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Legislation Sought to Address Marin's Housing Density

Assemblyman Marc Levine and county attempt to define densities for suburban areas like Marin rather than metropolitan areas.

Tam House No. 2 in San Anselmo is one of Marin's affordable housing complexes


By Marin County Patch blog

The County of Marin, in partnership with Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), and Bay Area nonprofit housing agencies are seeking to create legislation that would clarify the default densities for suburban cities and counties situated adjacent to major urban metropolitan areas.

On Tuesday, Levine introduced AB 1537 to allow Marin County and three other California counties to have their housing designations changed from metropolitan to suburban and help them maintain their character while accommodating a diverse workforce and population. A change in those counties would amend the minimum density of future housing developments from 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre.

The collaboration was several years in the planning stages. Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears, the Board President for 2014, said the proposal addresses a vital issue for Marin County. 

“For many years, the County has looked for the most effective ways to meet its affordable housing goals, the success of which is critically important to many of our hard-working residents,” she said. “The County supports a change in law to better reflect the suburban character of our Marin communities, and in alignment with our neighboring North Bay counties. We look forward to working with Assemblymember Levine as the bill goes through the Legislature.”

The Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process to identify the number of housing units that each jurisdiction must accommodate in its Housing Element, and it differentiates the allocation by several affordability levels. Long-term housing needs are set by the California State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and, for Marin, units are allocated by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

Although specific language is still in the works, the proposed bill would affect counties with a population of less than 400,000 that are located in a metropolitan statistical area with a population of more than 2 million. If it became law, Marin, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties would be re-designated as suburban as would incorporated cities within those counties that have less than 100,000 residents.

Marin was designated as metropolitan when the default densities  were first developed in 2004. While supportive of affordable housing opportunities, Marin Supervisors have negotiated with regional and state officials along with nonprofit housing developers to see if the default housing density in Marin could be amended to be more consistent with Marin’s suburban character and density and the suburban designation of the other North Bay counties.

“Hopefully we’re on the cusp of legislative relief so that we’re in line with suburban counties near us that have a default density designation of 20 units per acre,” Supervisor Susan Adams said. “This would give us breathing room and help us stay within the character of our county. The stars are aligning, and we're now gaining statewide support for our efforts.” 

Supervisor Judy Arnold added, “Our hope is that this change will ultimately result in affordable housing that is more acceptable to our communities.”

As required by state law, towns, cities and counties must deliver a plan to meet existing and planned housing needs. In September 2013, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a Housing Element update to its Countywide Plan that had a default density of 30 units per acre and outlined comprehensive procedures for housing that is affordable to Marin’s diverse community and local workforce. On Dec. 31, the state HCD certified Marin’s Housing Element update.

While the update was in the works, many public hearings and spirited debates took place about housing density as it relates to Marin’s character. Brian Crawford, director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, said the Housing Element generated unprecedented public interest with density concerns among the chief sticking points.

“The update prompted a broader debate about local growth control and the extent to which affordable housing has a place in our communities,” Crawford said. “Some of those discussions were difficult but also very important in thinking about the type of community we choose and aspire to be."



