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Council Approves Housing Element and Final EIR in 5-0 Vote

Angry residents sound off on developments, saying they don't want any affordable housing near their homes.

The Novato City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to certify the town’s Housing Element, a part of the General Plan that sets aside potential sites for new development. All, but one of the five sites are theoretical because no developer has yet expressed interest in them.

But residents worry the projects, all of which have allocations for some affordable housing units, will eventually be built, lowering property values and impacting quality of life issues like traffic and noise.

At least two dozen residents spoke against the allocated sites and some even went as far as to say Novato should forgo the nearly $900,000 in transportation funds from the state rather than approve what they described as a “faulty” document.

“This awful state law from Sacramento forces municipalities to take actions opposed by a majority of their residents; it pits one neighborhood against another in a nasty game called pin the tail on the donkey,” said Ken Lowe, who lives in northern Novato where two of the proposed sites would be located.

“When you approved Atherton Ranch, you created an obligation to undertake compatible development...You cannot reverse course as you’re doing tonight without calling into question your own commitment to fair dealing.”

All of the developments will include 20 percent affordable housing units for families making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, which would be interspersed with market-rate homes.

Community Development Director Bob Brown said the city was already late in turning in its Housing Element projections, which were due this summer.

“Lacking a certified housing element, we are open to litigation and lawsuits,” Brown said Tuesday. “Pleasanton recently lost a prolonged legal battle over its failure to achieve a certified housing element, losing a $4 million in the process...as well as Corte Madera 16 years ago...There are no more extensions available. We’ve played out the timeline as long as we possibly can.”

In the past four years Novato has been discussing the Housing Element, the city has already reduced its Regional Housing Needs Allocation numbers, Brown said, allowing for less density, which would be lost if the city failed to certify its Housing Plan.

Other residents were concerned about “undue concentration” of the new developments because two of the five proposed sites are located in northern Novato on Redwood Boulevard. City planners said the spots were selected from about 100 original locations based on what was available. An ad hoc working group then zeroed in on the existing sites.

These include:

  • 1787 Grant and Novato Boulevard

  • McClay Rd @ South Novato Boulevard

  • Landing Court

  • Redwood Boulevard and San Marin Drive

  • 7506 Redwood Boulevard, the vacant property next to Trader Joe's.

See our Google map of the proposed sites

Some residents were concerned about zoning that would make it possible for another homeless shelter to open in Bel Marin Keys, less than two miles from the existing New Beginning Center on Hamilton Parkway.

"If these shelters are built, we will have an undesirable concentration of homeless shelters in our area,’ said Merry Alberigi, a Bel Marin Keys resident.

Another resident criticized the zoning saying there were no guarantees that multiple shelters wouldn't be built in the area.

City staff the fears are baseless because there are currently no proposals to build a homeless shelter. 

"It's a lot of concern for something that's unlikely to happen," Brown said. "Because who builds shelters? It's nonprofits and there is a lot of work required to make it happen. You need a lot of money and the for-profits are not doing it."

The Housing Element will now be turned into the state by January 2014.

What do you think about Tuesday's vote? Are you a family that makes under $100,000 in total annual income? Will this plan help you afford to live in Novato? Sound off in the comments below.

Have a news tip for Novato Patch? Drop Local Editor Karina Ioffee a line at karina@patch.com. You can also Like us on Facebook , Follow us on Twitter @NovatoPatch or start your own Blog.

