Angry Grousing About Housing

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

| August 07, 2013

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If this number were some kind of omniscient data set, all would be well and good. But it's not. Spurred by Mark Luce, the president of ABAG who called the process a "black box" when I interviewed him last summer, and Bob Ravasio, council member of Corte Madera and a member of ABAG who told me "If you find out how the RHNA works, let me know," I drove to Oakland to visit ABAG. There, I sat in an office and looked over at least 10 sheets of paper as planning director Hing Wong explained the "formula" used to calculate RHNA. It took an hour. And it's wasn't a formula, really—it was determined by months and months of meetings, in which government officials, fair-housing lawyers, developers and transit workers decide the "fair share" of how much each region should get.

But though ABAG has a reputation for strong-arming development onto unwilling towns, the RHNA process can be arbitrary in unexpected and troubling ways.

Because housing, particularly affordable housing, has historically been so unpopular in Marin, elected officials can push back against this fair-share mentality. And thus, despite its high in-commuting numbers, parts of Marin received unusually low numbers in the most recent cycle, compared to recent years.

As we reported last year, Wong told me that in Novato, this was at least partly because "a councilwoman wanted very low numbers."

The lack of good, unbiased data means that vast conspiracies have sprung up in which Marin's lack of affordable housing and clogged freeways aren't really problems—they're considered smokescreens for developers who just want to make a buck.

"Everyone says 'You're in the pocket of the developers,'" affordable-housing advocate Lynne Wasley says. "I've never been given a dime."

Op-eds are written in which supervisors, characterized as "well-to-do progressives," and developers seem to be in cahoots. And during the Marinwood meeting, Bradley and several others alluded to the study conducted by Marin County for HUD—which found that minorities and multifamily units had been clustered due to discriminatory zoning—as an affirmative action document, implying that it was a tool to bring in "underrepresented minorities [from] outside Marin County."

And so a strange and sour attitude comes into play at public meetings, which tend to be overwhelmingly middle-class and white. It's an attitude that doubts the very existence of low-income workers and residents in Marin—an attitude that might explain something like the farcical post on Nestel's SaveMarinwood.org.

"Wanted" it reads. "Gay Eskimos for Marinwood Village Affordable Housing Complex."

At Novato's affordable housing meetings, which I covered back in 2010, it took the form of comments like "I heard that we recruited people from Richmond to come here tonight to fulfill our need for affordable housing" and "All of these people who need a place to live, where are they now?"

And the answer mirrors this systemic issue. They're not at evening Marin meetings, because though they work in Marin, they don't live there.

Or else, as a troubling press conference recently implied, they're too scared to come.

At a very different meeting than the ones described above, a group of fair-housing advocates and grass roots organizers came together in the Marin Civic Center garden on a Tuesday morning. They spoke quietly, waited their turn to speak and punctuated each comment with well-mannered applause. No one hissed, booed or called the police.

And the tenor of the gathering felt like a PTSD support group.

John Young, leader of Marin Grassroots, recalled talking to a colleague during a public meeting—before someone called the sheriff and asked that he be kicked out. A black man who describes himself as a big guy, Young said he felt afraid.

VOICES SILENCED John Young says he's had people call the sheriff's department and ask that they kick him out of public meetings.
  • VOICES SILENCED John Young says he's had people call the sheriff's department and ask that they kick him out of public meetings.

"This was a room full of 200-plus European Americans," he says.

An Asian-American man shares a similar experience. He recalls getting up to speak in favor of affordable housing and being heckled with the words: "You don't belong here." Wasley, who was in attendance, says she hasn't been to a public meeting in Novato in two years, after being booed and hissed in numerous town halls. She was even hissed at the grocery store wearing a sticker in favor of affordable housing, she says.

And then Gail Theller, a spokesperson for Community Action Marin, says something that does not bode well for the future of public discourse in Marin.

"The public areas in which these discussions are taking place have gotten to be so threatening that I'm unable to organize a group of people who are low-income to come," she says.

The group announced that it was going to write a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown about the fact that all sides of Marin's housing debate are not being heard. But in the meantime, meetings take place in suburbs like the one described at the beginning of this piece, where homes sell for an average of $650,000 a pop and beautiful community halls are packed with angry people, holding signs and shouting about apartment buildings.

