Cornerstone Properties, Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, and Burbank Housing Are Creating New Housing Key to New Life Downtown

There’s an anecdote developers like to share about Santa Rosa: More housing in downtown Santa Rosa will bring more people to downtown Santa Rosa. And keep them there.

It’s a story Hugh Futrell believes holds true.

Futrell’s company has a number of projects in the works downtown in different sectors such as housing, office and lodging.

He recently entered exclusive negotiations with the Santa Rosa City Council in partnership with Burbank Housing to bring a multipurpose development with housing and additional amenities such as a grocery store.

Another one of his housing projects is in its final construction phase just outside downtown at 888 Fourth St.

“When there’s more people on the street, more retailers, more restaurants that attract people or events that attract the community as a whole, those things over time will alter that perception,” he said, referring to the belief by some that downtown is an “undesirable” place to be.

“There has also been a decline in the amount of downtown employment, particularly since the pandemic, and reversing that is going to be important to maintain a balanced downtown between housing, employment and hospitality.”

Santa Rosa City Council has made housing a priority, easing requirements for developers with plans on bringing high-density housing to the heart of the city.

One of the efforts was the passing of an ordinance that cuts the design review process from 10 months to three months and permit costs from $24,000 to $9,000.

The Express Permitting Program also was created to cut the planning, engineering and building review times from around 18 months to 6 months total.

Housing in downtown Santa Rosa has been a key topic when it comes to revitalizing the historic area.

Both market-rate and affordable housing units exist, but more projects have been announced in the past year. Building more places to live downtown will by extensionbring more people downtown.

Council member Chris Rogers, whose district includes downtown Santa Rosa, said one of the biggest challenges with bringing more urban housing continues to be high costs of building and construction.

“The cost of living is really high here and rents feel very high to us, and to many developers, the return on investment is low so we really do have to be creative to get projects built up here,” he said.

State of downtown housing

Data from the Up Downtown program shows that 198 units of housing have been constructed in downtown Santa Rosa since 2016, with 418 units currently under construction (as of this year) and another 924 units in the building permit process since 2016.

There’s housing in the Rosenberg building, and Catholic Charities recently completed the first phase of its affordable housing project with Burbank Housing known as Caritas Homes.

The second phase is expected to break ground next fall.

On top of more affordable housing developments, efforts to bring more workforce housing also have increased.

Developer Cornerstone Downtown’s director of marketing and development, Pauline Block, said they hear from employers constantly about the need for workforce housing, especially for people with occupations such as teaching or nursing who don’t qualify for affordable housing but often are unable to afford typical rent.

“We really need all levels of housing,” Block said. “It’s going to take a collaboration to really make a difference in downtown, with employers, developers and with the city so I think there’s an opportunity and openness to figure out how to make it happen.”

Cornerstone Downtown has two developments currently in the planning stages. The first property is at 34 Sixth St. near the Railroad Square SMART station and will be a six-story building with 114 units of housing. Eight percent of the units will be reserved for low-income households.

The second property is at 556 Ross Street which is currently a parking lot between the former Press Democrat building and Barrel Proof Comedy. This project will be an eight-story, mixed-use development with 118 units of housing, a public child care center, a small cafe and shared electric fleet of vehicles for building residents to use.

Both are waiting for final confirmations to break ground.

Block said there have been many challenges with bringing more workforce housing to downtown Santa Rosa. She says there aren’t the same subsidies, grants or tax credits available for this type of housing.

She also said other economic factors such as capital expenses, increased risk associated with borrowing funds and high interest rates have created challenges for developers, not just in Santa Rosa but across California.

“Investors and financial institutions are more cautious about the added risks of our market,” Block said. “If you look at places like Oakland or San Francisco pre-COVID, where there was a lot of building happening, you have the same construction costs we have here, sometimes maybe a little more for labor costs. But the rents are much lower here than they are in those areas so that’s where it’s been an issue.”

Another challenge is that many local developers specialize in single-family or low-density housing.

Economic development division deputy director Raissa de la Rosa said the city has been working with developers from outside the county to bring high-density infill housing and other community amenities to downtown.

