In the span of two hours, upwards of 75 curious Novato residents received a drive-thru degree on suburban planning and local government courtesy of a former developer turned grassroots neighborhood rights advocate.
Bob Silvestri, a Mill Valley resident and outspoken critic of mandates on housing quotas, was the featured speaker Wednesday at a meeting of the San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition at All Saints Lutheran Church in Novato. The Novato Community Alliance also participated.
Silvestri outlined main points his new book, The Best Laid Plans: Our Planning and Affordable Housing Challenges in Marin, which summarized passages from his writings on Patch sites in Marin. He gave a short history of urban and suburban planning and talked about the housing element portions of any municipality's general plan. Silvestri's punch line was that "one size fits all" planning does not work and that high-density growth is bad for the environment.
The two community housing groups have been at the forefront of civic discussions about the pending certification of the Novato Housing Element for 2007-2014 by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
In the audience but opting to observe and not participate were Mayor Pat Eklund and Community Development Director Bob Brown.
Among the topics discussed were the compatibility of the present directives from the Association of Bay Area Governments with other aspects of housing development, such as the provision of water to such complexes.
"Local public policy should lead, not follow, ABAG," Silvestri said.
"The Q&A was lively and fairly lengthy with conversations continuing even after the meeting concluded," said Pam Drew, former president of the Novato Community Alliance.
Susan Wernick and Leslie Petersen Schwarze of the San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition brought participants up to date on the potential reopening of opportunity site selections for the city's housing element. After the city turned in a draft version of the housing element in October, criticisms came the state's Housing and Community Development Department and from nonprofits.
San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition decided its long-range goal was to educate the neighborhood about the housing element process, according to Petersen Schwarze. This was the first of a planned series of educational forums, she said.
"We are thrilled with the turnout and excited that so many new faces came to hear our first speaker," she said. "Bob Silvestri's presentation resonated with the audience and offered refreshing answers to the issues we have faced around housing. His honest answers to the illogical marketing we have been bombarded with was well received."
Wernick said it's important to tap Silvestri's knowledge with housing developments and housing elements.
"I hope that what people learned ... helps them better understand the dilemma with the issue of high-density housing and the negative long-term effects it can have both socially and environmentally," she said. "There are other alternatives out there and we need to be working on them. The evening provided a good opportunity to update folks on the status of Novato's Housing Element and to encourage their participation in the process."
Click here for past Novato Patch stories on the local debate over housing quotas.