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Affordable Housing Advocacy Group Critiques Novato's Housing Plan

Stand Up for Neighborly Novato, which is vying for more sites in Novato for affordable housing, points out issues with the city's draft housing element.

A Novato-based group working to help create more affordable housing opportunities said the city's draft housing element, which was just sent off to Sacramento for state review, contains some positive steps toward making Novato more sustainable for its growing population but still falls short in several categories.

In a letter to the Novato Planning Commission, the Stand Up for Neighborly Novato group said programs that encourage mixed use and the development of vacant lots and other underused properties take the city in the right direction. But more sites need to be rezoned for housing and development needs to happen rather than just be discussed, the group said.

"SUNN looks forward to working with your commission and (city) staff to assure that housing element programs actually achieve their intended objectives and meet the requirements of housing element law," SUNN said in its letter. "We believe from our work in the community over the last 22 months that more sites are necessary to meet Novato’s great need for housing, and that HCD will agree with this point of view.

SUNN, established in 2011, said Novato needs more workforce housing to maintain a thriving community and provide options against Marin's highest-in-the-country rents that "still price out many of Novato's workers, seniors, persons with disabilities, and recent graduates."

In its letter, SUNN said the density per acre of 20 units mentioned prominently in the draft housing element could pose a problem with the state.

"The city would be on shaky legal ground if it were to allow higher densities for market-rate multifamily housing than for affordable housing," SUNN wrote, "because it would discriminate against affordable housing, in violation of state law. Your commission should consider higher densities on key infill sites to facilitate an improvement of the Mission Lodge property and other properties on North Redwood (Boulevard)."

SUNN said the draft element fails to acknowledge 62 units from the previous planning period that ended in 2006 and that the city overstated the number of lower-income units that have been approved for the current 2007-2014 span.

Katie Crecelius, speaking on behalf of SUNN, said the group hopes the Planning Commission will follow the recommendations in the letter. But as of Monday afternoon, SUNN had not heard anything from the comissioners or staff about the letter to the Planning Commission, she said.

The city planning staff will, indeed, draft a response to SUNN's letter, city spokeswoman Peggy Flynn said Monday. The draft housing element was not modified based on the letter before it was sent to HCD, she said.

The Novato Planning Commission will have a chance to provide comments on the draft housing element and the feedback it receives, and Flynn said the commissioners might choose to include elements of SUNN letter.

What do you think of SUNN's stance? Are you supportive of more affordable housing in Novato?

