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Future of Novato Housing Up for Debate Monday

Novato Planning Commission will hear from city planners and the public about the draft housing element of the revised general plan.

Land-use zoning will be the topic Monday night at the Novato Planning Commission — specifically for five sites in the city designated as possible sites for housing developments.

Members of the city planning staff are to unroll the draft housing element for the city's general plan update, a document that has to be filed every seven years and approved by the state government. Dry as that chat sounds, individuals and groups fighting against any sort of mandated housing quotas will be riveted and full of questions.

Pam Drew of the Novato Community Alliance, one of the groups battling against force-fed housing mandates, has described the city's draft housing element as "largely a reasonable document in an unreasonable climate of strict regulation of the California housing supply by state housing laws and of even tighter enforcement by regional agencies like the Association of Bay Area Governments." 

City planners have noted repeatedly that failure to pass housing-element review by the state's Housing and Community Development Department would invite lawsuits from public-interest groups. Tina McMillan, a member of the Novato Community Alliance, said there are obstacles to passing a housing element with fewer than 30 units per acre of multifamily housing.

"We will be under scrutiny by HCD as well as agencies such as Public Advocates and Marin Fair Housing," she said. "It is up to us to prove that we have satisfied every law and every objective throughout this document. It would be helpful if the city could tell us what nonprofit groups were involved in the process of creating the housing element and which ones have threatened litigation as a means of controlling density or any other objectives."

The San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition circulated an email to its members saying, "It is important that city officials know that we are still out here, watching the proceedings, monitoring progress and questioning along the way. This is a long, drawn-out process, but we need to stick with it to ensure that they are taking our concerns to heart." 

McMillan, who has been watching the affordable housing debate closely for several years, said she hopes the city and special districts would consider waiving fees associated with second units so that large housing complexes won't be as necessary to meet quotas.

"Helping individual Novato residents succeed in caring for our aging and disabled population is as important as supporting the development of affordable housing by nonprofit developers," she said. "We need to encourage the city to see the individual resident as making a valued contribution.

"For the most part the focus has been on streamlining projects created by affordable housing developers. These are large projects that do not take into consideration the needs of existing residents that want to make a personal contribution toward reducing homelessness and helping family members in need. If we can see the individual as a valued partner then perhaps we can work together toward these goals."

In July 2011, the Novato City Council selected five sites 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
  • North 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.

At Monday's meeting, the city staff plans to go over subtopics such as best management practices for multi-family rental housing, multi-family housing design criteria, incentives for the creation of accessory dwellings and land-use provisions for emergency shelters for the homeless. 

The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. at Novato City Hall. Note that the parking lot between City Hall and Machin Avenue is no longer available because of construction of the new city administrative offices. Attendees are urged to arrive early and be willing to walk a block or two. 

