As soon as the end of this week, or as late the start of next week, the blueprint for Novato's housing plan will be sent to the state agency that's eagerly awaiting it and start giving the city planning team an idea whether it will earn a passing grade.
After a meeting of the Novato Planning Commission on Monday night, feedback from the public and commissioners was sufficient enough to cancel a follow-up meeting tentatively planned for Nov. 5 and allow city officials to send the a draft version of the housing element to the State of California Housing and Community Development Department. Planning manager Elizabeth Dunn said the draft version would be sent off to Sacramento, starting a 60-day response period.
"We heard the concerns of the community and the commissioners and felt it was a really good meeting," said Dunn, who along with several other city employees have slogged over the 2007-2014 housing element portion of the city's general plan update for about two years.
The capsulized version of the issue is this: The city has to update its general plan every seven years by law, and the housing element of the plan must show some accommodation for future growth. This update was the first one that forced the city to identify pieces of property that could be rezoned to accommodate housing complexes, and pinpointing those spots was a vein-popping, finger-pointing ordeal in 2010 and 2011.
Things calmed down since July 2011 after the Novato City Council decided on five sites that could be rezoned to meet the city’s remaining regional housing need for low- and very-low income households for the 2007-2014 cycle. They are:
- 1787 Grant Ave. (aka Bridgepoint Academy preschool), 2.14 acres, 36 units/53 senior units)
- Landing Court (aka RV storage lot), 2.11 acres, 30/45 units
- Redwood Boulevard (aka Wood Hollow pasture), 39.92 acres, 80/120 units
- 7506 Redwood Boulevard (aka next to Trader Joe's), 1.76 acres, 35-53 units
- 1905 Novato Boulevard (aka Senior Access), 1.06 acres (21/30 units)
Although nothing will be built there unless the property owners agree to a project, the city plans to rezone the sites to make them feasible for affordable housing and adopt amendments to set a minimum density of 20 dwelling units per acre, the city said. After identifying a need for senior-only units as well, the city plans to establish a maximum density of 30 units per acre for senior housing.
After the planning commissioners heard from about a dozen local citizens about the city's long-term plans to meet state mandates on housing, including possible rezoning five properties to allow for affordable housing complexes, the commissioners gave their own feedback and asked questions of the staff. At that point, assistant city attorney Veronica Nebb took a 22-minute break to come up with answers to key questions, then restarted the meeting to provide answers. The meeting wrapped up at about 11:30 p.m., four hours after it started.
"I had some concerns, such as who is behind the sentiments in the writing of the housing element — that wasn't really answered," said Pam Drew of the Novato Community Alliance, a watchdog group that is staunchly against force-fed housing mandates from state and regional agencies. "... The staff said they had clear orders from the City Council to get the show on the road, but it had never been clear whether the council had been able to comment on the element before it was sent off."
But Drew, one of the most vocal people to emerge from the two-plus-year struggle to iron out the housing element, said she was OK with the draft version.
"The NCA essentially backs this element although we still have worries," she said. "It's been a difficult process and we're pleased to be at this point, but we're still not clear about the incentives offered to affordable housing development and it's not clear whether the density (per acre) could go beyond 30 units. I don't know how it's going to work out in the end, but it looks like the city staff has given us enough of a fair shake. They've done some good work."
Planning Commissioner Jay Strauss said he was taken aback at the start of Monday's meeting when Dunn said she was hoping to send the draft version of the housing element to Sacramento by the end of the week. He said he was under the impression that it would take longer to incorporate comments from the public, the Planning Commission and the City Council, but Dunn and Nebb said the City Council wasn't going to comment at this point. The final version isn't expected to be wrapped up until spring, Dunn said.
"I think it's a good document, although I found some things to quibble about," Strauss said. "I have one deep concern, and that's about the depth and breadth of the feasibility study, but nothing can be done about that at this stage. (The state) has 60 days to provide their comments, and believe me, they will. ... At this point, the city staff wants to get those comments from HCD to see where they are. The City Council is aware of what's going on and they want to get to the point where they're getting feedback from the state."
Novato’s share of the regional housing needs for 2007-2014 is 1,241 units, with the following income breakdown:
- 275 units affordable to very low income households (22.2 percent)
- 171 units affordable to low income households (13.8 percent)
- 221 units affordable to moderate income households (17.8 percent)
- 574 units affordable to above moderate income households (46.3 percent)
According to the report, Novato’s 1,241 units represent 19 percent of the 4,882 units assigned to Marin County. In comparison, Novato’s share of Marin County’s total population is 20.6 percent.
Novato’s regional housing need for the 2007-2014 planning period is substantially less than the 2,582 units from the previous seven-year planning period. The city approved 2,959 units during the 1999-2006 period, exceeding the housing requirement by 15 percent.
The income levels are based on the Marin County Median Family Income. In 2012 the MFI in Marin is $103,000, and income levels for four-person families are:
- Extremely Low: Families with income less than 30 percent of MFI (under $33,300).
- Very Low: Families with incomes between 30 and 50 percent of MFI ($33,301 to $55,500).
- Low: Families with incomes between 51 percent and 80 percent of MFI ($55,501 to $88,800).
- Moderate: Families with incomes between 81 percent and 120 percent of MFI ($88,801 to $123,600).
- Above Moderate: Families with incomes greater than 120 percent of MFI (over $123,600).