Craig Belfor November 20, 2013 at 10:07 PM
Roger- if you are right, then we've just fallen for the old bait and switch by our own city council, the very group that's supposed to protect us.
Baxter November 21, 2013 at 12:46 AM
The 5 Housing Element sites are not "for sale" developments. These sites are zoned "Affordable Housing Overlay" (AHO). They will be developed with high density units of housing that are deed restricted as "rentals" with the inclusionary of AT LEAST 20-30% of units for low to very-low income residents. A Non-Profit developer can build for 100% low to very-low income (as in senior housing) if the developer can obtain the funding (which has become very competitive). We shall see....That's why it is very important that the Novato General Plan include mandatory best management practives for these deed-restricted low-income housing projects - such as on-site, live-in managers who are trained in handling behavioral problems, criminal issues, back-ground checks, etc.
Roger November 21, 2013 at 01:13 AM
I think a major California oil company owns most of the AH tax credits in this State. Why not make your corporate donations pay back with tax credits instead of just deductions? Section 8 approach hurt government budgets, but AH tax credits hurts g budgets indirectly and hidden, while growing AH units. Building trade unions unite with corporate America and housing activists. Ouch.
Karina Ioffee November 21, 2013 at 08:21 AM
I asked Bob Brown, the city's community development director who is overseeing the process, and was told it applies to a both apartments and homes.
Bob Ratto November 21, 2013 at 09:44 AM
Karina Mr. Brown is being perhaps more than a bit disingenuous. The likelihood that there are homes for sale in these developments is probably quite remote. Lenders will not lend on an ordinary basis to a buyer in a development with a high percentage of rentals (absent extra security, etc). Given the lack of property and income taxes, development of AH is an extremely lucrative industry, especially when coupled with Novato's lovely ability to give away money (fee waivers, phony loans) it does not have (deficit), to developers who will not contribute to the tax base in the future.
Roger November 21, 2013 at 12:51 PM
I am glad Pat Eklund shared at the end of the hearing how she really feels now about the AH site near the Buck Center (Site #3- San Marin Business Park) after the EIR showed some alternative sites were better. If you watch the video of the Planning Commission meeting on September 16th, you'll see that most commissioners actually share her view. This site, right next to the highway, is best suited for business, not housing. The nearby neighbors wanted the Business Park to stay zoned for business, but time ran out for submitting the Housing Element to the State.
Dave Robertson November 21, 2013 at 02:49 PM
All this is going to do is increase the giant sucking sound you will hear when Novato finally develops a healthy housing market. When I moved here as early as 15 years ago, this town had charm and potential. Now it is a money grubbing vehicle for it's own government - full of AH and to be filled with more. Yes, at the lower price points you will get people to move here. But it will take a while for any developer who doesn't want to throw away their money to build anything. I am surprised that the failure of the Millworks did not set an example of how the last thing we need is more low(er) income housing. Now we will develop a reputation for a city that is intent on ruining it's home values so that the City Council can play politician. The upper end (over 1M) is still virtually non-existent in terms of activity. There are lots of people like me who are looking to relocate - with Novato quickly becoming LAST on their list of destinations. We have a City Council that couldn't care less about it's citizens. We have housing growth but no business or industry to support that growth. In summary, we care taking what was a nice little city and turning it into garbage. We bow to the state that is intent on self-destruction. This is Novato, kids - not Mill Valley. We become less and less a part of Marin each time we deal with all of this. Finally - why couldn't the Council and Michael Frank have sites chosen that would never be developed by someone in their right mind? Instead we choose sites that will (mostly) work - if the US economy ever climbs out of the toilet. Well, the next town I look to live in will definitely not be Novato. I am sure that there are lots of residents who feel the same.
Dave Robertson November 21, 2013 at 02:57 PM
I am lucky that I am old enough to not have a mortgage anymore. But there are many residents who have lots of them. They are stuck. I can walk away with a couple hundred $K in losses. It isn't fun, but it's better than living the rest of my life in a self-destructive city. Does anyone in this City think long term? Apparently not!
Roger November 21, 2013 at 03:15 PM
Dave: If you move, it will have to be outside of the State since the AH mandates are statewide.
Dave Robertson November 21, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Roger: True, but Novato seems to have jumped eagerly into the pit. There are lots of cities and towns that are not destroying themselves and their property values to do it. Jumping eagerly into the mess is a bad move. The country is taking a hard look at the last 5 or 6 years and realizing that we cannot sacrifice our lives totally for social egalitarian. In addition, California is realizing it is not growing as planned, nor can this state afford any longer to pay for everyone's life. In a few years I predict a big conservative swing as we all are more than eager to survive the hole we are digging ourselves into. I think the debacle of Obamacare (not just the computer issues) are going to get worse and show us what the Europeans have finally learned. Back closer to home - I think California will realize the same. So let's wait a few years ( or offer untenable options for housing element sites), and let the whole program crash and burn rather than go down the pipes with it.
