Blog After fires, Marin must allow housing

Oct. 29, 2017

The North Bay lost thousands of homes in the wildfires earlier this month. Displaced families now face the prospect of finding new housing in a region already years-deep into an affordability crisis, and outlets from the Marin Independent Journal to the New York Times have noted that the fires will exacerbate our housing shortage.

Against this backdrop, Marin County will decide on Monday whether to allow the construction of 304 units in unincorporated county land outside Strawberry. The project, which would replace 211 units currently on-site and provide 61 income-restricted affordable units, is (no surprise) being fought by nearby residents and local columnists who fear “over development.”

On Monday, the Marin County Planning Commission will decide whether to extend a master plan for a plot of land in Strawberry — allowing the construction of the development — or choose a different, lower-density plan for the area that would force a smaller project.

Dick Spotswood, a perennial NIMBY newspaperman in Marin, has raised insincere fears about “affordable housing” being lost in Strawberry despite the fact that no below-market-rate units currently exist on the site. If people like Spotswood were sincere in their calls for more affordable housing, they would be proposing to up-zone the parcel. If it was legal to build 1,000 units, Marin would benefit from adding 200 units of brand new subsidized affordable housing. Instead, Spotswood shows his true colors by speaking about cars, saying current residents were promised traffic would never rise above 1980s levels.

The project, being developed by North Coast Land Holdings, is on an infill site that was approved for development in 1984 under the county’s master plan for the area. That plan called for 304 units to be built, so developers are only seeking to construct the units called for 30 years ago. The development sits on a seminary site, and the academic campus would be modernized.

At 2.47 units per acre, it would be among the lowest density projects in the area. Even the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the project range from 3.2 units per acre to 17.7 units per acre, while others in the county go up to 47 units per acre, according to the development team.

Blocking this development or scaling it down would be a slap in the face of the families who have fled the fires and found themselves with nowhere to live. This low-density project is a no-brainer, even for development-skeptic Marin. Dozens of people could be helped directly by winning a below-market-rate unit, while others would benefit from the added housing supply.

Marin was already in a deep housing crisis that it’s done little to mitigate. The county built just 32% of its regional housing goals during the last cycle, and its state representative recently helped extend a law that allows the county to bypass the state’s affordable housing laws.

A recent op-ed in the Marin Independent Journal noted that 60 percent of the city’s workforce commutes in from other counties, meaning many of those affected by the North Bay fires likely worked in Marin and would relish the chance to live closer to their jobs. Those displaced, the article notes, cannot now live near their work and “will be forced to relocate to where housing is available.”

Make that housing available in Marin County. Build this project so that families displaced by the North Bay fires have a chance to live where they work.

The project will be heard by the Marin County Planning Commission on Monday, October 30, at 1 PM at the Marin County Civic Center, 3501 Civic Center Dr.