Bob January 23, 2014 at 10:59 AM
This is a good first step but it still rubs me wrong that the state says the cities must identify properties for subsidized housing even against the property owners will. Once your property has been identified and deed restrictions placed on your property, then only the high density housing can be built there. The property owner has lost control.
Roger January 23, 2014 at 11:42 AM
Bob: I agree with you. Public taking of private property used to require government paying a market-rate price, but this new AH approach narrows the market value by narrowing the pool of potential buyers to just dense AH developers. Bob Ratto can tell you how it feels to have your own residence listed on a draft list of AH sites. I would like to see Novato list the home of a AH activist here just to have a "practice what you preach" learning lesson.
Baxter January 23, 2014 at 11:58 AM
If AB1537 is passed, will it include Novato's certified AHO sites that are now at 23 units/acre, not including density bonus? Will AB1537 apply to these sites regardless of the overlay designation at 23 units vs 20?
Tina McMillan January 23, 2014 at 03:50 PM
There have been multiple attempts to get the county of Marin and its communities with populations over 50,000 redesignated Suburban. ======================================== To date all have failed including Levine's previous bill: AB 745 “Allows Cities and Counties to Appeal Housing Designations” which has somehow morphed into a parks bill when you search the state website. ========================================== "AB 745 would allow cities and counties to appeal their housing density designation. This will allow a more collaborative conversation about how to create a housing plan that better reflects the character of a community." This bill would authorize a city or county to request the appropriate council of governments to adjust a density to be deemed appropriate if it is inconsistent with the city's or county's existing density. Vote: majority. Appropriation: no. Fiscal committee: no. State-mandated local program: no. ========================================== What the county could have done was what Novato did do; they could have provided a rationale for a lower density and supported it with and EIR. For Levine to try again is noble but for the county to act like there are no other options is irresponsible. They had seven years to work on this issue. Novato spent the past three and half years creating a compromise that resulted in lower density based on the actual sites and on the existing neighborhoods. ========================================== Sometimes a bill is just a gesture to appease people who will get nothing in return. Does Levine expect to succeed where others have failed? Is the county sincere in its suggestion that reduced density is a solution to creating community support? Is the real problem the county's reliance on Plan Bay Area to solve everything?
Tina McMillan January 23, 2014 at 04:07 PM
Baxter: It wont apply to the previous element because the plan was developed to show we could meet our RHNA with 20-23 units per acre on the proposed sites. This would apply to the 2015-2022 housing element. If Novato uses the same approach it may not need the law to change because we only have 415 units in the next cycle and we can reuse existing sites that have not been developed but that were already examined in the EIR. That is the wonder of getting state approval. Once the state says good job they also take away any carry over from previous elements of unbuilt RHNA.
Sylvia Barry January 24, 2014 at 12:03 AM
This is a good step and a necessary step to bring forward. If Marin is not changed to Suburban designation for a maximum 20 units per acre density; Marin then will stay Metropolitan designation, for a maximum of 30 units per acre density. .......................................................................................... Whether we can fight RHNA/ABAG is a separate battle and should not replace this. ..........................................................................................Just because other bills failed before does not mean it can't be successful this time. This bill also sounds different than AB745, which allows city/county to choose; this bill sets a new rule for suburban/metropolitan. ......................................................................................... And if Levin is willing to take it on, why will we not want to go all out and support this effort? If he wins this battle, Marin county wins, we all win!
Tina McMillan January 24, 2014 at 02:39 AM
Sylvia: The County and San Rafael can both do what Novato did to lower their base density by demonstrating it can be made to work financially and meet the RHNA for the cycle. I believe Marin's other cities already have a lower default density because they have populations of less than 50,000.
Sylvia Barry January 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM
Tina - Regardless of what the county, San Rafael can do, it is only right to change our designation from Metropolitan to Suburban. Marin county is and should remain a suburban area.
Tina McMillan January 25, 2014 at 11:50 AM
Syliva: If it can be done, then its fine to try but to suggest that not using the tools that are available and that work, because you keep submitting legislation that fails, is not really trying. In essence if the Supervisors are trying the same thing over and over again and it continues to fail they need to change their approach. They now have eight years to work on the next Housing Element. If Levine tries and fails, again, then the Supervisors need to consider the process that Novato used to lower density that fit the sites suggested for affordable housing. They also need to shift from 100% affordable to 20% so that no one part of the county, like northern San Rafael, will be impacted in one cycle. Currently northern San Rafael is carrying the lions share of growth. In Marinwood it may change their property tax base from Basic Aid to Revenue Limit. If you read the articles posted on Save Marinwood you will see the same kinds of comments that were expressed in Novato three and a half years ago when the first sites were selected for our current element. Novato was proactive and succeeded where the county failed to even try.
Sylvia Barry January 25, 2014 at 01:13 PM
