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Op-Ed: Neighborly Novato Group Responds to Critics

SUNN presents 'just facts' on where it stands on contentious issue of affordable housing in Novato.

Just as Joe Friday insisted upon “just the facts” so many years ago, is an organization that wants the Novato community to stick to “just the facts.”

It is disturbing to read destructive misinformation and mischaracterization about our organization’s work for reasonably priced housing. This is not the Novato we know.

Almost a year ago, several neighborhood groups emerged of certain sites as part of the city’s Housing Element update. We realized that a loud, vocal group of residents were speaking from a certain vantage point and that many other voices were left out.

Stand Up for Neighborly Novato was born to give a voice to the many residents who support a variety of housing options for our seniors, persons with disabilities and working families.

The support we’ve received shows that a voice of reason, respect and inclusion was needed in this debate.

We have been by more than 500 Novato residents, and the list grows every day. These residents are not as loud and boisterous as others in this debate, but their support for more reasonably priced housing is strong. County Supervisors Judy Arnold, Steve Kinsey and Susan Adams, the League of Women Voters, the North Bay Labor Council, the Novato Democratic Club, Sustainable Novato and others are also behind us.

We encourage you to call and thank these Novato leaders and organizations for supporting reasonably priced housing and advocating for a brighter future for Novato.

And that’s just the beginning. We believe there are thousands of Novato residents who are not aware of the impact of our upcoming decisions on housing. So we sent out a mailer to encourage them to learn more about Stand Up for Neighborly Novato and reasonably priced housing, give them an opportunity to join us, ask them to encourage the City Council to support more reasonably priced housing options and give residents “just the facts.”

This was necessary in part because recent posts and a have done a disservice to Novato by spreading falsehoods about Stand Up for Neighborly Novato and affordable housing in general.  So here are the facts:

*  Stand Up for Neighborly Novato is not advocating for any particular density across‐the‐board on all sites selected. Rather, we support careful analysis of the constraints of each possible site, which likely will result in a range of units for each individual site. For instance, for a site adjacent to single‐family, detached homes, the number of units likely might be lower than the number of units in a commercial area or where there are other multi‐family developments. In fact, one of Stand Up for Neighborly Novato’s co-founders went to Sacramento to advocate for lowering the default density to allow for a more flexible approach. It’s misleading for anyone to say we only support high-density housing.

*  Stand Up for Neighborly Novato knows that there is a large need for reasonably priced housing in Novato, a well-documented fact per the Marin Housing Authority. It’s inaccurate to say “we’ve done our fair share.” It’s not about what we’ve done, it’s about the great demand we have now and what kind of future we want. For example, more than 9,000 Novato workers commute here every day but can’t afford to live here. That’s not good for the community on many levels.

*  Stand Up for Neighborly Novato supports collaboration within the City Manager’s Ad Hoc Working Group to recommend new Housing Element policies and programs to optimize affordable housing opportunities (such as a city jobs/housing mitigation fee, reduced city fees for second units, streamlined permit processing for affordable housing, etc.).

*  Stand Up for Neighborly Novato rejects the use of fear tactics and misleading information in this housing debate. We have read and heard mischaracterizations of our organization and affordable housing. We believe a respectful fact‐based dialogue reflects the character of Novato, will encourage opinions and ideas from all of our neighborhoods and will contribute to a housing element that best reflects the needs of our community.

To read more and get to know us and the facts, go to www.neighborlynovato.org.  It is all there in black and white. Just the facts.