Dave Robertson November 21, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Instead, like the amateur city government we constantly elect, we take the Boy Scout approach to this housing nonsense. Novato can't afford any more bad moves. This city has used 8 of its 9 lives. We need seasoned professionals sitting in that brand new building of a city office. Right now, we have just become the poster child for the "plan".
Roger November 21, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Dave: You have a point....Ross seems to be able to list sites for AH but it never gets built. Of course, our council woman Athas sells housing and seeks out land owners who want to do AH for listing as AH sites.
Dave Robertson November 21, 2013 at 05:05 PM
I wonder about all of it. If you go to Denise Athas' realty website - I can't find any listings for sale? I've looked before and occasionally found one or two. Perhaps I am not looking correctly. A Realtor on the City Council seeking out AH developers?
MakaylaP November 21, 2013 at 08:34 PM
I think its a great idea for a family of four who makes 100k to have afforable housing. I dont believe in section 8 housing. We just want a home that we can afford and live comfortably!!
Craig Belfor November 21, 2013 at 09:00 PM
If you truly fit your statement, I welcome you to our community. That's what affordable housing means to me. Hopefully your dream won't get morphed into high density section 8 housing for people who don't work.
MakaylaP November 21, 2013 at 10:08 PM
Of course! I'm all for Affordable housing and not section 8 low income/ no income!! I work Full-time in a senior position and my Hubby is Mr. Mom! We are doing all that we can to save to buy our own home! We love Novato! Just wish there were more affordable single family homes. All that is available now are condos in not OK neighborhoods for sale..
Bob Ratto November 21, 2013 at 10:33 PM
MakaylaP First piece of advice, keep saving, it seems super hard to do, but you will adjust. Second piece of advice-crappiest home in the best neighborhood..you will have better schools and better neighbors..and those neighbors will be willing to help you, because improving your house, is really improving the neighborhood. I don't know all the current "deals" being promoted, but get in as soon as you can, interest rates are great, and values have probably come down a bit from the inflated levels of the spring. Buy!..and come to my annual block party!
Roger November 22, 2013 at 06:46 PM
MakaylaP: When I was 26 I bought my first house. It was the cheapest house in San Anselmo. A real fix'er upper. I painted it, replaced some rotten wood, and made the place look nice. 20 years later I sold it for 5 times what I paid. If you buy a gov't subsidized house, they won't let you realize such a market rise gain for your own pocket. Also, since you won't benefit fully from a gain in later sale price, you will have less incentive to keep it looking real nice over 20 years.
Joe Robinson November 22, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Dave Robertson. Re: your 11-21-2013 @ 2:49 PM entry. We moved to Novato, Partridge Knolls II just before Thanksgiving, 2011. Our first "Oh no" was when we learned that the Fireman's Fund expansion was still approved but the developer bowed out due to anticipated expenses to rebuild the Atherton/San Marin overpass. Our 2nd "Oh no" came in early 2013 when we called the number on the For Sale sign on the property from Wood Hollow to Black John Road. A man with a British accent said that Wood Hollow& Redwood Blvd. would be a multi unit very low to low income subsidized, excuse me, "Affordable Housing". We joined a neighbor hood group opposing the proposed development. We met with each City Council members, attended and spoke at City Council meetings, distributed flyers, etc. Not to mention the two charrette meetings in September by the Planning Commission. When the draft EIR came out we all wrote letters of protest pertaining to most aspects of the EIR. But, Planning Commission approved the EIR & Housing Element "as is" with recommendations to the City Council to approve the EIR. We all attended and spoke in heated protest, along with other neighborhood groups, the City Council meeting on 11-19-2013. Result...the vote was 5-0 in favor of the EIR & Housing Element as recommended. So, now my wife and I are beginning our search for another place/city to live in. Disappointed & disillusioned, but a little smarter. We liked Novato.
Dave Robertson November 22, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Joe: Sorry to hear of your misfortune - I truly am. I am not that familiar with Partridge Knolls, but isn't it a series of mid to upper range homes off San Marin? I can't see any middle to upper end expansion ever at this point. Before the crash, it was getting too costly to build them in groups of around 15 or less. Now, the whole top end of the Novato market seems to have fallen apart for good. If you keep on adding affordable or lower end housing, you ruin the upper end. Now the low to very low income subsidized has been Novatos way of keeping up growth, and destroying the town at the same time. The City Council wants this stuff - and they don't listen to their constituency, so save your breath. I would bail as soon as things are OK for you to do so. We've all taken losses at some point in our lives. Our home is pretty immune from the low to very low income issue, but since the top end has fallen down in Novato (anything over $1M), we will lose somewhat. We've owned our house for 15 years, and the "Zillow" value isn't much more than we paid for it. Last spring this bracket was moving, but between the economy and Novato's self destruction - the market here may never return without steep discounting. We are seriously considering Napa county as it is still sane, and not much further from SF than Novato is at most times of the day. But the homes there are pricey compared with Novato. It may take $1.5M to find anything substantial with some privacy. We liked Novato too until about 5-7 years ago when the city stared to tear it up and turn it into a mess, and (other than San Rafael) made it lose any charm or potential it ever had. I'm all for giving people a break, but not at the expense of trading my back yard. If that makes me a NIMBY, so be it! Novato seems to have gone way overboard with bad development. All I can say is that if you presently have a nice home, Novato is too risky a place to grow old in. Coming from the South Bay I have seen enormous growth that, while not very attractive, can be done as to preserve the surrounding community. As someone pointed earlier, Ross seems to find affordable housing sites that no one wants. Why Novato can't do the same is beyond me. The best of luck to you as you are not alone. 2014 is about the best we will get to bail and flee elsewhere. We can let our wonderful city council continue to live here.