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Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr November 03, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Right on, brother. I commute from Novato to San Francisco. Where do I sign up for the government to buy me a house in San Francisco, preferably Nob Hill, at taxpayer expense? Where is it in the Civil Rights Act that says that taxpayers have to pay for the rent/mortgage of people who cannot afford to live in their neighborhood in order to achieve diversity quotas? I thought that people were supposed to be treated equally, not preferentially, or did political correctness void the Civil Rights Act?
Al Dugan November 03, 2012 at 08:04 AM
Wow, I commute Novato to San Francisco also....sign me up for Nob Hill. I could walk to work.....that is the goal, right. I am on board. Let me know. Thanks Jerome.....
Al Dugan November 03, 2012 at 08:15 AM
If it quacks like a duck........
Tina McMillan November 03, 2012 at 09:25 AM
http://www.neighborlynovato.org/ The Rev. Pamela Griffith Pond Katie Crecelius Annan Paterson Marla Fields Lynne Wasley
Dave Robertson November 03, 2012 at 09:28 AM
I hear a lot here about the need for affordable housing, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The real truth is that Novato, like most of Marin, has way TOO MUCH housing stemming from the housing bubble in the mid 2000's. What we are seeing now are artificially high prices because no one can or will put their home on the market. When people can again afford to do so - we will ALL live in affordable housing! The builders, developers, and politicians clearly have nothing to do - so they now promote the only housing that can be built in today's economy - subsidized housing for very low income families. This creates the ILLUSION of growth, but will glut the market with yet even more housing when markets finally open up. Yes, there are poor and low income people out there - but there are lots of people in need - many of who are simply middle class! A few years back I was having a cardio exam - and the staff told me that the young cardiologists and other medical staff could not afford to live in Marin, so they generally bought homes in the East Bay and commuted. Why do we give housing preferences to lower income residents? Don't our young Dr.'s and lawyers,etc., deserve a right to be able to afford to live here also? This is so typical of the political landscape these days - we are so obsessed with helping the poor that we hurting the middle class. Instead of trying to preserve our city in stagnant economic times, we work hard to set it up to fail later on.
Tina McMillan November 03, 2012 at 09:38 AM
Whether or not you agree with the issue of Affordable Housing what I found completely unfair was SUNN members sandbagging our Planning Department by sending HCD a letter saying the Draft Housing Element should be rejected. Having read the Draft Housing Element and spoken to the people in the Planning Department I did not attempt to make things more difficult by pointing out inconsistencies, such as the way AH developers are overly favored by most of the changes in how we approach development. My feeling was that we had arrived at a compromise in which there was enough local control to protect existing neighborhoods from excessive infill development and high density development. If SUNN is able to push HCD to force Novato to take on the lion's share of AH for the county then they will be breaking state laws that say the entire county must create AH options and not allow just one or two communities to carry the tax burden. Novato schools are grossly underfunded. If what Marla says is accurate and we are already carrying southern Marin's working poor then they need to supplement out ADA. They make 3 to 4 times the ADA per child due to property taxes that are much higher. As for where we live, most people that live in Novato commute long distances to reach their jobs in order to pay for their homes. Until we can increase our tax base housing must conform to the needs of the community. Non profits like SUNN have Marin Community Foundation to pay their bills.
Dave Robertson November 03, 2012 at 09:44 AM
Sorry Edward, but you echo the typical SUNN party line accusing anyone who opposes you as nasty, mean spirited people who "smear" and "rant." The reality is that the people who currently live in Novato and who have spent a great deal of their hard earned money to live here for many years - deserve to live here and not have their property values and neighborhoods devalued by rezoning to bring in hundreds of units of low income housing that Novato does not need! Like most people, I paid with my shirt to find a home here. Does that count for anything? Or do we throw away our money to house the poor? Novato "once was" a pleasant suburban/rural town on the outskirts of Marin. It is now being forced to be classified as urban with all the negative aspects that go along with that. Does SUNN really support the further devaluation of our homes in these recessionary times? If SUNN really wants a civil dialog, why do they favor solutions that will drastically reduce the value of our residents most valuable assets? Do you know how many long-standing residents of this city are underwater in their mortgages? Why does SUNN want to make this situation worse? If you disagree, then show me one credible piece of data that shows that building all this low income housing will not do precisely what I have just outlined!
Dave Robertson November 03, 2012 at 09:52 AM
Much of the Bay Area has become high income only - a fact that we all must learn to live with. We are not the only area in the United States with that issue, nor will we be the last. I moved here from the South Bay. Since that time, prices in the South Bay have been so prohibitive that I will NEVER be able to afford a home there (much as I would like to again!). I accept this as a fact of life. The South Bay generally ignores most of the ABAG mandates. Our City government cannot think beyond tomorrow, so they give in and let themselves be pushed into socially engineering Novato into an unsustainable mess. How could we possibly attract middle or upper-middle income residents when we are swelling with lower income housing. No one wants to buy a house that is far less likely to appreciate than in other towns. Ross and San Anselmo are perfect examples of places that attract people looking to buy -but not throw their money away. Novato sets a lower standard and then lowers it even further bowing to ABAG's demands. Our City Council is weak and incompetent and needs to be voted out! If left to continue, Novato will look Vallejo look like Beverly Hills in comparison!
Bob Ratto November 03, 2012 at 03:21 PM
I can't really just have Nob Hill, I have put 56k miles on my car in just two years, so I am going to need free housing in many directions. With the free housing I will have more money left over for other things.