Tina - I have to respectfully disagree with you on this in regards to this bill. Changing Marin's designation from Metropolitan to Suburban is a bill we should all support (pending on the details of the bill), and if we fail, we need to try again. It was discussed among Novato Patch readers in details a couple of years ago when we first worked on the housing elements. This does not mean that county or other cities should not look into other means to do the right thing for them. But objecting to this bill because of that does not make sense to me.
Craig Belfor January 25, 2014 at 02:05 PM
Einstein said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result". Levine knows this, but most voters will only look at his resume of bills introduced in the next election and vote for him based on his "attempt" to save us. Better to try what works. Do what Ross is doing. They designated the Art and Garden Center! (Really, I'm not making this up!) it'll never happen. I've said it before, and I'm saying it again- we need the lawyers from Ross.
Sylvia Barry January 25, 2014 at 02:21 PM
Craig: But then again, I don't think most people were aware of this designation - I learned about this during the Novato Housing Element discussions. The situation is different now as most of the Bay Area is aware of this. Times change, situation change, awareness change, and the angle of this new bill is different from what was proposed before. So, no, it's not the same thing. If we don't try as a county, we are short changing ourselves.
Bubba six pack January 25, 2014 at 03:26 PM
This bill will go nowhere, and Levine knows it. The metros have more votes than the country people, and they'll endorse AH dumping just like Reno does when they engage in patient dumping by sending uninsured patients to San Francisco on a bus. Richmond filled up AH in Hamilton with this same ploy, after we over built demand at Bay Vista. The real problem is told at Warner Creek, where just 9 of the 60 units are occupied by Novato residents. It's bad enough that up till now, we had the only canine unit (on our tab) in the county, and every other department used it, but building this much AH, only to see it inhabited by out of towners on our tab is an insult to my intelligence (and taxes). I tried to bring this up to Levine at the party last night, but the line of brown nosers was too long. I got up to third in line, but then they started serving cake.
Hopkin January 25, 2014 at 04:15 PM
Bubba, I hope those noses didn't get stuck into the cake!
Bubba six pack January 25, 2014 at 05:06 PM
Cake is like condos. You always want to get a corner unit. I got one early. Still, until eating, drinking, and smoking qualify as a triathalon, Susan Stompe's record was still the star last night.
Tina McMillan January 25, 2014 at 05:55 PM
Sylvia: ========================================== Its not the bill I am against its the hypocrisy. When Huffman was in office, and he tried to discuss the issue of suburban designation for Novato's housing element he was promptly shut down. Novato then turned lemons in to lemonade by creating the necessary legal rationale to let HCD give us the lower density. This was no easy task. We should be celebrating our victory. ========================================== In the January 14 Supervisors meeting Judy Arnold described the efforts of Novato to create Affordable Housing Overlay's as having relinquished local control over CEQA. To suggest that all the work, by all the neighborhood groups and individuals, to create a compromise that met our affordable housing needs at a lower density, was a mistake, was Judy's position. She then grasps at straws by saying Levine is going to rescue the county with a bill that changes our designation from Metropolitan to Suburban. ========================================== It's all a lot of smoke and mirrors. The county didn't take the time to address the density issue because they wanted the sites designated for development to be as dense as possible. Katie Crecelius sits on the county planning commission. Katie is a founding member of SUNN. SUNN tried repeatedly to sandbag the housing element so it would not pass at the lower density all the while stating that density is not an issue. In truth Judy Arnold wants the development along the 101 corridor to be as dense as possible. According to Steve Kinsey that has been the plan for 40 years. Katie Crecelius wants these areas used to house the poor. That has been the plan since the Marin Community Foundation changed their strategic goals some eight years back. ========================================== Like many people who care about Novato, it is getting tiresome to be lied to, whether it is by our own Supervisors or their cohorts. Judy Arnold has chosen Katie Crecelius as one of three possible successors should she be incapacitated. http://www.marinij.com/ci_19878595 Katie already sits on the county planning commission and while the Novato housing element was being worked on she was a member of the ad hoc working group, she went to Sacramento with Huffman to debate density and she is a founding member of SUNN which is the one group that keeps criticizing the city for not doing enough to promote affordable housing and SUNN is the only Novato group receiving funding from Marin Community Foundation. ========================================== What I find disturbing is the fact that a single resident, not elected to any public office, has such a tremendous impact on local land use planning decisions. Instead of being an advocate for all, Katie is choosing one issue and putting that issue above all others. To have our local public officials accept her views as the science behind land use planning decisions is irresponsible at best. Putting people in densely populated buildings along the freeway is a form of segregation that will negatively impact communities in a variety of ways. We need less dense housing interspersed throughout our communities with people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds that develops slowly with jobs and other aspects of a strong economy. If the economy is weak adding more affordable housing will make it more brittle. Affordable housing pays no property taxes which in Novato is our primary funding source of city services. ==========================================
Roger January 29, 2014 at 02:18 PM
Tina: Why do you guess there is crime at Bay Vista apartments in Hamilton, but no crime at Mill Works apartments on DeLong (where 20% of the 124 units are AH)?

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