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Bob Ratto October 15, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Nice article.I sincerely hope the commissioner's and council will at least treat existing homeowners/residents/taxpayers fairly. Novato has seemingly been Ground Zero for AH, and allowing ABAG to unilaterally force feed their mandates on existing residents will only benefit developers, and not existing residents. When the City is willing to "work with" aka waive fees for non profit (in name only, as they are immensely profitable) developers, it is the remaining existing rate/taxpayers that must shoulder an increased burden. The City should also think seriously about developing a legitimate means of enforcing/creating a zero tolerance for crime...perhaps fines/fees charged for police calls in excess of "x" over a certain period.
Keith S. October 15, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Oh boy! Low affordable housing, in other words, sec 8 and other programs to bring more interesting people to Novato. If you want more crime and problems just keep building "affordable" housing. Check out the crime statics at Hamilton Village. 35% to 50% of the crime always occurs around "affordable" housing. How sad for Novato!
Craig Belfor October 15, 2012 at 02:26 PM
If you eliminate the felons and druggies (like the affordable housing rules state we must), Novato may not have enough eligible applicants for this housing boom to come. That means the Novato city council, after approving the building of these safe houses, will then troll the gutters of Richmond to fill these units. They did it last time. Why not just enforce the rules-no felons or druggies. Take the police dogs to Wyndover and Bay Vista to sniff out the druggies that shouldn't be there on our dime, and we'll have more room for the deserving workers who should be there.
Ralph Canine October 15, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Some Novato residents will read this helpful article and say, "Whew! At least, none of those public housing projects are going to be built near my property!" Actually, no Novato property owner should relax. These quotas are only for the next seven years, and it's impossible to know whether or not ABAG will come back and demand more. The Marin Community Foundation and the Marin Housing Authority have decided that Marin County is racist because Marin's demographics aren't the same as other Bay Area Counties. The aim is to move people around "One Bay Area" like pawns on the chessboard, until there are no differences among communities: everywhere in the Bay Area will be equally "diverse" and equally high density. This won't work in practice. Some communities have the political clout to keep out any affordable housing: Ross, Kentfield, Belvedere, Tiburon. In addition, these and other Marin towns are largely built out, with fewer opportunities for infill than Novato. Since Novato is still semi-rural, we have easily re-developed acreage that will continue to be a magnet for affordable housing developers. Every single parcel on the original list will be a target in years to come, including the school district land in San Marin, The Quest church, etc.
Lloyd October 15, 2012 at 02:49 PM
This proposed element is not perfect but it meets the spirit and intent of AH for seniors and hopefully low income workers. The use of 20 units per acre allow for more than enough units to be developed by true AH, non-profit developers and takes the carpetbagger, for profit, tax avoidance interests partially out of play. As for the supposed public interest groups such as public advocates and Marin Fair Housing if they are truly interested in actual AH being built then they should be the first in line to applaud and approve this element. If on the other hand their real intent is being a shill for greedy developers then they can threaten and file as many lawsuits as their evil hearts want. There are some things worth fighting for and the current 52+ thousand residents of our town after proposing a fair and equitable element should be willing to say enough and fight no matter if it takes forever.
Jim L October 15, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Everybody deserves a place to live and some can pay more than others . We are all humans. Relax and let live
Al Dugan October 15, 2012 at 04:24 PM
The article states "City planners have noted repeatedly that failure to pass housing-element review by the state's Housing and Community Development Department would invite lawsuits from public-interest groups. " Novato built 85% of the low housing in the housing cycle 1996. - 2006 Novato, which is 20% of the population built 51.4% of all affordable housing in Marin. The city could invite law suits if they are not in compliance with Government Code Section 65584(d). This requires “Increasing the housing supply and the mix of housing types, tenure, and affordability in all cities and counties within the region in an equitable manner, which shall result in each jurisdiction receiving an allocation of units for low- and very low income housing." Now is the time to assure this equalization.
Jack October 15, 2012 at 04:50 PM
You are correct, everyone should have a place to live and some can afford to pay more than others, which is why I paid a pretty penny to move to Novato many years ago, I stepped up so my family would have a nice safe place to grow up and live. Unfortunately, I am still making those huge house payments based on the nice quiet safe town I moved too, but now there are panhandlers on every street corner, crime ridden neighborhoods all over town, drug problems, gang problems, etc... Well my youngest daughter(who was born here) only has a couple more years of school left and she too will be off to college. My wife and I, we will be selling our place and looking for a new town in which to live that doesn't believe in destroying the community/exclusivity with low income housing, which will probably end up not being in the Peoples Republic of CA.
Baxter October 15, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I skimmed over the Novato Draft Housing Element. Wish I could be a speed-reader, but I'm not. I'm just curious why David Wallace wasn't mentioned in the "Acknowledgements"? I believe his name isn't mentioned anywhere in the Housing Element document, yet he was employed by the City of Novato as Community Director of the Housing Element and led the City Manager's Ad Hoc Housing Group. The man never slept! I'm glad to see that the last page of the Draft Housing Element shows the "Wood Hollow Pasture" site with an overlay of the PG&E main gas pipeline adjacent to the AH buildable site. Nice place to put senior housing where it would be more difficult to evacuate during a gas leak, or God forbid, an explosion. Don't believe the 30 units per acre for senior housing. The laws says that there is no guarantee for that. It sounds nice and safe to have senior housing at all the sites listed above, but highly unlikely that will actually be the case.
Eleanor Sluis October 15, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Below is information, which says that the required housing units for Marin County are 2,292 units for the years 2014-2922. It is important that this total be equalized for all Marin because Novato can neither afford more traffic and higher density in the schools nor the loss of small town benefits to the majority of middle and low-income families and seniors trying to support higher infrastructure and social costs. Novato must be cautious where the new units will go and what the impacts of design, high density, traffic, and extra students are on all of us residents. The planned densities do not take care of children’s need for healthy living. For example: Richmond, East Oakland, East Palo Alto and East LA are still trying to combat not only the ills of high density, poor design, few trees, low scoring schools, crime, drugs, but also a need for federal funds for social and infrastructures. Novato has done more than enough. Time to say let’s play fair. The planned densities do not take care of children’s need for healthy living. Planning with the county and other cities equalizing requirements helps. See: MTC and the Regional Housing Need Allocation Plan. Executive Board will adopt the final 2014-2022 RHNA numbers in 2012. www.mtc.ca.gov/pdf/OWP_April_2012_Final.pdf http://www.mtc.ca.gov/mtcsearchresults.html?cx=016812836077459525326%3A-fzu6517tn4&cof=FORID%3A10%3BNB%3A1&ie=UTF-8&q=Draft+Regional+Housing+Need+Allocation%2C+2014-2022
JaneDoe4 October 15, 2012 at 07:43 PM
I certainly wouldn't have bought my first home where I did last year had I known they were going to build low income housing at the end of my street. As a single woman, living alone, this concerns me greatly. Never mind jeopardizes any future return I might hope to get on my house.
Tina McMillan October 15, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Baxter We can designate a higher density for senior housing and a lower density for multifamily housing, and if the state agrees it will be so. What we can't decide is which kind of housing is built at any of these sites. All could be senior, all could be multifamily and any combination that fits the zoning regulations. It was a huge step for the city to offer up an element at 20 units per acre knowing it will be challenged. Our default density of 30 units per acre would have been a guarantee of approval. That is the real issue. We want to support the challenge to the 30 unit per acre default on multifamily housing to establish a new criteria. The real test will come once we submit the housing element to the state. We must hope that all the work that has been previously done, like the 100% of the RDA tax increment spent on affordable housing at Hamilton, will weigh in with HCD and with AH developers. If Novato's housing element is challenged by HCD they will have to give us a list of corrections. That is good, we can still argue that we are able to provide housing at the new default density. That is exactly what is being built at Oma's Village at Hamilton. The real test is whether Public Advocates, Marin Fair Housing and Marin Community Foundation will accept Novato's approach to providing a wide range of housing alternatives to the people that live here.
Answerme October 16, 2012 at 12:12 AM
do you have a link for that stat?

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