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Angry Grousing About Housing

Yelling, bickering, a costly recall—what the hell is going on in Marin?

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This is a huge problem in Marin County, where, as one advocate wrote, the poor are "zoned out." According to a county document prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, multifamily housing is clustered in only a few areas like Marin City and San Rafael's Canal District, where racial and ethnic minorities tend to live. According to a study funded by the Marin Community Foundation, 60 percent of Marin's workforce lives out of the county and commutes in daily, holding jobs that tend to pay under $50,000, like residential care and retail.

The study also notes the environmental hazards of such a freeway clog—an unnecessary 2.4 million pounds of carbon pouring into the atmosphere every day. This is a rough equivalent—daily—to the emissions produced by 42,000 U.S. households in a year.

As Adams points out, none of the zoning in Marinwood has been proposed in secret. Though audience members at the town hall shouted "You did not come to this community, you did not notice this community!" she replied that every meeting where potential zoning was discussed had been done in a public. Discussions over the housing element update—public. Board of supervisors meetings, where Marin's 101 corridor was discussed as a place to concentrate future growth because so much of the rest of Marin is preserved as open space—public.

NO GROWTH A pink dot marks a site under bitter debate for housing in Marinwood; the green areas of open space show just how little room there is for any type of development off the 101 corridor.
  • NO GROWTH A pink dot marks a site under bitter debate for housing in Marinwood; the green areas of open space show just how little room there is for any type of development off the 101 corridor.

"There have been public meetings, with audio streaming and webcasting, so you can see not only all the documents discussed, but the conversation around those documents," she tells me on the phone.

She's right. I've been covering land-use issues in Marin for three years, and none of the zoning changes discussed at the Marinwood meeting were new to me. Still, audience members seemed to feel that public process wasn't enough.

"It's not our full-time job!" one audience member yelled. "It's your job as supervisor to come to us when there are major land-use issues at stake in our community!"

There was a chorus of applause.

I asked Sheerin how she thought Adams should have "noticed" the Marinwood community. "I can't say putting it in the newspaper, because no one reads the newspaper," she says. "Maybe sending out postcards."

In a background conversation, another person at that meeting told me nearly the exact same thing: "Nobody reads the newspapers," she said. "Maybe if it had been on TV."

As Adams says when I told her about these responses: "'Notice' is a two-way street."

CAUSE OF ANGER A developer's proposal for housing at Marinwood Plaza, now a decaying strip mall, has some residents furious.
  • CAUSE OF ANGER A developer's proposal for housing at Marinwood Plaza, now a decaying strip mall, has some residents furious.

Another common theme at the Marinwood meeting, and others that I've covered, is more understandable. It's the notion that the numbers governing this whole process are off.

Two speakers addressed this eloquently.

When Adams stated that a "low-income" designation in the wealthy county caps at around $65,000, one man protested, "We are that bracket." Another man from the crowd called out, "That's us!"

It's true. Just as the tech boom has wildly inflated rent in San Francisco, Marin County's extremely high median earning—$130,000—has hiked the low-income line past what many living in market-rate housing make. And the idea of somehow subsidizing families making more than you do in low-income apartments is hardly popular.

The supposed "low-income" number comes from an organization called ABAG, which, lately, seems to be Marin County's least favorite four-letter word. The acronym, short for the Association of Bay Area Governments, refers to the planning organization that puts out another acronym, the RHNA. This Regional Housing Needs Allocation is the all-holy number of units that each government needs to zone for every few years, to match projected growth.

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