(Rohnert Park) — With more than 60 community leaders, SSU employees and others looking on, Sonoma State President Judy K. Sakaki and Joyce Lopes, vice president for administration and finance, used a pair of oversized scissors to cut a long dark blue ribbon spanning the entrance of the university’s Marina Crossing Apartments in Petaluma on Thursday.
“Welcome home,” Sakaki declared, ushering those in attendance to come inside and tour the 90-unit facility, which is believed to be the largest workforce housing complex yet in Sonoma County.
The project is a multifamily, five-story complex located on a 2.17-acre parcel adjacent to the Petaluma Marina. The complex, located roughly 10 miles south of campus, is within walking distance of the SMART train station.
With the approval of the California State University Board of Trustees in November, Sonoma State purchased the Petaluma complex, designating it for faculty and staff housing. The university officially took ownership of the project in May and residents were allowed to start moving in this week.
The purpose of the complex is to provide faculty and staff of SSU with a stable and economical place to live, especially those who are moving to the region for the first time.
“It’s no secret that the fires of October 2017 exacerbated an already tight housing market in Sonoma County,” said Lopes during the June 6 ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Dr. Sakaki and I spoke before the fires were even extinguished about what SSU could do to help support the community, our faculty and staff, and our students through a commitment to workforce and student housing. And as the year progressed, we began to see how important that commitment was.”
President Sakaki, who lost her Santa Rosa home in the Tubbs fire in 2017, said she “knows a little of what it’s like to go in search of a place to live in today’s challenging rental market.” She and her husband had to move six times before they settled in a new residence, she said.
“It’s particularly difficult for those who come to Sonoma County from outside the area and have to search for a home while simultaneously trying to settle into a new work environment,” she said. “(This) project will go a long way to help us maintain a strong Sonoma State workforce.”
Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose 3rd District includes Sonoma State, praised the housing project, noting that during the fires of 2017 “more housing was lost in that one night than had been built in the county in the prior seven years.”
“You are doing what other employers have talked about, but few have done,” said Zane. “Since the fires, we have witnessed dramatic increases in rents and home prices. So what you have done here is clearly an inspiration to a lot of employers - and large employers in particular.”
Laura Watt, chair of the faculty and Professor of Geography, Environment and Planning at Sonoma State, also spoke on behalf of the more than 1370 faculty and staff at Sonoma State. “This is indeed a significant day for our university,” she said.
During the 30-minute ceremony, representatives of state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, were on hand to present certificates of recognition celebrating the opening of the complex.
The Marina Crossing Apartments acquisition is the first step in a multi-year SSU housing initiative. Sakaki has set a goal of providing on-campus housing for half of all students by 2040. Currently about 30 percent of the university’s 9,200 students live in residential suites and apartments on campus.
The new student housing “not only will help our students, providing more housing assurance will help our campus community and help take pressure off the local housing market as well,” Sakaki said.