Hoping to further reduce the city of Mill Valley’s share of state-mandated new housing development over the next three decades, city officials are making what they hope is a new and convincing argument.
Citing U.S. Census data mined with the help of Marin Economic Forum CEO Robert Eyler, city officials sent off a letter last week to the Association of Bay Area Governments in an effort to convince the regional agency to lower the number of new housing allocated to Mill Valley between now and 2040.
“We’re pushing as hard as we can in the hopes that we’ll minimize what has to be built, especially since it’s really not necessary,” Mayor Garry Lion said. “What we are experiencing is significant population growth but without the need for new housing.”
The lack of necessity, city officials argue, comes from an influx of young families that have increased the number of people per household for the first time since 1960. In its letter to ABAG, city officials argue that population growth is being accommodated within existing housing.
“ABAG’s projections make the assumption that housing will be necessary to accommodate the new population growth in direct proportion, with the same number of people per house,” Lion said. “That’s a sweeping assumption and it doesn’t match with the data.”
As further evidence, city officials cite the influx of young families to Mill Valley in recent years, a trend which has sent the Mill Valley School District’s enrollment booming by more than 800 students over the past six years and by nearly 200 students from just last year alone. The district’s preliminary enrollment for 2012-2013 is 3,158, more than 50 students more than they projected just a few months ago.
“If this phenomenon continues for the next 10 years, we’re going to need a whole new school and I have no idea where that would even go,” Lion said.
Coupled with an excess of housing inventory – state Department of Finance data indicates that there are currently 454 vacant homes in Mill Valley (report attached) - and the fact that 15 percent of Mill Valley residents are over 65 years old and living alone, city officials say that trend will continue as the local real estate market improves.
“(Our) population growth is being caused by on-going turnover in our existing housing from long-term, post-family residents to an influx of new, growing families, so Mill Valley's growth is coming via larger households,” the city argues in its letter.
The city’s letter is its latest effort to lobby ABAG to lower the amount of new housing allocated to Mill Valley. There are two related and parallel processes going on at ABAG related to housing allocations that stem from SB 375, a state law that seeks to tie transportation corridors to land-use planning as a way to cut greenhouse gases. ABAG is the regional agency charged with allocating the state housing mandates to counties, towns and cities.
The first, the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, covers 2014-2022. In a draft report earlier this year, the agency allocated 292 new households to Mill Valley, and dropped that number to 129 in a July report (attached at right).
The longer-term housing allocation is via the Sustainable Communities Strategy, which stretches through 2040. For that period, the earlier report allocated 750 new households to Mill Valley, while that was reduced to 450 in July, a number city officials was still too high.
Lion said the city’s Sept. 11 letter was specifically in response to a deadline for the RHNA numbers, which ABAG is expected to adopt later this month. The allocations will inform the city's update of its Housing Element as part of its ongoing update of its General Plan, which was last refreshed in 1989.
The letter also repeats earlier arguments made by city officials relating Mill Valley's geographic constraints like steep hills and floodplains, as well as the theory that ABAG’s job projections for the city don’t reflect historic employment trends or the high amount of home-based businesses in town.
The Mill Valley City Council is set to discuss the latest letter to ABAG and the larger issue of housing allocations at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
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