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New Grassroots Organization Enters the Housing Debate

Stand Up for Neighborly Novato is formed to advocate in favor of affordable housing.

Stand Up for Neighborly Novato is the newest grassroots organization to enter the affordable housing debate — as an advocate.

“We formed because we’re concerned about the negative, divisive tone the housing debate has taken,” said Annan Paterson, a co-founder of the group.

“The debate has been lopsided and we want an opportunity for other voices in support of affordable housing to be included,” said Paterson, a former College of Marin trustee and longtime school counselor. “We’re getting comments about people fearful of entering the debate because it’s so divisive.”

The group has formed a Facebook page and created an endorsement form for residents to sign and show their support.  They have also created a website, www.neighborlynovato.org, so people can find out more about the organization and their mission.

On the website, Stand Up for Neighborly Novato provides examples of affordable housing they say meets the state’s guidelines and is also well-designed, fitting in with the surrounding community.

“We formed Stand Up for Neighborly Novato because Novato’s hometown character will be lost unless we provide reasonably-priced housing options to young families, seniors and Novato’s workers,” co-founder Katie Crecelius added. 

Novato is required to submit a housing element plan to the state for certification in 2011. An ad hoc citizen’s working group, formed by City Manager Michael Frank, is identifying locations, densities and other factors to make recommendations to the Novato City Council on the plan.

“Our goal is to work with the City Manager’s Ad Hoc Working Group and the Novato City Councilmembers to build a consensus around a housing element that the state can certify. Only then can we be sure that Novato’s future is on solid footing,” Crecelius said.

Crecelius, along with Stand Up's co-founders Marie Chan and Marla Fields, are also serving on the ad hoc working group.

The city's housing element plan needs to designate sites to be zoned for 1241 units of affordable housing on a seven-year timeline to meet the state’s requirement.  Already 572 affordable homes have been built or approved towards that quota.

Of the remaining 669 units required it is the 313 units of affordable housing in the category of low and extremely low-income that have been the most contentious and debated at city’s housing element workshops, particularly over the density component.

At the held by the city, Community Development Director Dave Wallace said that there is an option to provide a feasibility study in lieu of meeting the high-density minimum requirement of 30 units per acre. But the study would have to demonstrate to the state how affordable housing requirements would still be met.

Wallace said ignoring the state’s mandate, as some opponents have proposed, could possibly jeopardize state funding and open the city up to lawsuits.

Paterson said that some of the co-founders of the group have met with Assemblyman Jared Huffman and support his proposed legislative changes to the way that quotas for affordable housing are assigned by the state. 

But Paterson feels that the required number of 313 units of low-income housing is not unreasonable for the current and future needs of Novato.

“We understand that folks are working on changing the legislation on the requirements but in the meantime, that requirement is there, and we know that the need is there without the requirement,” Paterson said. 

Other groups that have formed around the issue of affordable housing include Citizens for Balanced Housing and the San Marin Compatible Housing Association.