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Comments (12)

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This is a positively bizarre take on the issues facing Marinwood. Portraying Susan Adams as a "victim" of angry constituents is insulting to the community and ultimately to Supervisor Adams herself.

Journalist, used to be reliable in keeping politicians accountable. This story reads more like an apology, using Susan Adams photoshopped campaign photos and tales of "the lynch mob".

HINT to the Susan Adams supporters: It is a bad political move to demonize your voter base.

I have the original meeting available up at: http://www.savemarinwood.org/2013/07/susan-adams-first-open-town-hall.html . The public's comments start at :40. This is the first and only open Town Hall Susan Adams held for the community for the 25 year plan and locates 70% of all affordable housing in Marinwood Lucas Valley. The reporter of this story did not source the government documents that prove this and instead took the "Susan Adams Spin Machine" as gospel.

Fair minded people will be able to see the truth through the fog created by the politicians about Plan Bay Area. It will radically alter our landscape and economy if built to plan. Unfortunately, we can no longer have the help of local media to help us.

P.S. The "gay eskimo" post was making fun of RACIST xenophobia. It was pretty obvious and even had (SATIRE) labeled in the post and discussion. It has received a disproportionate amount of attention and even some people stupidly claim that it is "evidence" of racism. It shows the intellectual dishonesty of the phony outraged people who want to promote the idea that people for good planning are Racist NIMBYS.

The writer even missed our statement about planning in the "about us posting"

"We support a fair allocation of affordable housing in our community that is sensitive to land use, is fiscally responsible, healthy for the families and integrates diversity within our community."

These are interesting times. Journalists are protecting the powerful and attacking the grassroots.

“If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
― Malcolm X

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Posted by Save Marinwood on 08/07/2013 at 9:07 AM

Excellent article. It's not hard to see 'what the hell is going on' ... there's an ugly streak of racism and class-ism in Marinwood ... 60% of the people who work in Marin work outside the County and commute from Sonoma, Contra Costa, Alamedas and Solano counties. Most of these commuters are lower income, and non-white. Most would greatly prefer to live close to where they work. The crazy thing about this latest outburst is that ABAG has now drastically cut the housing needs allocations ('RHNA') for Marin jurisdictions, even though very little affordable housing has been built there to meet the current and prior RHNA housing needs allocations. ABAG is dominated by Marin, Napa and other wealthy jurisdictions, all of which have their numbers slashed for the next (2014-2022) planning period. But even a small RHNA allocation's not acceptable with these NIMBY's.

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Posted by DGrabill on 08/07/2013 at 9:32 AM

Agree with Save Marinwood. Article missed the most important aspect - "the 25 year plan and locates 70% of all affordable housing in Marinwood Lucas Valley. " It's not about being against affordable housing, it's about the poor plan to solve the problem.

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Posted by Not all of it in Marinwood on 08/07/2013 at 1:57 PM

I was born and raised in Marin, and lived in Marinwood for several years in the late '80s and early '90s before eventually moving to Sonoma County. I feel for the residents of Marinwood- did you notice that Corte Madera dropped out of ABAG so THEY wouldn't have to put in any affordable housing along the corridor? But this article simply daylights the extreme NIMBYism that's been present in Marin since at least the 60's, when residents killed any hopes of a Marin BART extension. The arguments at that time certainly resonated-a train line would've certainly encouraged development...but unless Marin wants to pave its way to better worker access a la Irvine in Orange County, the only alternative is that some property values WILL have to suffer. We're no longer in the era of limitless choices, and some tradeoffs have to made. Frankly, I'd love it if they developed part of Strawberry as affordable housing to share the load, but THAT ain't gonna happen....

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Posted by Geoguy on 08/07/2013 at 4:04 PM

Did everyone miss the obvious? What elected official, or anyone for that matter, who is hosting a public meeting (on a very controversial subject) would come completely unprepared as Supervisor Adams did? Where were the speaker cards that you fill out if you want to speak (the purpose to keep order and give everyone their 2-3 minutes to speak). Where was the meeting moderator who welcomes everyone, states the ground rules for the meeting and after the main speaker does their thing, calls up the names from the speaker cards and has a timer to make sure no one hogs up the time? Where was the separate podium and microphone for speakers so they didn't have to come all the way to the front of the room and share the mic w/the Supervisor? This meeting should have been run like the County runs Planning Commission and Board meetings. It is almost like Adams did this on purpose and let the crowd get out of control so she would then garner subsequent sympathy articles - which the press got sucked right into and there were at least 3-4 articles on SFGate.com, the Marin IJ and now this site, The Bohemian claiming the crowd was unruly and rude. This was done on purpose and it worked in her favor but not all of us are fooled by her campaign tactics.

