On July 27, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to relocate most of Sonoma County’s administrative offices to the vacant Sears site in downtown Santa Rosa, citing climate action, transit-oriented development and the safe and efficient delivery of services as primary drivers for this decision.
The move was hailed by both business and environmental groups.
With the decision, the Board of Supervisors made significant progress in a process that began with conversations about relocation dating back to the 1990s. The sprawling county campus in northern Santa Rosa was designed and constructed in the 1950s and ‘60s and its buildings need more than $265 million in deferred maintenance work, officials said. Meanwhile, the county workforce long ago outgrew the campus, and the county spends nearly $10 million a year to lease additional space.
County supervisors for years have aimed toward a newer, larger administration complex to meet the organization’s needs in the 21st Century. They faced a critical question, though: To build new facilities on the existing campus or move downtown to be closer to transit and the core of the county seat.
The decision to move to the Sears site simultaneously prioritizes accessible service and a commitment to reduced use of motor vehicles, which produce about 60% of harmful emissions in Sonoma County. This relocation also exemplifies city-centered growth, which incentivizes production of new market rate and affordable housing in dense, walkable neighborhoods that promote a healthy environment and vibrant live-work communities.
Meanwhile, the move will free up about 35 acres of land at the county center for needed new housing in Santa Rosa. It is estimated as many as 1,500 units could be created at the site, which sits between Mendocino Avenue and Highway 101 and is close to schools, jobs, shopping and medical services.
The relocation decision is just the first step in a long process. Environmental review will be detailed for both sites – the Sears property at the Santa Rosa Plaza and the county campus. Design, construction and financing of the new administration buildings will be done with a public/private partnership to be determined by a competitive selection process. The new county center will be paid for over 30 years with proceeds from existing taxes, one-time funds, savings from efficiencies and, possibly, state and federal grants
After considering the qualitative benefits and challenges, surveying employee needs and reviewing a cost analysis of three potential sites, the majority of the Board opted to relocate the County Administration Center to the site of the vacant Sears building in the Santa Rosa Plaza. The existing building will be razed by the current owner, and the county will build new facilities. Citing cost and funding uncertainties regardless of the location of the new center, Supervisor David Rabbitt voted no.
Supervisor Chris Coursey, who along with Rabbitt led an ad-hoc subcommittee of the Board that worked with county staff for the past seven months on the selection process, strongly supported the move downtown.
“Let’s do this the right way – a way we can afford, and a way that also aligns with our values beyond basic cost considerations,” Coursey said. “A way that centers climate action, city-centered growth, transit-oriented development, intergovernmental collaboration and increased production of housing.
“Today we have a chance not just to state our values, but to lead with them. Let’s commit to a better future.”
The Board of Supervisors will continue to discuss next steps and the potential for satellite services sites to deliver accessible service to remote constituents.