Roger November 03, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Marla, doesn't Tina above have a good point about tax-supported services spread thin in Novato and it is unfair that southern Marin wants to house their low-income here on Novato's tax dime. Putting their cars in 101 commute traffic hurts greenhouse gases. Edmondson above said that non-profit housing is the problem. Marla, do you agree? How much of Marin's AH is market-based, half? A lot of Americans over generations raised themselves up from poor to middle to upper class via residential property ownership. Should we really direct young moderately low-income families into an AH investment cap where there is little incentive for them to make home improvements? Give the poor fish, or teach them fishing? I bought an old fixer in San Anselmo when was young and sold it later for a huge profit. Shiny new AH boxes might have been a dangerous investment distraction back then for me.
Marla November 05, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Owners of property designated for affordable housing pay full property taxes until construction begins. Then non-profit owners of affordable housing are exempt from property taxes based on assessed value. This exemption also applies to churches & schools who provide a “public good.” Non-profit owners of housing are still required to pay parcel taxes for paramedics, schools, libraries, parks & other public services. Novato could consider requiring all non-profit owners to make a payment to the City to replace lost City property tax income; however, it would not bring much money to the City. For example, a $10 million housing complex would have a property tax burden of 1% or $100,000. After the State, County, schools, and special districts took their share, the City of Novato would receive only 7% of this or about $7,000. That’s not much money given Novato’s annual budget of $30 million. While non-profit housing developers are exempt from property taxes, they pay significant one-time impact, permit and hookup fees to the City, as well as local water and sewer districts. For example, Eden Housing’s 61-unit Warner Creek Senior Housing Community (now under construction) paid almost $2.5 million in fees to the North Marin Water District, Novato Sanitary District, Novato Unified School District, and the City of Novato. Those payments certainly help Novato’s budget and all neighborhoods. Eden Housing also paid over $165,000 in property taxes before construction began.
Marla November 05, 2012 at 06:11 PM
For additional revenue, Novato should consider a commercial linkage fee, like the one in San Rafael and Corte Madera. Developers pay this fee to help cities cope with an expanded workforce due to their new commercial projects. If those projects contain homes for some workers, then they don’t have to pay. A commercial linkage fee would go a long way to provide more resources for Novato and encourage big commercial developers to include some homes for their workers on-site. I would hope we could work together to advocate for this if you are concerned about tax-supported City services.
Marla November 05, 2012 at 06:26 PM
If you search on affordable housing impact on property values you ail see plenty of research and evidence that contemporary affordable neighborhoods do not decrease property value & may even increase it. In Marin, affordable housing is 2-3 stories maximum, & generally around 20-30 units/acre. I can tell you from personal experience that we bought our home in Hamilton 13 years ago before 500 units of affordable housing was built there, & our home value doubled during that same time to a point where we could no longer afford to purchase our home. The 32 unit Next Key Center has been a wonderful addition to our community, offering culinary arts classes and special dinners etc. The Villas is 130 units of affordable senior housing and was welcomed as it took a derilict old building and fixed it up. Meadow Park (100+ affordable ownership homes) houses many people who work for our schools & local stores, and Creekside's 32 unit neighborhood next to Meadow Park is another lovely community with mini parks and a much used community center. If you look at the Eden housing website, it gives you a nice picture of some of the communities that they build. You would never know by looking at them that they are "affordable" which means for people who earn up to $90,000 a year for a family of 4 in Marin.
Marla November 05, 2012 at 06:27 PM
In fact, take a gander at San Clemente neighborhood in Corte Madera. Corte Madera wasted millions on a frivolous lawsuit fighting that, lost and built it anyhow. Now neighbors I've spoken to say they should have never opposed it as it is a lovely community, but they didn't understand how nice it would be.
Al Dugan November 05, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Maria, I have not checked your numbers but are you really saying $7,000 a year is not significant? I love "before contsturction begins"...well really it is about the next 50 years isn't it?
Al Dugan November 05, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Maria, can you please share your research sources that indicate high density affordable housing increases the value of suburban housing in small towns?
Al Dugan November 05, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Marla, my apology for getting your name wrong...my iPad font was a little too small.
Isabel November 05, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Marla, How much has is cost the Novato Police and Fire departments to "support" Wyndover and Bay Vista? Who do you think pays for that? We are tired of the rhetoric - no one is buying it anymore! It really is a shame your passion and education is being so poorly misused.
Tina McMillan November 05, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Marla If you read the draft housing element you would know that everyone pays significant fees when they build, whether it is an individual homeowner, a for profit developer or a non profit developer. The draft HE (that SUNN rejected and criticized in a letter to HCD) proposed that AH developers have projects that would be streamlined, that would have costs of hooking up to water and sanitary, significantly reduced and that the city would also reduce other costs associated with development of new AH. You can't have it both ways. While you maintain that initial contributions are significant the actual long term burden on any community of the homes and families that it supports are greater and must be considered with any future development. Our school district has been a low wealth district because the property taxes it collects (we are not talking about bond or parcel) are insufficient to cover the costs of education in our community. That is fact, plain and simple, and until you can find a way to have multifamily AH housing contribute in the long term, to local schools, fire, police and other needed services, it is unfair to argue that what they give is enough. I don't think anyone foresaw the results of the current system on long term costs associated with AH development. In communities like Larkspur where there is a much larger tax base the effect is a tiny ripple compared to the tidal wave in Novato. Why did SUNN sandbag the draft Housing Element?