Susan Wernick March 01, 2011 at 07:05 AM
At 13 units/acre, Bay Vista would not be classified as "extremely low density". It is a medium density development.
Lloyd March 01, 2011 at 07:40 AM
Lynne I am curious as to why medium density (22-30 units per acre) in your opinion provides a more sustainable & greener approach to building , maintenance and anti -sprawl than say 20 units per acre as suggested by others. I realize that sounds good but I'm curious as to the reasoning. In higher density for instance there isn't enough room in that acre for any meaningful outdoor space for families to use and therefore either we have to build close to parks or those residents have to commute to them. Does medium density have a density bonus added, 35% is generally the norm, so say those 30 units now become 41 units per acre and if so do we get credit in our current element for 41 units? When we are talking about 1100 - 1200 sf per unit plus mandated covered parking or garages 41 units seems a bit tight when I compare it to the Nova-Ro 3 example you point out. Have you actually visited a unit at Nova_Ro 3 to see how that density would work in your example for a family? I look forward to your reply. Thank you.
floyd fulmer March 01, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Floyd Fulmer Lynne, if the City will pre-designate Nova-Ro 3 type of housing on any land it rezones under the housing element it would help the overwhelming majority of Novato citizens begin to consider such development. However, the truth as you well know, is that if the City rezones any land under the Housing Element, no one, including you will know what kind of housing will ultimately be built on that land. Maybe your new neighbor is a group of Seniors who've earned their way into the Community and now want to downgrade a bit or maybe its a gang of ne'r do wells unwilling to earn their way into the comumunity.
Marla March 01, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Bay Vista is low density actually. The parcel is over 20 acres, so the density is about 10 units/acre. I've asked staff to let us know the exact figure, maybe they will present it tonight. Even the net density at 13 units/acre is pretty low, but I guess you could classify that as medium technically. The truth is, that is one of the reasons it is so hard to manage, it is so large and spread out.
Tina McMillan March 01, 2011 at 07:18 PM
This is the most current online copy of the Novato General Plan that I could find. In it there are definitions for density as well as designations for land use. If someone has a more current copy please share the link. Thanks. Novato General Plan CHAPTER I: LAND USE http://www.ci.novato.ca.us/cd/gp/gpchap1.html Medium Density Multiple Family Residential Multiple-family dwellings, two-family dwellings, detached or attached single-family dwellings, recreation, home occupations, community facilities, and other similar uses. Allowable Density Range (Dwelling Units Per Gross Acre) 10.1 to 20 According the the above link to the Novato General Plan 13 units per acre is considered Medium Density. To the best of my knowledge the difficutlies with management are more complex than design. We need to look at other factors and obtain direct comments from residents and neighbors to better understand the problems.
Marla March 01, 2011 at 09:00 PM
Tina, Bay Vista is 13 units/acre net density. They just looked at land immediately around the building space to calculate that. But the rest fo the desnities listed alluse the full parcel size for calcualtion. Clark Blasdel has said it is over 20 acres. Maybe you can find out the actual number as the city staff has not included it in tonight's presenaiton nor answered me onhe question. By the way, the medium/high density classifications are specific to cities. For example in San Rafael, the downtown density is up to 72 units/acre and affordable housing like Lone Palm Court or the San Rafael Commons show how well that can be done successfully. They are both 2 -3 stories, and have no crime issues and fit well with the csrurounding neighborhoods. The commomns won several design awards and is actually 86 units/acre, managed by Bridge Housing, devleoped by EAH. I think the Commons is senior housing at no more than 30% of their income (or extremely low income level) and Lone Palm is mulit-family housing and developed by EAH.
Marla March 01, 2011 at 10:29 PM
Bay Vista was built in 2006 by Shea homes, a for-profit company with no track record of rental – either affordable or not. They did single family residential at Hamilton (Traditions neighborhood) which must have been some sort of package deal with Bay Vista. Typically for-profit developers are not interested in affordable housing which is not lucrative and is very complex to build and finance. Anyhow, Shea didn’t follow best practices since they were rookies in rental housing. They did not initially do criminal background screenings, and the homes are really isolated and spread out making property management challenging. I think the overall size is big also at 225 units or over 750 people total. They had a few bad apples, and a few problems Most of the issues were not with residents but people who knew the residents like the ex who knocked the front door down of his estranged wife . The resident was a victim in that case, but the PR wasn’t good. Most people in the community are good hardworking folks, but it only takes a few to make things uncomfortable for others. So in 2008 we neighbors met with them at a Hamilton Forum and they changed their practices, started doing background checks etc. They evicted about 8 people over the next few months.
Marla March 01, 2011 at 10:32 PM
It is a nice neighborhood now, if you go there you will find kids out front playing soccer, people talking with their neighbors, a clean pool and office etc. I think the problems have diminished considerably. Chief Kreins reports Bay Vista is 1% of all police calls, but they are more than 1% of population. We ahven't seen any details of that yet, but it certinaly sounds like some of the earlier issues have been addressed. I hope the ad hoc committee will recommend policies to ensure either a developer with proven track record such as the local non-profits or if not, that they must follow best practices will ensure the kind of affordable housing that will benefit the community as the other 120 in marin already have.
Tom James March 01, 2011 at 11:06 PM
What the high density advocates do not seem to understand is the difference between building a three story, high density complex in downtown San Rafael and putting a similar building in a residential area of Novato that is dominated by single family, owner occupied homes. As to the issue of crime, only when the crime statistics are interpreted by police brass or the high density advocates do Bay Vista and Wyndover not stand out as creating a disproportionate number of police calls. I would refer anyone to the video of the June 7th Planning Commission hearing when at the very end three Hispanics pleaded with the Commission not to allow high density/low income housing to be built in Novato. Two spoke from personal experience and all said they had moved to Novato to escape exactly that kind of development.