“In order to survive, we need to have a higher density of housing versus parking,” she said. “We’re still going to have more than enough parking, but it’s one of the incentives that we have to recruit new developers downtown.”

De la Rosa added that once the foot traffic increases, more amenities will follow such as a grocery store or more places that offer child care.

What took so long to bring housing downtown?

Mid- and high-density housing wasn’t the development pattern for Santa Rosa. Rather than building up, development sprawled outward toward the city’s edges, which is why housing is limited in terms of finding space near Courthouse Square and Railroad Square.

After the Tubbs Fire of 2017 took out more than 3,000 Santa Rosa homes, Santa Rosa and Sonoma County formed the Renewal Enterprise District to accelerate the construction of mid- to high-density housing near public transit hubs.

Michelle Whitman, a board member for the Renewal Enterprise District, said the district was able to attract state funding with the goal of bringing more housing to downtown, but interviews with developers and stakeholders revealed that financing issues made the idea nearly impossible.

“They faced financing gaps that they couldn’t address and the reason for that was we were trying to accelerate this type of housing that didn’t really exist in downtown Santa Rosa and the city center more broadly,” Whitman said.

Whitman said sponsors and developers would typically be able to reach between 90% and 95% of funding for a project, but struggled to close the funding gap because of the lack of proof this type of housing was in demand.

The Renewal Enterprise District, using grant money obtained from the state as well as county and state PG&E settlement money from the Tubbs Fire, helped close the gap.

The push for affordable housing

Calum Weeks, policy director with Santa Rosa-based housing advocacy organization Generation Housing said the downtown area needs different types of housing including affordable, market-rate, for-rent and for-sale options.

He said many Sonoma County residents are living in overcrowded conditions, one of many issues surrounding housing that Generation Housing addresses. According to the organization’s State of Housing report from 2022, Santa Rosa has eight out of 10 of the most overcrowded neighborhoods in the county.

“We’re trying to ultimately reduce the level of overcrowding and give everyone the standard of living that they deserve,” Weeks said. “There are a lot of (developments) in the pipeline, and we really want to see the city and county as a whole continue making good policy choices to keep up with the momentum.”

Another hurdle

Larry Florin, CEO of affordable housing development Burbank Housing, said the economics of building affordable housing in downtown Santa Rosa has been challenging, especially given the increased demand.

Burbank Housing has about 1,700 units of affordable housing in Santa Rosa with fewer than 200 of those in the downtown area, according to Florin.

“We’d like to see the revitalization of downtown Santa Rosa include people of all income levels,” Florin said. “That’s the reason we submitted our proposal for the (former White House department store land) to ensure that diversity of socioeconomic populations are represented.”

Florin said more affordable housing developments also would mean fewer parking spaces would be necessary considering nearby transit options and shorter walking distance to key services.

“(Parking) has a huge impact on the financial feasibility of a project, so being able to produce fewer spaces is really important in terms of making projects affordable,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Sara Edwards at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat. com.

“We really need all levels of housing. It’s going to take a collaboration to really make a difference in downtown, with employers, developers and with the city.”

PAULINE BLOCK, Developer Cornerstone Downtown director of marketing, development

Bank of America Community Partner Luncheon highlighting the Bank of America Study of Philanthropy

Posted on LinkedIn, “This week, we attended the Bank of America Community Partner Luncheon highlighting the Bank of America Study of Philanthropy. Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin is grateful to have BofA as a partner since 2019 and to work together to combat issues fundamental to economic mobility in low-and-moderate income communities. Their contribution to our College and Careers Programs has been invaluable, as it helps the community’s youth by providing a pathway to additional learning and extended work opportunities. Having these programs during formative years can help teens set goals, build motivation for schoolwork, alleviate anxiety as they look to the future, and prepare them for postsecondary education or training that will lead to better job opportunities. Thank you, BofA, for your continued and unwavering support of the Clubs!”

GMH Builders Recognized by North Bay Business Journal With An Excellence in Construction Award

Posted on LinkedIn, “We’re thrilled to share that winners have been announced for this year’s Excellence in Construction Awards.