Edwin Drake May 19, 2011 at 11:25 PM
PG Pond's coment above prove the uselessness and futility of the Coty Manager Ad Hoc. Why doesn't the city manager take the handcuffs off and allow the group to come up with their own locations? Because this way he can claim that "the sites don't work" (for one reason or another) and jam a handful of sites down our throats. PG Pond is a SUNN person and still unhappy with the sites, this speaks VOLUMES for the way this list has been vetted. (Not that SUNN people need to 'like' the sites, only that the process is rigged so nothing useful comes of it and, at the last minute, we have to accept whatever is proposed. It's basically bend over and .... (sorry for the off-color, but I've no doubt the city manager knows what he's doing and has arranged this all for the outcome he wants, damn the people of Novato.)
Pamela Griffith Pond May 19, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Hello, Edwin. I see it very differently. What I think is that it would take a lot of effort to get some of the sites to work -- but I've seen it happen. For example, I know of a congregation that build senior housing on its property and a new church for themselves. We planned to do that in Terra Linda, but the congregation was not viable and needed to close. Nonetheless, we did build a residential care facility for the elderly on the former church site. And, also in Terra Linda, St. Isabella's Mercy Housing build affordable senior housing on the church's property. I don't think the obstacles are insurmountable, but there certainly would be some obstacles to building on any site that is already occupied. When a site is rezoned, it gives the property owner options for the future. The fact that a congregation is happily where it is today does not mean something will not change down the line. As for the San Andreas site, do not see that as hopeless, either. As I said, I would love to see the school district build affordable housing there -- for teachers. It could work. It has worked other places.
Edwin Drake May 20, 2011 at 12:04 AM
Any site can "work" - given enough money. That's not the point. Yes, it'd be great to see NUSD build teacher housing on the San Andreas site, and of course they have plenty of money and expertise plus time and inclination to make that happen. Likewise with the Adventist site. Throw money at anything and you can make it work, eventually. (Just ask the Dept of Defense.) The IMPORTANT point is that the list came from Michael Frank and didn't result from Ad Hoc group research. It'll be a non-starter with ABAG and Novato will be worse than "back at square one," we'll be facing funding reductions and lawsuits. (Just wait till SUNN joins a lawsuit against the city; that'll certainly make them 'neighborly'!) The point isn't to select sites for "what if" eventualities, but well-places sites that stand a chance of fulfilling the Housing requirements and fit in better with the existing built environment. I say, once again, Frank has manipulated this process and, at this point, Novato is poorly positioned to fulfill its obligations at any density. We've been bamboozeled. Watch. See. Learn.
Pamela Griffith Pond May 20, 2011 at 12:11 AM
Stand Up for Neighborly Novato has no intention whatsoever of being a party to litigation against the city. Our intent is to advocate for respectful dialogue, and to give voice to the many Novato residents who support reasonable housing options for people and families with a wide range of income levels.
Edwin Drake May 20, 2011 at 12:25 AM
So SUNN will return the $75,000 when the Marin Community Foundation and/or the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and/or the Greenbelt Alliance and/or Sustainable Novato and/or Live Local Novato file a lawsuit against the city for non-compliance with the Housing Element? I hope you say NO! They'll only use the money to pay for lawyers. Better you keep it to pay Annan Paterson and print mailers.
Barbara M. May 20, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Very insightful suggestion Edwin. Thanks
Trish Boorstein May 20, 2011 at 02:39 AM
Edwin, BTW some of the sites that were chosen were not handed to the Working group by Frank. Some were actually sites that community members found and submitted to the members of the group. Ultimately it is a list of sights. If we could propose mixed-use along Rdwd blvd then one day it could look like small businesses (not big box stores) mixed with retail on ground floor with housing on the second floors and housing built into the design in the back, sprinkled with outdoor eating/ recreating/ promenades. Of course these ideas would be drawn up, made into models for community to view and comment on. As ideas evolve, drawings and models would be added for evaluation. This would become a community vision and as a result take time. Not this quick we have to make a Working Housing Element without any consideration for the ultimate future appearence of our town as a whole.
Edwin Drake May 20, 2011 at 03:30 AM
And once again I ask, what IS the state of the North Redwood plan the city was working on? It seems everyone agree that at least some affordable housing should go there, but haven't been able to include it. Why is that? is the city still working on zoning for the area? It seems as if it's 'off the table' for now and I don't understand why. Please, someone, fill me in. Why are North Redwood sites, between (oh, say) Vallejo and Atherton, being looked at? If I'm wrong, please let me know. Also, I'm just curious. Of the final list of sites, how many were submitted by Frank and how many did the group find on their own? Thanks!
Edwin Drake May 20, 2011 at 03:32 AM
And I guess the "insightful" answer means SUNN will keep the money when one of those groups sues the city? Ah, the mother's milk of politics. These SUNN people are shameless.
Tina McMillan May 20, 2011 at 11:57 PM