Tina McMillan November 05, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Linkage fees create some revenue. However, when it was argued by community members that Hannah Ranch charge linkage fees and include workforce housing as part of its development the city council refused. Did SUNN stand up for workforce housing at Hannah Ranch? Why did SUNN send a letter to HCD criticizing the draft housing element without first letting it go through the system to see what corrections were needed? SUNN's actions were detrimental to the confirmation of the draft element and will cause more grief because of threatened litigation. While SUNN says it supports the entire community it seems to me that SUNN only supports AH developers. It seems to me that when Katie submitted her complaints to HCD before the draft housing element had even been mailed, that SUNN members made clear their loyalties to AH above all else. It is not about taking care of our community and keeping it vibrant and fiscally sound for all. It is about focusing on one group, at the expense of anyone else, and certainly not with respect for the attempts at compromise that existed in the draft element. HCD is perfectly capable of saying no to a 20 unit per acre designation. SUNN's letter demonstrates the wide disconnect between AH groups and the community as a whole. Please be honest in the next wave of literature that hits the streets when you advocate for more affordable housing in our community. Please be clear about who you represent and why.
Isabel November 05, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Novato's affordable housing "advocates" - Katie Crecelius, Marla Fields and Marie Chan can no longer operate in the shadows since the community now understands what they have really been up to. They have been and continue to be mouth pieces for MCF, Greenbelt Alliance, Non Profit Housing, Live Local Novato, SUNN etc. - all the same machine The "good work" they have been doing all these years finally came under much needed scrutiny. The arguments are all rehearsed and repetitive and don't stand up to logic or reason. We as a community have had enough.
Dave Robertson November 05, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Lots of people here are talking about how Novato might get extra compensation for building more low income housing or how low income housing affects the city's bottom line. Quite simply: Why doesn't Novato simply consider putting it's foot down and saying "No"! More than our share is more than our share. If we keep on buckling to people like ABAG and SUNN we will have no breathing room. THe City Council has to tell them where to go. Period!
Isabel November 05, 2012 at 07:50 PM
The only ones receiving compensation for Novato's affordable housing are the developers and investors - MCF. Thank you resident "advocates." Take a look at MCF's numbers, why do so many of the wealthy invest with them? Follow the money, always. The homeowners of Novato will be left with the burden of paying for all this after our homes continue to depreciate.
Dave Robertson November 05, 2012 at 08:30 PM
The Novato City Council goes along with that. They are supposed to represent the people, but they clearly do what they please. Someone has to let the fox into the hen house! The city council keeps letting them in. You will never squash lucrative investment, but you can fight to keep it out of here. I don't see our city fighting this very hard.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr November 05, 2012 at 10:04 PM
The city council could put a foot down, but rather they agree with the Sacramento/ABAG social engineering that is destroying communities in California in favor of politically correct cities. But the council will not put a foot down and the citizens of Novato are asleep as to what is going on, and the citizens are not aware and DO NOT BOTHER TO VOTE.
Roger November 06, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Marla, thank you for trying to be constructive by offering the linkage fee idea to offset the loss in tax revenue for AH. That shows you are looking for some balance. Perhaps you could make your suggestion directly in front of the City Council at some future AH meeting. I would run up and endorse your idea along with many others who usually oppose SUNN. Maybe the IJ could run a photo and story of Novato being united on at least that AH linkage fee idea.
Dave Robertson November 06, 2012 at 07:05 AM
So ... Let me see if I have it straight. Novato (by whatever means) gets the developers to help pay the city for the increased costs of commercial and residential properties? Of course they will chip in if these projects are so profitable. And Novato would have city employes picking dimes off the street if they thought it would bring in revenue! How does this possibly address the fact that many of us do not want ANY of this development any longer? Quite frankly, if this development cost the city more than it could afford, the city "might" think about stopping this development altogether. Or is Novato the next Emeryville? At least Emeryville started as commercial. We are taking semi-rural suburbia and turning it into urban wasteland!
Dave Robertson November 06, 2012 at 07:12 AM
Constructive or collaborative? AH advocates may become united in helping the developers, but the rest of us still have serious objections. I guess AH advocates will not be satisfied until many of us who oppose them pack up and move to a more reasonable town in Marin - or anywhere else for that matter. You do know that lots of us have invested a lot if our hard earned money in our homes, and we will not sit back while it gets devalued (figuratively and literally) by the glut of affordable housing. Again, we already have too much housing in Novato!
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr November 06, 2012 at 06:06 PM
@Dave, it is not that the Novato City Council does not have guts. Rather, they agree with the Sacramento leftists, ABAG, SUNN social engineers. The 71% of Novato voters who did not cast a ballot in the last city council election isured that the incumbents will rule.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr November 06, 2012 at 06:17 PM
@Dave, the Sacramento/ABAG/SUNN leftists will not be satisfied until you abandon your property so that it can be converted to welfare-felon housing, and you move to Montana or Canada, not elsewhere in Marin. The leftists will not be satisfied until Novato and every city in California is a carbon copy of Pomona where 55% of the population speaks no English, or Antioch in which no law abiding citizen goes out after dark. Now THAT is diversity! And, no one, especially Secretary of State Debra Bowen-a Democrat-refuses to investigate the 6 million illegal aliens who are registered to vote in California. Do you wonder why the Democrats keep getting re-elected? Pedro Ramirez, former president of the student council at CSU Fresno, brags that he is an illegal alien and he is registered to vote in Tulare County.

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