Declared one of the Best North Bay Luxury Development Projects is MacArthur Place New Spa and Room Expansion in Sonoma. The project involved GMH BuildersMacArthur PlaceRossDrulisCusenbery Architecture Inc., and Lat33 Capital.

Join the community in celebrating and marveling at the projects that shape our communities! The event takes place Nov. 15th at Sally Tomatoes, Rohnert Park, from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

To purchase tickets, visit:
For more information, reach out to”

BPM Announces Six New Partner Promotions

BPM LLP, one of the top 35 largest public accounting and advisory firms in the country, is pleased to announce the elevation of six new Partners – Alan AlvarezSachi DanishElizabeth DodsonStacy LitteralJosh Schmidt and John Weems. These individuals underscore BPM’s focus on talent development, career progression and commitment to recognizing exceptional leadership.

“We’re thrilled to introduce our new Partners, who reflect our brand promise, Because People Matter,” says BPM CEO Jim Wallace. “They are committed to the growth and success of our clients, colleagues and communities.”

Reinforcing BPM’s steadfast dedication to inclusive leadership, women constitute half of this year’s Partner class. Notably, 75% of participants in BPM’s core transformational leadership development programs are women.

“Each of these individuals brings diverse experiences to innovate and create new opportunities,” adds BPM Chairman of the Board Rich Bellucci. “They lead by example in the way they collaborate and transform the future of BPM’s growth.”

The new BPM Partners include:

  • Alan Alvarez leads BPM’s Professional Services Industry Group and works closely with clients in the consumer business and technology industries. His experience includes complex equity structures, all aspects of revenue recognition, business combinations and international operations.
  •  Sachi Danish works closely with ultra-high-net-worth individuals and family-owned businesses to assist with their tax compliance and planning. She focuses her practice on estate, gift and trust planning. Sachi advises clients on wealth transfer strategies related to various investments, business ownership, sales of businesses and charitable giving.
  • Elizabeth Dodson has a vast array of experience, including tax compliance and consultation with respect to consolidated multinational corporations (public and private), multistate corporations, partnerships, individuals, trusts, payroll, sales and use tax. She is well-versed in international tax compliance, consultation and all the international tax aspects involved with individuals living, working and investing overseas.
  • Stacy Litteral has an extensive background in all areas of HR, including payroll, HRIS, benefits, employee relations and training, with a passion for performance management and strategic alignment. She leads the Firm’s Payroll and HR Technology services team as well as all market-facing initiatives for BPM Link, a performance management solution that provides users an opportunity to align on strategic initiatives through a flexible and convenient web-based platform.
  • Joshua Schmidt leads BPM’s innovative Cybersecurity Assessment Services team that provides in-depth, rigorous security assessments for organizations of all sizes and industries. By emulating threat actors through technical TTPs (techniques, tactics and procedures) and social engineering, Josh and his team of IT security professionals provide clients with the insight required to defend their networks and applications against the latest cybersecurity threats.
  • John Weems oversees BPM’s Business Development and Partnerships function, focusing on growing revenue through current and new clients. He actively empowers others through tailored coaching programs and one-on-one mentorships. John is also the leader of BPM’s Interfaith Colleague Resource Group.

About BPM

BPM LLP is one of the 35 largest public accounting and advisory firms in the United States. Recently recognized as one of IPA’s 100 Fastest-Growing Firms, BPM works with clients in the agribusiness, consumer business, financial and professional services, life science, nonprofit, wine and craft beverage, real estate, and technology industries. As a Certified B Corp, BPM’s diverse perspectives, expansive industry knowledge, and progressive solutions come together to create exceptional experiences for individuals and businesses around the world. To learn more, visit our website.

NBLC Advocates for the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Third Lane

Transportation planners are supporting a suite of projects to help ease gridlock over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, but to the dismay of discontented drivers, that won’t, for now, involve opening a third westbound commute lane.

Critics and supporters of the highway expansion effort faced off Wednesday as planners discussed the fate of the bridge’s bicycle and pedestrian path that has come to the end of its four-year trial run.

The Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee said it agreed with a staff recommendation to await the results of a pilot study final report before taking action.

Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, a member of the committee, said it’s a balance between being environmental stewards, cutting emissions and supporting the commuting workforce.

“When they look at a potential third lane, it’s easy to get excited about how that could provide some relief,” he said. “But we also acknowledge that there is a process that we have to go through to make sure that if we do something, it’s done right.”

In the meantime, planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Caltrans will pursue several projects that were cooked up to shave off up to 17 minutes from the westbound morning commute into Marin County.

One of the projects is to remove the toll booths to make way for open-road tolling and an extended carpool lane at an estimated cost of $24 million. That project is expected to open in the winter of 2026.

Other near-term projects include a $5 million Richmond Parkway interchange, transit improvements and more bicycle infrastructure improvements.

The $20 million path opened four years ago this month. The controversial pilot project converted the bridge’s westbound emergency and maintenance lane into a path that is separated from vehicle traffic by a moveable barrier.

Cyclists said the path project has fulfilled a decades-old vision to create the first route connecting the North Bay and East Bay. Critics, including East Bay residents and the Bay Area Council business association, say the path should be opened up to vehicles during the mornings to provide relief to the tens of thousands of commuters stuck in traffic as opposed to a handful of weekday cyclists.

Over the past year, an average of 115 cyclists use the path on weekdays and an average of 325 cyclists on the weekends, according to commission. The weekday pedestrian average is 15, while the weekend average is 30.

By comparison, more than 80,000 vehicles cross the 5.5-mile bridge on weekdays. Westbound drivers can experience delays of nearly half an hour during peak commute times.

Transportation planners say that traffic counts are at about 90% of what they were pre-pandemic, but drivers question the figures.

“I appreciate presenting the data but let’s talk about lived experience,” said Lisa Tsering, a resident of El Cerrito.

Tsering said the bicycle faction is well-organized and has many voices. She asked whether bicyclists have sat in their car during a jam on the bridge after a crash.

“The reality of the situation is that bike path is a luxury for the elite,” she said. “Working class people like me need the bridge and we need access to as many lanes as possible.”

A popular proposal is to create another moveable barrier on the eastbound lower deck, which has three lanes open to vehicle traffic. For the morning commutes, cyclists would be diverted onto the lower deck to allow crews to reopen a third westbound lane, with the reverse happening during the afternoon commute in the eastbound direction.

“The people that are stuck in the backup matter, and the perception is that it’s getting worse,” said John Grubb, chief operating officer of the Bay Area Council, the business organization pushing the proposal.

Joanne Webster, chief executive officer of the North Bay Leadership Council, said her organization also supports that plan.

“This is not just an environmental issue, this is an equity issue too,” Webster said. “North Bay Leadership Council need barriers removed to help us attract workers from the East Bay.”

Transportation planners said it could cost $70 million to $310 million in improvements to accommodate a third westbound lane. Any such project would require overcoming environmental hurdles lasting several years.

Another argument against the bike path is that the morning commute is leading to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, creating poorer air quality and affecting the health of Richmond residents.

“To have all of us delayed and sitting in burning fossil fuels so a few rich people can ride across the bridge when they feel like it, and put more junk into the air in Richmond and make me use my inhaler more often, it sucks,” said Mike Martinez, a Richmond resident.

Lisa Klein, field operations and asset management director for the commission, said planners are working with air quality officials to measure the effects of traffic. She said vehicle miles traveled is the main contributor to pollution, and adding a third lane could in fact increase the number of automobiles driving through the corridor.

It’s a fact that bicycle and pedestrian activists have been reporting as well.

“Another traffic lane would increase not decrease pollution, and congestion improvements, if any would likely be short lived,” said Dave Rhoads, chair of Walk/Bike San Rafael, a division of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.

Rhoads said his organization is calling for 24/7 bicycle and pedestrian access.

“The money it would cost to add a lane to the corridor is significant, and importantly, it’s unfunded,” he said. “A more impactful use of the funds would be to improve transit access on the corridor.”

Bruce Dughi of Castro Valley said the comments of elitism bother him. He said he chooses cycling and public transit because it’s more affordable.