SUNN has stated that 500 residents have supported their position on high density affordable housing. In a city of 50,000+ residents that is 1% of the population of Novato. The primary reason for questioning SUNN's motives and representation of the facts is the website and mailer's all or nothing at all approach to the issue. There is the SUNN view and then the apocalypse. This is clearly seen in pictures and print. There is no positive recognition of the grassroots neighborhood groups that formed in response to this issue. The current claim is that SUNN formed because the other groups were wrong to question ABAG, the city and the developers. SUNN claims they are defending Novato citizens when they are defending a point of view that insists that you must create high density in order to be environmentally sustainable and according to Crecelius fiscally sustainable for the developers themselves. The longer term picture requires analysis of the effects of multifamily housing without taxes and its impact on schools, fire, police and other necessary city services. If we can address these concerns and if we can create housing that does not separate its residents based on their socioeconomic means then we have truly sustainable housing. Putting all the extremely low income residents in one extremely high density space is recreating the project housing that they now have in Marin City. It was a poor, segregated solution then and it is equally devastating now.
henry May 25, 2011 at 02:50 PM
Marla, Just saw your reply to my question/concern. Since its been awhile, here is your reply to remind you of our discussion: "They are gluttons for punishment: Source: US Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies (LED database)– not to be confused with the decennial population census); 2009. • There are 21,129 total jobs in Novato (in 2009) • 54% of these jobs pay less than $40,000 per year (a total of 11,490 jobs) • The maximum affordable rent at that income is exactly $1000 per month • The median rent in Novato is $1,428 (US Census Bureau – American Community Survey, 2009)" FOLLOW UP QUESTION FOR YOU MARLA: I would like the stat that shows how many of the 54% of jobs are in dual income families? Since you had all of these stats at the ready above, I am confident you can find the stat that indicates this one important, relevant, and ommitted fact that will skews your 54% number to a much, much lower percentage. Therefore PROVING that your website proclamation is in fact a mistruth. The SUNN website statement ("Most people who work in Novato cannot afford to live here". ) is not a "fact" it is in fact a falsehood. It is not a "Reality" as proclaimed on your website. Are you going to have it removed from your website?
Roger May 25, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Marla, thanks for giving details on affordable housing rules. One added question: Some long-term residents of Novato wonder, "How the affordable housing provisions ensure that Novato workers get priority for new openings in housing?" Do you have an answer for that? I heard that concern raised by a lot by my neighbors. Greenhouse emissions could actually increase if there weren't such safeguards since, for example, single moms might move to cities with better schools and lower crime, but then commute back each day to their old job in the prior city. It would be real sad to look back in 30 years and see that lots of new affordable housing actually caused pollution to rise.
Shan May 25, 2011 at 04:09 PM
sure, put it somewhere where you don't live and you love that idea!
Marla May 25, 2011 at 04:47 PM
If City financing is involved, you can give priority to local workers. That is what they did in Hamilton's Meadow Park community. What we know from survey of existing affordable housing in Marin is that even if you don't require or give preference to local workers, that is who ends up living in Marin's affordable hsouing for the most part. Check the 2008 Marin County Affordable Housing Inventory and you will find the following: Most residents are working famillies, approximately 90% of whom lived and worked in Marin prior to living in affordable housing. Employed residents (which excludes seniors or disabled) work locally in retail, hospitality/recreation and education sectors which generally means workers are in the very low income category. These sectors are projected to produce 60% of the total employment growth in Marin in the next 30 years. Findings fromt the study also confirm that affordable hsouing residents walk or use public transporation more often and just over half even own one vehicle, while only 7% own two or more. Working residents were found to be employed close to their homes, and travel fewer miles than the general Marin population. Studies done by EAH of their own affordable neighborhoods confirm these results, it is largely people who move to live closer to their work who end up living in these homes unless they are seniors or disabled community members.
Roger May 25, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Thanks, Marla. That is helpful info. It will help raise the comfort level of my neighbors. Facts are helpful.
Marla May 25, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Henry, I'm a volunteer and don't have these figures at my fingertips. I'm off to my daughter's music recital shortly, followed by a busy day of activities, but I will try to dig these up for you in the next few days. I do know the median household income in Novato is $62,ooo, meaning there are plenty of households earning far less than that. Even if you assume only 1/3 of the people who commute in for jobs that pay less than $40,000 a year are the single working person in their household (a gross underestimate), that is still close to 4,000 people who cannot afford the rents here. I guess I don't understand your point, unless you are quiblling about the word "most" versus "many" which is fine. Either way, that is an unsustainable and unacceptable reality of our high home costs and generally low wages. In the 2008 Marin County Affordable Housing Survey, the percentage of renters paying more than 30% of their income on rent in 2006 was 55%. That is not Novato specific, but rather for Marin, but Novato household incomes are likely lower than most if not all other cities in Marin. Furthermore, they found 49% of renting households had a household income of less than $50,000 in 2006, and almost 90% of these households were paying more than 30% of their income on rent. You cna find lots of good data in this report, but most of it is not Novato specific but rather for Marin County. Just google 2008 marin county affordable housing inventory.
