The Marin County Board of Supervisors’ chambers served as the latest battleground for the heated debate over affordable housing in Marin Tuesday, with housing advocates, military veterans, senior citizens and members of the Marin clergy squaring off with critics of a plan to include affordable housing zones in its new Housing Element, a move that county officials insist would not increase the likelihood of affordable housing development in those places and wouldn’t change the zoning of those properties.
Those zones include places like a two-acre parcel on land owned by the Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in Strawberry, the former Chevron station on Flamingo Rd. and the land adjacent to TJ’s Gym Crossfit in Tam Junction, a 3.5-acre parcel at the St. Vincent's-Silveira tract and the old Grady Ranch, where development of up to 240 dwellings is allowed and where George Lucas abandoned his plans for a movie production studio after facing stiff opposition from neighbors.
The new housing element, which is a chapter of the county’s General Plan, outlines potential sites for housing developments of up to 30 units per acre in Marin's unincorporated areas in the hopes if identifying where to build 443 more affordable homes on top of 330 units planned for since 2007 to meet the county’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), the state-mandated process to identify the total number of new housing units that each jurisdiction needs to accommodate population growth. Cities and towns have their own RHNA numbers (see chart, above).
Because of a flood of public comment – nearly 40 speakers took to the podium to have their say on the issue – the supervisors delayed making a decision on approval of the 2007-2014 Housing Element until Sept. 24.
With a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 people packed into the supervisors’ chambers, the meeting kicked off with reports from staffers from the county’s Community Development Agency, each of whom sought to put the issue into context. For one, they said, inclusion of a zone or a property on the list of affordable housing sites did not exclude any development proposals from the usual permitting processes or review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Brian Crawford, director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, spelled out the importance of approving the Housing Element soon, as failure to have it certified by the state by January 2014 could result in reduced state transportation funding, a carryover of 630 previously allocated affordable housing units that must be zoned for within one year and the possibility that the state could require Marin to adopt a “by-right” program to allow multi-family housing proposals to go forward without review.
County officials also sought to make a distinction between inclusion on the housing sites list and the Planned Development Areas (PDAs) list, a separate designation Board President Judy Arnold told the crowd, many of whom turned out to oppose high-density housing at the seminary site in Strawberry, that a future Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) board meeting would focus on that issue.
Arnold urged no cheering or booing after speakers finished having their say.
“We have the moral imperative to feed the hungry and house people,” Rabbi Stacy Friedman of Rodef Sholom in San Rafael a longtime Strawberry resident, said at the outset of the public comment period. “This is an opportunity for us in Strawberry to stand up and uphold that moral imperative.”
Friend was followed by a quick counterpoint from Riley Hurd, a San Rafael attorney representing the Seminary Neighborhood Association, which vehemently opposes the seminary’s plans to develop high-density housing on its land.
“This isn’t about low income housing,” Hurd said. “This is about being forced to build out the county in a way that doesn’t fit. We should be allowed to develop low income housing in our own way – the Marin way.”
“The America I fought for is one where hardworking people should be able to afford to live in their community,” said Sean Skinner, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp and a spokesman for EAH Housing. “The lack of affordable housing is one of Marin’s largest challenges today.”
Justin Kai, head of Organized Residents of Marinwood, said the affordable housing was not fairly distributed, with more than a third of the development located in the North San Rafael area.
As has been the case at meetings throughout the year on the various aspects of affordable housing in Marin, residents of Tam Valley, Almonte, Strawberry and Marinwood turned out in droves to speak out against any plans to include high-density development in their neighborhoods.
Linda Rames, a real estate agent who lives in Almonte, said the potential for flooding in the Tam Junction area and that area’s propensity for traffic jams make it incompatible for high-density housing. Sea-level rise could me that “future residents of these developments would be forced to wade or maybe swim, to their new homes,” she said.
Sharon Rushton, the chairperson of Sustainable TamAlmonte, presented a petition with more than 1,700 signatures opposing the plan to designate those areas in the Housing Element.
Ann Spake of Tam Valley agreed, saying that the risk of building homes in areas of flooding outweighed Friedman’s call for a moral imperative.
“The moral imperative that your Housing Element does not address is the issue of low-income housing being used as a buffer even as the science advises against it,” she said.
Mill Valley resident Terri Slater said she was being priced out of Marin.
“And while I wish I could believe that it really is all about traffic and access to schools,” she said to housing opponents, “After listening to many of you, it’s clear that it’s more about fear.”
“Marin has a monoculture of single-family homes that gets more and more expensive,” said housing advocate Dave Coury. “More diversity in housing helps individuals build their part of the American dream.”
“Today we’ve seen the best of the tribe taking care of children and seniors,” said Rev. Carol Hovis, a Presbyterian minister and director of the Marin Interfaith Council. “And we’re seeing the lesser side of our tribal behavior are some of the belief systems that exist that we need to challenge.”
The Board of Supervisors will reconvene on the Housing Element on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 10 a.m.