“BART, cycling and having these bridges open really expand where people can go in the Bay Area without driving a car,” he said. “Without BART and without this bridge access, we’re severely restricted. Bridges are for bikes not just for cars.”

Sean Camden of Novato said he was happy when the path opened.

“We’ve been adding lanes all over our nation for about 100 years to deal with car congestion and it doesn’t work,” Camden said. “If it did, Los Angeles would be a transportation paradise and who wants to make Marin County more like Los Angeles, right? We need more bike paths.”

The study on the path is expected to be ready for review in the summer of 2024. For now, the path will remain in place, but its fate will ultimately depend on the decision of the toll authority next year.

North Bay Children’s Center’s Susan Gilmore Celebrates 37 Years at the Helm

Congratulations Susan! The North Bay is a better place because you have served it and it’s children’ so dutifully. Thank you for all of your time, attention, and support!

Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s First 100% Renewable Remote Grid

In a LinkedIn post by Dave Canny, Vice President, North Coast Region, “What an awesome afternoon at the Pepperwood Preserve in beautiful Sonoma County, celebrating the commissioning of California and Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s first 100% renewable remote grid, allowing for the removal of nearly 3/4s of a mile of overhead conductor in #highfireriskarea. A partnership with the Pepperwood Foundation, Sonoma Clean Power, working with BoxPower and Franklin Energy.

Fantastic demonstration of breakthrough thinking and partnership serving our #hometowns. With Joe BentleyGeof SyphersAngelo CampusLisa Micheli, and Simon Baker. As Angelo reminded us, the roots of PG&E go back to John Martin and Eugene de Sabia, Jr building one of California’s first hydroelectric plants…in its own way a renewable remote grid! #fullcircle.”

Keysight Technologies Seeks to Buy Remainder of French Virtual-Prototyping Company

Keysight Technologies Inc. is looking to complete the second half of its planned billion-dollar acquisition of a Paris-based company that helps manufacturers predict how their products will work in the real world.

The Santa Rosa-based electronic test and measurement global company on Friday announced the completion of its purchase of 50.6% of 6.09 million shares of ESI Group SA and on Tuesday said it is tendering an offer to buy the remaining shares. The gross value of the deal, at 155 euros a share, is 944.3 million euros ($1.01 billion).

“Keysight’s acquisition of ESI Group accelerates our strategy of providing software-centric solutions with virtual prototyping and advanced simulation capabilities,” said Satish Dhanasekaran, president and CEO, in a statement June 29. “Keysight and ESI Group share rich cultures of innovation and strong commitments to solving customers’ most complex challenges, which will enable value creation for all stakeholders. The Keysight team looks forward to working with the world-class talent at ESI Group to unlock opportunities and drive our combined success.”

After reaching the half-way mark in the deal, ESI shuffled its top executive and board leadership.

Effective Monday, ESI CEO Cristel de Rouvray resigned, replaced by Deputy CEO Olfa Zorgati, and four ESI board members resigned. Keysight Executive Vice President Hamish Gray is now chair of ESI’s board. Other Keysight-connected new board members are JoAnn “Jodi” Juskie (assistant general counsel) and Jason Kary (vice president of investor relations).

Talks about the pending deal were first confirmed in mid-May.

Redwood Credit Union’s Brett Martinez’s Recognition and Achievements

Brett Martinez, president/CEO for the $8.4 billion, Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Redwood Credit Union, was named 2023 California Advocate of the Year by the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues (CCUL) at CCUL’s REACH 2023 event, held Oct. 22-26 in Las Vegas. The designation recognizes the contributions Martinez and RCU have made to their members, communities and the credit union movement, as well as his leadership in advocacy and political action on behalf of the entire credit union industry. Martinez serves on the boards of TruStage and the North Bay Leadership Council. He’s the former board chair for CUNA, the California Credit Union League and the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, and has served on the boards for CU Direct, Western CUNA Management School, and several local nonprofit and community groups including United Way and the American Red Cross. He has been recognized with the Distinguished Service Award by CCUL, the North Bay’s Best Community Business Leader honor, the Latino Leadership Award and the prestigious Anchor Award from the National Credit Union Foundation for his leadership during the 2017 California Wildfires.