor City Council Member Maureen Merrill (ret.)
  • Windsor City Council Member Sam Salmon
  • Windsor Vice Mayor Deb Fudge
  • Sonoma City Council Member Rachel Hundley
  • Sonoma Mayor Amy Harrington
  • Sebastopol Mayor Craig Litwin (ret.)
  • Sebastopol City Council Member Una Glass
  • Sebastopol City Council Member Sarah Glade Gurney
  • Sebastopol Vice Mayor Patrick Slayter
  • Santa Rosa City Council Member Gary Wysocky (ret.)
  • Santa Rosa City Council Member Marsha Vas Dupre (ret.)
  • Santa Rosa Mayor Bill Knight (ret.)
  • Santa Rosa City Council Member Victoria Fleming
  • Santa Rosa City Council Member Julie Combs
  • Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Chris Rogers
  • Rohnert Park Mayor Tim Smith (ret.)
  • Rohnert Park City Council Member Jake Mackenzie
  • Petaluma City Council Member Tiffany Renee (ret.)
  • Petaluma City Council Member Janice Cader Thompson (ret.)
  • Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt (ret.)
  • Petaluma Mayor David Glass (ret.)
  • Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett
  • Healdsburg Mayor Tom Chambers (ret.)
  • Cotati City Council Member Mark Landman
  • Cotati Mayor John Dell'Osso
  • Cloverdale Mayor Bob Cox (ret.)
  • Cloverdale Mayor Melanie Bagby

Individuals (18)

  • Ana Lugo
  • Ron Hayes
  • Henry Hansel
  • Tony Geraldi
  • Gregory Fearon
  • Joel Evans-Fudem
  • Elizabeth Escalante
  • Guy Conner
  • Miles Burgin
  • Jackson Boaz
  • Evan Wiig
  • Mara Ventura
  • Anne Seeley
  • Teri Shore
  • Gaye LeBaron
  • Lucy Kortum
  • Dale Axelrod
  • Daisy Pistey-Lyhne

Political Beliefs

Position Papers

Housing

Summary

Most agree we need more housing, but how do we achieve it?

Sonoma County needs more housing, but our response must be more measured and thoughtful than “build, baby, build.”

As we build more housing, we need to be careful to preserve all of the good things that brought us here in the first place: our unique neighborhoods, our open spaces, our community separators, our natural resources outside of the county’s nine cities.

Let’s build thoughtfully, strategically and with a focus on solving the housing problems of those who need housing the most.

While it has been widely reported that Sonoma County needs 30,000 new housing units in the next five years (based on general plan projections for the county and each of its nine cities), we need to be honest and admit that is an unrealistic goal — particularly considering that our annual production in the past decade has numbered in the hundreds, not thousands.

So let’s break down that 30,000 figure. Again based on general plans and the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment — which looks at housing needs by income category — about half of that 30,000 total is our identified shortfall of affordable rental housing.

Let’s focus on that first. Because unlike market-rate housing, which by definition gets built when and if the market produces a need for it, affordable rental housing needs help. It needs participation from specialty builders — usually non-profits. It needs tax credits. It needs incentives and requirements from local government. And it almost always needs subsidies, either in the form of land or cash, or the waiving or deferral of fees.

Sonoma County already has some of this in place. Areas of downtown Santa Rosa, Roseland and “The Springs” area along Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley are designated “Opportunity Zones” by the federal government, which offers tax incentives for certain development. Initiated while I was Mayor, the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma have now created a joint agency called the Renewal Enterprise District (RED) to attract capital, interest from builders and developers and potentially for a tax-increment-financing district that would help pay for infrastructure and other improvements to attract housing and other development downtown and elsewhere in Santa Rosa.

Why should government — and taxpayers — support affordable rentals? Because while the high cost of housing falls most heavily on lower-income residents, its negative effects also ripple outward. It’s bad for all of us.

When we lack affordable housing, our children can’t afford to live nearby when they become adults. Our grandchildren are born and grow up far away.

When we lack affordable housing, we struggle to stay rooted in retirement as our income dips but the cost of living goes through the roof.

