Two years after Novato became insensed with forced zoning and planning for future housing, community groups from around Marin County have formed an organization called the Marin Communities Coalition for Local Control to unify opposition to state housing mandates.
They plan to show off that newfound unity Wednesday night at the , when the Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers hosts a number of representatives from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the agency tasked with allocating those housing requirements.
“The primary thing is that we show up to hear what ABAG is saying to our elected officials and be witnesses to that,” said Mill Valley resident Susan Kirsch, a co-founder of the coalition along with fellow Friends of Mill Valley member Bob Silvestri. “I’m hoping the greatest number of people will show up to see how ABAG is conveying its mission and strategies.”
Pam Drew of the Novato Community Alliance said the coalition is a critical step to show unity against force-fed growth policies. She said one of the goals is to obtain trustworthy demographic data and learn more about the formulas used for devising the Regional Housing Needs Allocation numbers that municipalities must meet.
"Lots of the coalition members are from homeowners' groups, which is very important," she said. "... We want to know why the numbers are vacillating so much from time to time. We want more than propaganda. We want statistics that are based in reality and explainable to the public."
Another group co-founder is Novato's Leslie Peterson Schwarze of the San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition, which opposed the rezoning of properties around the city for low-income, high-density housing complexes. The Novato League of Neighborhoods also has a voice in the new coalition, which was formed last year.
Peterson Schwarze said state legislation is causing communities to react they way they have against RHNA numbers.
"Everybody living in this county picked this county for many of the same reasons — that it's not congested, that it has open space, that our towns have personality," Peterson said. "Lots of people are sacrificing bigger homes elsewhere because we believe what matters is the quality of life, the neighborliness, the respect for the environment and the lack of congestion.
"... If we're lucky and we can get our act together out our level, there's a good chance we can create critical mass and pull in people from other regions. What we're talking about is common sense and applies to the whole state."
Drew, Peterson Schwarze and hundreds of other residents stood up to the city of Novato as it worked to update the housing element of its general plan, which has to plan for population growth and zone for possible future housing. The housing element, still in the process of being completed for the 2007-2014 span, included for the first time a mandate that property — both developed and undeveloped — had to be pinpointed as potential locations for housing to accommodate new residents in the coming years.
The group has kicked into high gear this month in the wake of the in protest of the housing requirements the agency is tasked with allocating among the nine-county Bay Area. The move does not remove Corte Madera’s obligation to meet the state-mandated targets for both market-rate and affordable housing, which ABAG is charged with allocating.
Those targets 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 and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have spearheaded the implementation of SB 375 in the Bay Area through what has been dubbed Plan Bay Area.
On the heels of Corte Madera’s decision, its leaders, along with other local officials, have suggested forming a Marin Council of Governments, or MCOG, that could act as a similar force as ABAG, but with more local control. The coalition hosted a meeting on that subject last week that included San Rafael City Councilman and 10th District state Assembly seat candidate Marc Levine, along with supervisorial candidates Eva Long and David Weinsoff. Corte Madera council members Carla Condon and Mayor Bob Ravasio and Larkspur council member Larry Chu also attended.
Wednesday night’s MCCMC meeting will feature a presentation from ABAG Planning Director Ken Kirkey, along with its president Mark Luce, on the agency’s implementation of the state’s goals to house the Bay Area’s population growth and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Because the MCCMC consists of the mayors and councilmembers of the incorporated cities and towns in Marin, its meetings are public. But the format of the meetings — social hour, dinner, brief agenda and a presentation from a third party — doesn’t call for the public to comment on specific agenda items, just at the beginning of the meeting during public comment time. The coalition members will have signs featuring the ABAG logo with a red slash through it in case their time to speak is limited, Kirsch said.
“It’s not necessarily that we all think that ABAG should be eliminated,” Kirsch said. “We just think it’s important to come to the table and hear and learn and deliberate about who is this agency and what their mission is.”
Kirsch said she wasn’t sure how many coalition members would attend. But the meeting has also been the subject of email blasts from the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights. The group alleges that the “rights of property owners are threatened today by governmental action at every level, usually under the banner of environmental protection,” according to its website.
“I don’t know who they are,” Kirsch said.
The Marin Communities Coalition for Local Control hopes to gives Marin communities more of a voice in the ABAG-led housing allocation process. To date, some fo the communities who have spoken up loudly in opposition to the housing mandates — namely Novato, San Rafael and Corte Madera — have seen their allocation go down. For instance, less than a week after its council voted to leave ABAG, Corte Madera saw its 30-year housing growth cut nearly in half, though the allocation was made prior to the council’s decision.
Mill Valley, in contrast, saw its own allocation spike by 240 units since preliminary numbers were released in 2011.
“We need to make our voices heard,” Kirsch said.
The 411: The Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers meets at the Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto, starting with a social hour at 6 p.m. Go here for a full agenda.