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Posted by D1.94903 on 08/07/2013 at 4:14 PM

I have to disagree with the above post. A tightly controlled meeting would certainly have been resented after the way information has been kept from the public since at least 2007 when Supervisor Adams and the BOS made Marinwood a PDA (and later claimed "surprise" when the map of it was revealed). Frankly, if reporters were doing their job, the public would have known what was going on. The public needs to do the investigation on its own and needs to follow up on the inconsistencies, misrepresentations and omissions. Proof is available on the county website and www.savemarinwood.org. Democracy is a messy business. As Harry Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"

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Posted by Save Marinwood on 08/07/2013 at 5:46 PM

Readers can read more about our work to realize reasonably-priced homes in Novato at
www.neighborlynovato.org There you can also endorse our principles, including respectful and civil dialogue, as we plan for Novato's, and Marin's, future. Check us out on Facebook as well
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stand-Up-fo…

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Posted by Annan Paterson on 08/09/2013 at 2:51 PM

As a moderate-income resident of Marin County, I am personally suffering from this refusal to build more housing. I wish people would stop making up scary stories about how poor people will be imported into the county and realize that by fighting every housing proposal, many of us who are here now will be forced to leave. My rent has jumped $500 in two years because there just aren't enough rental units. I have lived my whole life in Marin County, and have a good job here, but paying the increasingly high cost of housing here means I can't ever get ahead.

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Posted by Carla on 08/09/2013 at 4:47 PM

Cramming all development into high-rise housing next to noisy, polluting freeways is not a healthy option, Affordable housing or not. And not only is it a step backwards in progress but it is no solution to Green House Gas emission nor an equitable solution to affordable housing that could otherwise be accommodated by a smarter option:- infil housing all over the Bay not just in congested PDA's.

When every home will have Solar Panels and a Wind Turbine on its roof. Charging the electric car every night.
http://populationalert.org/GlobalWarming/w…

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Posted by Alan C Scotch on 08/11/2013 at 3:35 PM

Okay we are really out of control here but seeing as how everyone thinks this is all about race on one side lets run with it for a minute. I am a WASP(for those of you who don't remember terms that mean White Anglo Saxon Protestant) or at least close enough! Even though I am part German and basically a Mutt. I grew up in Marin County, married and raising my children here. The only way I made it into a house was from buying it from a parent. Affordable housing is a dream. When my parents bought their house in Terra Linda it was 20K a lot of money back then in 1957. It was not affordable then any more than it is now. Most of the families in 1957 worked in San Francisco or Oakland and the building created jobs then in Marin. We forget that.
I had many friends that were of different races in my schools. Yes, not as many as in the big cities but they were here and we all played dated together.
My sons when they went to elementary school in the 1990's had many different faces. They were friends not races.
I would also like to mention that no one spoke about low income housing in Santa Venetia. I guess we don't count! However, we have some here. We have buildings at La Brea. Are they counted?
Also I would like to point out that I would be placed in the "low income" bracket too. Got to love phrases and terms! My parents would be and so would my husband's parents that owned his house. Marin really is not a "Rich" community. I would also like to point out that the Republican party (Bush comment) was really BS. There are more Democratic, Independent and Green Parties in Marin than Republicans. There is nothing wrong for any party or person to state that changes to the community need to be done in the open. WE forget that we have a telephone. Oh wait, we only use them for calling to get out and vote not for meetings that may change your world or somewhere close by.
Also have you thought of the Marinwood Market and what would happen to them, Or any other business in that location.
Susan Adams has never been my favorite person. She has been in the business of Politics now for quite some time. I think she knows how to run a meeting as mentioned above and allowed this to get out of control. I know many families that live in Marinwood, I have not known them to be racists. I do believe that they have a right to fight this and if it goes through should be houses or condos but not a huge development of apartments. No one community can handle all the burden of "affordable housing".
I would also like to ask about all the apartments above businesses in San Rafael. Are some of those considered affordable housing? Are those counted? Also do you count the houses that have been built in subdivisions?