Shan May 25, 2011 at 05:44 PM
I have avoided this site before, but thought it was time to read, and comment. To earlier comments about Ad Hoc group make up not being correct, I agree. Members were also suppose to live within Novato City limits. Isn't there at least one that does not? There are more Founders, Board Members & active participants of neighborhood groups in a particular area of Novato than are AH advocates. As a member Ad Hoc group (not stated with pride), NOT an AH advocate & NOT a member of the above mentioned n-hood groups, I sometimes feel I am the only one that could possibly represent the "average" resident. (I am not stating this as a fact, just a slightly sarcastic observation.) Since I am in the super-minority my opinion & interests can, & are, generally overrun quite quickly. This entire process has brought Novato to an ugly place, and ALL of you can take some blame in that. I am not for or against AH or development. I support proper development in my neighborhood & others. What that looks like will certainly vary. Lastly, those who keep making reference to infill Downtown & development of NRC. You are wrong in assuming this does not affect existing neighborhoods. It does. Don't assume anyone that MIGHT live an a development that MAY be built will NOT have a car to drive to the stores that they will need to shop in. Don't assume they will all jump on the bus to go to work, or walk. Because they won't. Therefore, don't use the DT & NRC as your NIMBY dumping ground.
Tina McMillan May 25, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Pamela: Do you have the statistics that would allow us to calculate the costs of Novato's current affordable housing units broken down by type, e.g., Senior, Individual, Multi-Family extremely low income, Multi-Family workforce, and disabled. It would help to know numbers in order to calculate the lost tax revenue specific to city services like schools, police,EMT, fire and infrastructure. Once we know the cost to maintain different units, such as senior versus multifamily then we can see how to come up with tax dollars to support the development. This piece is missing from your website. The website only addresses the cost to build; it does not address the cost to sustain. Sales tax revenue alone is not enough to support schools, fire, police, EMT and maintenance of city services. We all ready know this as the city has added a sales tax increase to make up the current budget deficit. If we knew the numbers we could plan additional commercial development or some kind of fee structure that would support the housing we will create. As we see cities in California like Vallejo going bankrupt it behooves us to think ahead and recognize the long term costs so we can find ways to produce sufficient tax revenue to support any housing we develop. I don't see these figures anywhere in the affordable housing debate.
Tina McMillan May 25, 2011 at 06:09 PM
I believe the primary issues in the affordable housing debate are: • Costs to create sustainable affordable housing including long term costs to maintain city services to tenants and the community • Laws to compel owners/developers to maintain a safe environment for tenants and the community • Housing that promotes physical and psychological well being by considering the effects of extremely high density on tenants • Housing that is comfortably assimilated into existing neighborhoods so that tenants don't feel segregated by virtue of socio-economic status • Local Control to ensure our communities needs are met rather than a cookie cutter approach that is run from the top down by the state government • Working together so that no local
Tina McMillan May 25, 2011 at 06:11 PM
•Working together so that no local group sets itself apart as the one having the only answer to the affordable housing issue
henry May 25, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Marla, I will continue "to quibble" when it comes to addressing the misinformation on the SUNN website. Thank you. Enjoy the recital. Henry
Roger May 25, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Those are harsh words, Shan...."ugly place", "you can take some blame", "DT & NRC as your NIMBY dumping ground." Let's show by example how to be nice. Instead of being negative, please lead by example by voicing what sites do you prefer. It is not easy picking sites. You like the cow pasture on Wood Hollow on the outskirts of the city with its big gas pipeline? Few sites are perfect. Green laws like SB375 push infill housing. Should Novato try to fight such State mandates? Often balance is needed.
Lloyd May 25, 2011 at 07:12 PM
I agree with Roger. Lets be constructive and instead of just criticizing lets offer alternative sites and solutions. Everyone understands that this process is extremely difficult and most are just trying to understand and and navigate this minefield.
Shan May 25, 2011 at 10:01 PM