Joe Robinson November 22, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Dave: Thanks for your comments. One thing, at 70 I am approaching "old". No time to waste.
MakaylaP November 22, 2013 at 10:24 PM
Bob: Thanks for the advice. Met with our Realtor Kathleen tonight and shes working diligently to find us a home! **fingers crossed** Thanks for party invite!! Roger: Do you know of any crappy house for sale under 300K? If you do! call me!!!
Dave Robertson November 22, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Joe: you've bot 10 years on me. Close anyway. Life is always short. Don't need to waste it to appease some people wanting to spend even more of my money!
Roger November 24, 2013 at 12:34 PM
Belfor said 11/23, "Since Novato has built more affordable housing in the last ten tears than the rest of Marin COMBINED, I wonder how the other guys get away with it. Ross designated the Marin Art and Garden Center as the only potential site, and everyone knows that that will never happen. Meanwhile our girls on the city council just approved FIVE sites for affordable housing! You think we had trouble before? They had to import section 8 holders from Richmond to fill the last round of housing built, the senior affordable housing called Warner Creek has only 8 out of 60 apartments filled by Novato residents, and we're being used as the dumping ground by not only Ross and the rest of Marin, but by the entire bay area. How do they get away with this? Because they know our city council is filled with bozos on the take. We need to save our town from this dirtbag invasion. Novato used to have the highest concentration of police and firemen living in this town per capita of any city in the state, but they saw the future and bailed. As the sailors say, "When the rats leave the ship, don't be far behind" Cops aren't rats, but they are the canary in the mine, and they see the truth first. The majority of residents in Novato are homeowners, but most of them don't vote, so the city council just keeps giving the town to people who will pillage us for money by using the affordable housing front for profit. Tell your neighbors to read and vote."
Roger November 25, 2013 at 12:37 PM
Belfor said 11/24 on SMART article, " I'd like to see a survey on AH to see how many of them actually have jobs. It just might be that we're building housing for what we think are underpaid workers who need cheap transportation to their jobs when the result will be that we just go to Richmond to fill these vacancies with section 8 holders who don't work, like we did in Hamilton. We've been sold a bill of goods before by our council in cahoots with the developers, and I don't trust them anymore." ======= But Belfor, City attorney told Eklund many months ago that Federal housing law doesn't allow priority be given to local residents for AH open slots.
Roger November 25, 2013 at 09:57 PM
Craig: The reason why Hamilton was skipped in this AH cycle is for the situation you described elsewhere in the Patch today...where you said, "By the way, why was Pat the only council member who tried to get Novato residents first crack at affordable housing in Novato? Aren't the others also elected to look out for us? I remember when the Hamilton housing was built for sales to low income, the priority was to be given to Novato residents and workers, but when the speakers at the meeting revealed that "Transitional" housing would also be built within the complexes that people would buy, I asked who these people would be. The speakers got very evasive, so I realized that they were covering up for halfway houses. I told my daughter to pull out. Since then I've moved people out who were constantly victims of burglaries, car break ins, and patio furniture theft. Affordable housing is a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Dave Robertson November 26, 2013 at 02:08 AM
I have lived in Novato about 15 years - and have watched it grow from a reasonable town to the dump of Marin. Yes, there are upscale areas of this town - and even some nice places to go. There won't be much of anything left in 20 years. If the County could get rid of us, they would.
Roger November 26, 2013 at 12:22 PM
Interesting letter in the IJ this morning from a retired police officer. He projects that crime will increase near the selected 5 sites.
Sharon Moretti November 28, 2013 at 10:25 AM
Is Novato still a 'sanctuary' city? Are people living in the U.S. illegally now eligible for AH? Didn't the Dept of Homeland Security declare 'sanctuary' cities illegal because they invite lawlessness? I ask these questions because the whole concept of AH should not be based on income alone. We all know terrific people whose incomes would qualify them for AH, but . . . how carefully would applicants be screened? I fear political correctness has blinded local governments to basic common sense. The very last thing Novato, or any other community, needs is to be occupied by illegal aliens. (And 'occupied' is the salient word.)
Ray Shanahan November 28, 2013 at 11:59 AM
Well what do you expect! They delayed any decision until after the election! This is par for the course. Eklund and the rest of the bunch procrastinated until after the election. Isn't there a pattern here? When is Novato going to wake up and elect people that respond to the electorate and fight for what they want. They would rather go along with the State mandated unjust rule to get their deserved gas taxes.

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