When we lack affordable housing, business and industry — not to mention schools, hospitals and non-profits — face a daily battle to retain and recruit employees, increasing their costs and decreasing the quality of service they offer. Meanwhile, their workers drive farther and farther to work here, clogging our highways and belching tons of greenhouse gases into our air, because they can only afford housing out of county.

Rental housing that is affordable to a wide range of incomes addresses all of these problems by giving young, old and working residents a choice about where to live. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to live in an apartment building. It means that more people have a choice — without spending half or more of their paycheck for a roof over their heads.

From 2015-2018 — my time on the City Council of Santa Rosa — we created a plan to build “Housing for All” in Sonoma County’s largest city. We reduced building impact fees in some areas of the city, streamlined permit procedures, shortened the review process for new projects and changed more than two dozen other policies to encourage more housing. Most of these changes affect housing at any level of affordability.

But we also incentivized affordable housing to an even greater degree. For example, a mid-rise apartment building in the downtown core area that includes affordable units available to low or moderate-income individuals or families will pay per-unit fees about 75 percent lower on those affordable units, compared to fees for market-rate housing.

Moving forward, we can also create housing in existing neighborhoods, by encouraging residents who have more space than they need to use that space for additional housing (not to mention additional income). A new state law in 2017 allows almost any owner of a single-family home to create an accessory dwelling unit (ADU, or colloquially, “granny unit”).

In Santa Rosa, we created incentives for building smaller ADUs (there are no impact fees on a unit smaller than 750 square feet) and eliminated requirements for additional parking if the ADU is less than 750 square feet, or within a half mile of a transit stop or a car-share vehicle. These incentives resulted in a significant increase in new ADUs in 2018, and I hope more in the future.

Furthermore, converting an attached garage into an ADU results in no impact fees and, when a transit stop or car-share vehicle is nearby, no additional parking requirement in Santa Rosa. Imagine how many unused garages exist in our community, and then think of each one as a new home. Garages are simple to convert; there are now companies in California that do all the work, provide all the financing and then share the monthly rental income with the homeowner until the conversion is paid off.

These ideas are just a few of the potential pathways toward solving our housing shortage. As we consider them we also need to be aware of the impacts of additional housing on existing communities. Right now, in Santa Rosa, the Downtown Area Specific Plan is being updated with an eye toward allowing greater building heights and higher population densities in the city’s core. This is a public process that will last months and the city will spend tens of thousands of dollars in an effort to facilitate participation from residents. Community engagement doesn't always need to be as extensive or expensive, but neighborhoods deserve the opportunity to help make the plans that will affect them, and government needs to be transparent and listen to the community's needs.

I’d like to see more of these kinds of conversations happening at the county level, too. We need to involve our residents any time we explore changing the face of our communities, especially in light of the need for potential emergency evacuations and services.

So let’s have the conversations, but let’s do something about it, too.

Let’s build to make the best use of the infrastructure and transit investments we already have paid for and have in place. That means increasing density in our downtowns and more urban areas, close to jobs, bus service and the SMART commuter train.

Let’s build closer to the centers of our communities, and away from the edges where the wildland-urban interface increases the likelihood that new homes will be in the path of wildfires.

Let’s build intentionally, respecting and protecting the local environment that makes Sonoma County so special, while honoring and observing our existing, voter-approved urban growth boundaries.

Let’s build up — not out — and incentivize more affordability by reducing fees for smaller units, creating subsidies for long-term affordability contracts and offering certainty to builders and developers who are producing housing that meets our community’s most urgent needs.

Let’s build smart, with an eye toward preserving our resources and protecting our planet. Let’s repurpose existing buildings, like vacant office space and empty garages. Let’s encourage and incentivize green building and renewable energy solutions, with a goal of producing projects that result in net-zero greenhouse gas production.

Let’s build the housing we want and need in Sonoma County.

Climate action

Summary

Climate action should be part of everything we do.

Meet Davey and Thomas — otherwise known as my primary motivators for seeking a seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.