I have no worries about who fill those apartments. I do not care in my area what race they are. My street is a beautiful view of people from India, some from China, Mexicans, and I have some that were from China a long time ago but were born here in Marin. They are my friends and some I call family. My parents live across from people from Russia. The point is we do not care what race they my be but that they are neighbors

All I want to say is that everyone has the right to speak, to be in the process. I do not take the paper, nor do I read the what is going on in the planning stages unless I get a postcard. Even when work is going on your street you get a heads up! on a letter or postcard. How hard would that have been?

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Posted by acfenstermaker 1 on 08/11/2013 at 7:26 PM

The Disorganized and unruly meeting.
The meeting was held by Susan Adams as an opportunity for Marinwood residents to talk to the District 1 representative. The meeting turned into a long presentation by Susan Adams. 200 to 250 people showed up. The room capacity is 150. There was a much bigger crowd than anticipated. There was no order for picking questions. "Raise your hand" was the method. That does not work well with a huge crowd.

$250,000 recall
The recall only happens if enough people, almost 7000, sign the recall petition. This is not about a handful of people causing a recall, there is a set minimum. If you don't like it, change the recall laws.

Notification
If a neighbor adds a bedroom to their house, they must post a large sign in front of their house. Apparently adding 146 bedrooms does not require a similar sign.

Zoning and PDA
The Marinwood Plaza has "Planned Commercial" or "CP" zoning. The intended use for "CP" zoning can be a variety of things: businesses, housing, almost anything short of a car lot or industrial use. The "Marin County Housing Element" sets Marin County's intended best use for the land. In 2003, the Marin County Housing element had no housing on the property. In 2007, that was changed to be up to "100 housing units". The PDA status had nothing to do with the ability to add 82 housing units. However, Susan Adams offered to remove the PDA status, which in effect would do nothing for Marinwood Plaza. Does Adams not know the zoning laws? Or just giving people what they want, even if it does nothing.

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Posted by Kevin Moore on 08/12/2013 at 10:57 AM

Overloading Schools
I noticed the article didn't talk about the property tax exemption. Not looking at the combined affect of the Marinwood, Grady Ranch, Silvera Ranch, and Terra Linda Civic Center Station PDA (620) apartments on the Dixie School District. No one wants to plan for the influx of students, just the influx of residents. This is the part of Plan Bay Area that I don't agree with. No planning for the impact on the local resources. There are two vacant schools just sitting in Marin. Are they needed for housing or for schools?


Overloading the Marinwood Plaza
I cannot speak for everyone, but for me, it has always been about the numbers, not race. Is adding 82 housing units to the area too many housing units? A total of 146 bedrooms will be added. There is a grocery store, a gas station, there will be a restaurant and another store. Marinwood Plaza is like an island. If you need anything else, what do you do to get it? Get in your car or get on the bus. This is a solution to Global Warming?

With 146 bedrooms, there might be 200 or more people living in the Marinwood Plaza site. There are a few court yards to hang out, but how quickly will the plaza get packed with 200 people as potential users? There is a park a mile away. A short bike ride for adults and teens. Where do children play in the area? 200 people... To give you an idea, the Marinwood meeting room has a capacity of 150. There were about 200 people at that meeting.

Tell me this is about making a life better for a few people by allowing them to live in a better neighborhood with a shorter commute to their job. I would agree. Tell me this is about fixing Global Warming, I will laugh. Marinwood is a very car oriented area. 197,000 vehicles pass the Civic Center each day. And their solution is add a few hundred units to fix Global Warming?

Reducing the number of housing units and figuring out the needed school resources would reduce resistance to this housing site.

Oh, all of you "Just build the housing" people might see the Marinwood Plaza fails the noise standard and is listed as a "Potentially Significant Cancer Risk" risk. See the document below.

http://www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/CD/main/pd…

Cancer risk - Page 89

Noise - Page 43 Noise factors. Page 212 Noise measurement table. Marinwood Plaza fails, but does not state by how much.

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Posted by Kevin Moore on 08/12/2013 at 11:07 AM
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