Harsh is a matter of opinion. To me they are true, maybe harsh as well. I don't mean to be negative, it is actually frustration that you are reading. I have sat through more hours of meetings than I care to count. I have spent money for childcare in order to volunteer in this process, just to have the time and energy spent undermined by "conversations" like this. Education? I don't think that is happening here. Constructive? I wouldn't call it that either. I hope people are learning something, but I am not convinced of it. Some are vocal only behind their computer, others are actually involved. As for sites. No, I don't think Wood Hollow is a good one. And there are others that aren't and some that are not on the list that maybe should have been. The City can offer new sites until they are blue in the face, there will be people to oppose them with the same arguments we will hear tonight. I am not saying they are not valid, but they will be the same for almost any site proposed. So what is Novato left to do? Fight the mandates? Maybe. I agree Balance is needed, that's my point. Balance, dispersion, fair share, equitable distribution. It goes by a lot of names, but are people willing to accept it?
Bob May 26, 2011 at 02:24 PM
Henry, the way things are going there may be many folks that CAN afford to live here, and pay their share of taxes, will move elsewhere where they can get the quality of life they they moved to Novato to get. This process has destroyed many areas, as those property owners are replaced by property owners that get tax exemptions and don't pay taxes, the areas go into disrepair. More folks move out and the whole neighborhood becomes low income housing. The Feb 28 Press Democrat had an article titled "Poverty's impact reaches deep into Sonoma County classrooms". Here is a quote from that article... "Major changes for the school include the construction of a subsidized housing complex on Marlow Road and the evolution of middle-class houses into homes that now house multiple families, Principal Winnie Hogoboom said." Police officers that work in SF have given testimony at our public meetings, as they have watched the projects destroy neighborhoods.
Bob May 26, 2011 at 02:41 PM
At the public meeting for the Ad-Hoc group last night, again a woman that stated she was a co-founder of SUNN, stated that she didn't like most of the sites because they did not allow for the 50 or more units that the developers like. You folks keep saying, and include on your website, that you want projects that fit into the neighborhoods and yet publicly you push for more units.
Ronnie Y. May 28, 2011 at 05:12 PM
.."Sustainable communities of the future will bear little resemblance to the towns and cities of the 20th century. Single-family homes will be rare. Housing will be provided by public/private partnerships, funded by government, and managed by non-government "Home Owners Associations.".. .."Sustainable communities cannot emerge as the natural outgrowth of free people making individual choices in a free market economy. Nor can they be mandated in the United States,".. .."the PCSD developed a strategy to entice or coerce local communities to begin the transition to sustainability. The EPA provided challenge grants, and visioning grants to communities that would undertake the process toward sustainability. Grants were also made available to selected non-government organizations to launch a visioning process in local communities. This process relies on a trained facilitator who uses a practiced, "consensus building" model to lead selected community participants in the development of "community vision.".. http://freedom.org/reports/sd-transform.html
Tina McMillan May 28, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Ronnien Y Thank you for the link. The political philosophy seems like a move toward communism in the sense that individual freedoms will be reduced if not eliminated for the common good - fewer choices more government.
Edwin Drake May 29, 2011 at 03:50 AM
It's growth by hodge-podge. Much of problem around here is that items arise and get decided on a case by case basis, with no connection between decisions. City leaders and residents need to look long term. this AH stuff is just another dog and pony show. (Like the millworks, like the city building, like grant Ave parking, like the defunct Fireman's Fund proposal, like the location of the smart train station, like the original list of sites, etc ...) Novato needs form based zoning. Novato needs to develop a vision for the future. More than just a general plan, a true decision of where we want the town to head and what it should look like. Speaking of which, what's going on with the General Plan? The City Council and City manager need to ask the big questions, and get everyone (mostly) on the same page. They should really WORK on this, or maybe Balanced Housing could step up and start soliciting input at citizen hearings. But otherwise it's like driving down the highway and not looking more than 10 feet ahead. (One other mention: $6 million later we have a building that CAN'T hold a large public meeting. Genius! I sincerely hope the Novato Theater, if it get's up and running, might provide space for larger assemblies. What the planned seating anyway?)
Tina McMillan February 06, 2013 at 08:47 AM
Looking back on this article is a sort of nightmarish dejavu. SUNN members cry foul and complaint that they are mainstream supporters of Novato and yet during the recent submission of the draft housing element it was Katie Crecelius that presented the letter to the city planners and that delivered the letter to Sacramento to tell HCD that the draft element was not doing enough. SUNN is not mainstream. SUNN is an arm of the Marin Community Foundation. They advocate for affordable housing built without a tax base in what ever city still has land. That turns out to be Novato. Where was Marin Community Foundation when Ross used Marin Art and Garden Center and Branson School for their affordable housing? Where was SUNN and other special interest groups when Ross's draft housing element passed with no attempt to ascertain if these properties stood even a chance of being developed. SUNN is not mainstream and while their generosity is based on the funding of MCF their desire to add more and more housing to Novato without additional revenue for schools and city services is just not a balanced or moderate point of view.

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