My grandsons Thomas and Davey, ages 2 and 3, are growing up in Windsor.
Envisioning their future in a "green" Sonoma County and on a healthy planet 
is what motivates my environmental action.

They’re my grandsons, but they could be yours or anyone else’s. Picture your kids, or your neighbor’s kids, or all the kids you have yet to meet, and join me in this effort: We all need to become better stewards of this place that we will leave to the next generation, and the next, and all the ones after that.

It doesn’t stop at the county line, or the state line or the national border or the coast. Our whole planet needs our help. It needs the help of our society and our nation and everyone who calls Earth home, and local government is a good place to start.

Sonoma County should join more than 900 jurisdictions worldwide and declare a climate emergency in recognition of the urgency of addressing climate change.

The Board of Supervisors should establish a policy that every action taken by county government will be done only after climate impacts are taken into account, and mitigated to the greatest degree possible.


Our county government should consider climate change first when: 

  • Updating the county General Plan
  • Purchasing a new bus
  • Dealing with food waste
  • Requiring new buildings to use electricity instead of gas, and to generate that electricity on roofs or on site
  • Phasing out the use of plastics for containers, drinking straws, and all packaging
  • Investing a greater percentage of Measure M taxes in transit and less on Highway 101 widening, which is now fully funded in Sonoma County
  • Encouraging pedestrian and bicycle trips by improving infrastructure and enhancing safety
  • The list goes on and on...

Sonoma County has been a leader in Climate Action programs and activities, but we must step back on the gas if we want to stay out front in this critical race to save our planet.

Or, more accurately, step off the gas.

It’s no secret that gasoline and diesel — and the huge transportation sector that relies on them  — are the biggest culprits when it comes to climate change issues. Almost two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions come out of our tailpipes in Sonoma County. Reducing that number is key to any climate-action planning. 

But other gases — particularly methane — also pose a critical threat to our and other species’ ability to survive on Earth. Methane is a naturally occurring gas in our environment but is released in unnatural amounts by our extensive use of natural gas for heating, power and cooking. When burned, methane emits less carbon dioxide than coal, but when released directly into the atmosphere, as occurs extensively through leaks in the natural gas distribution and storage system, its contribution to climate change can be dozens of times worse than CO2. We can also significantly reduce methane emissions by reducing food waste and redirecting food waste away from the county landfill.

Establishing building-code requirements for new homes and other buildings to run only on electricity reduces the need for natural gas distribution, and emissions. It also allows electricity to be generated on-site which, paired with batteries, creates a self-sufficient building that is able to function normally during anticipated electric grid shutdowns during high-fire-danger events. A community of electric-only homes that run on solar power and rely on electric vehicles will be safer, more resilient and less expensive to operate and maintain.

Poor, underdeveloped countries around the world face some of the most severe and immediate impacts from climate change, making climate action an important social-justice issue. This also applies closer to home, and in Sonoma County we should ensure that lower-income communities are able to afford and enjoy the financial and health benefits of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Also, Sonoma County and its cities should establish “urban greening” programs such as extensive tree-planting and community gardens to increase the ability of our landscape to act as a “carbon sink” and to decrease high temperatures through shade and natural moisture.

Sonoma County is lucky to benefit from a community ethic of respecting the environment and recognizing the threat of climate change. We successfully reduced the percentage of greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced by homes and buildings from 34% to 23% of the county’s total GHGs from 2010 to 2015 — largely because of increased availability of wind, solar and hydro power from Sonoma Clean Power, traditional suppliers and Healdsburg’s electric utility.

In those same years, however, GHGs from the transportation sector increased to 61% in 2015, compared to 55% in 2010. Even with the proliferation of electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles, Sonoma County residents are driving more, thus causing more harm to our environment.

That means increasing the availability and affordability of housing — particularly housing that is close to jobs, shopping, schools and entertainment — is also a critical climate-action issue.

Protecting our planet from climate change — and thus reducing incidences of famine, flood, drought, wildfires and extreme weather — must be our highest priority. We need to do it for our kids and for our neighbors’ kids, whether they live around the corner or around the world.

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