Marla March 02, 2011 at 12:34 AM
We can set up policies that require either developers with good track records like local non-profits or if not, that they follow best practices. Any proposal has to go through planning commission, design review, and council before being built so the public has plenty of opportunity to comment and request background screenings, good design and management etc. But the truth is every city will have an occasional issue with a property manager/owner from time to time whether affordable or market rate and when that happens, it should be dealt with by code enforcements, meeting with property manager etc. Remember there are over 100 affordable housing developments in Marin and only two are ever noted as issues. These are clearly exceptions, not the rule.
Marla March 02, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Tom, I totally agree with you that any housing has to fit with the character of existing neighborhood. Most cities have a higher density for the downtown core which lessons the pressure on outlaying neighborhoods. Berkeley, in its bid to become the greenest city in CA, just passed measure R which was supported by Sierra Club and over 70% of voters. It raised height levels and densities in downtown. Densities below 20 units/acre would make many AH proposals unviable in Marin where land costs are so high. For example, Warner Creeks new senior development proposed for across from Wyndover is 27 units/acre. They did a sensitivity analysis and found out that at 15 units/acre they would have had a funding gap of $1.4 million, which I know the City of Novato doesn’t have to offer. Additionally, it is true that higher density equates to more efficient use of resources, less water consumption (one shared greenspace instead of individual lawns), less energy consumption (shared walls and smaller units to heat or cool). Of course, if they are within ½ mile of transit residents are also 10 times more likely to use it and the Marin County Survey showed AH residents own fewer cars, and drive fewer miles than the general public. As for what we want- we want viable AH that is safe, efficiently uses resources, and fits well with the character of existing neighborhood. each proposal should be judged on its own merit.
Tina McMillan March 02, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Marla, I think it is overly simplistic to say that the problems in any development can be solved by density alone. I don't have the same pressure to look at this issue from a conservation standpoint (sustainable novato green developments). I am just looking at the need for affordable housing for different populations and how best to make decisions that will affect where and how it is further developed here in Novato. San Rafael has the canal area which has become a high density, mixed used development. City data is a site where people can share information about communities. http://www.city-data.com/forum/san-francisco/735377-san-rafael-canal-area-really-bad.html Pacific Sun also has an article on the canal area in San Rafael. http://www.pacificsun.com/news/show_story.php?id=918 The comments are mixed. There are positive attributes to this neighborhood depending on whether you live on the east or west side. Yet it has evolved into an area of significant crime and gang activity. I think when many people think of high density/extremely low income what they are afraid of is the problems described here and in Marin City. I don't believe more space made Bay Vista to difficult to manage. There are many neighborhoods in Novato with lots of space and few crimes. I think we will find multiple issues affect higher crime areas and require flexible remedies. I still believe directly asking tenants for feedback is part of understanding what is needed.
Marla March 03, 2011 at 09:52 PM
Tina, I appreciate your efforts to track down information and post for us. Let me better explain what I mean by Bay Vista's low net density adding to the overall management challenges- There are 218 separate entrances spread out over approximately 17 acres. The manager's have cleverly devised a way to get around on a golf cart. Now compare that to a different design with groups of attached homes- one like Marion Apartments near the school district, or Mackey Terrace which is one building with only one entrance for all 50 senior homes. The property manager there knows every resident by first name and immediately knows if there is a visitor. If the Bay Vista homes had been done with say 8 buildings of 25 units each, it would be easy for managers to know if there are any visitors, or subletters etc. and to keep close tabs on things. Additionally, it would have allowed more open space for soccer fields, community room etc. which the neighborhood is lacking. I actually think the overall size is too big also, and 6 buildings of 20 units each might have been the best approach. It is important to learn from past challenges, and I hope our adhoc committee will take factors other than density into account as it is clearly more complex than that.
Marla March 03, 2011 at 09:56 PM
The city this week shows that the vast majority of existing apartments/condos in Novato were built at the "high density" range of 20 -30 units acre, but blend in well with the character of our community. They even showed the Commons senior affordable housing in San Rafael, which at 86 units/acre is still a 2-3 story building, well managed and designed to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. I think we need to work on policies that get us viable safe, well designed and well-managed affordable options for all income levels and we need some flexibility to do so.
Lloyd March 03, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Marla... I agree we need to work on viable plans. Most of what the City showed was in the 24 unit per acre range inclusive of density bonuses.( I threw out the absurdly low and high examples out of respect and good aesthetic taste) It is important to note that every example shown was of multi-family housing which will surely play a role in our element however we need to also have the same discussion regarding 2nd units, rehabs components and how to actually assure ourselves that we designate senior housing if we look to higher densities in that regard. Looking at past projects gives us perspective, experience and hopefully guidance. It also allows us to learn from our mistakes so as not to repeat them. I find it interesting that Lynne Wasley commented Monday and when I asked her to explain her views she has remained strangely silent. Perhaps you can ask her for me. I look forward to working with you and the Ad Hoc group to continue to bridge the divide and produce a Novato Housing Element that we can all feel proud of and support.
Tina McMillan March 04, 2011 at 05:07 AM
Marla - Thanks! This issue is complicated by so many factors and the research has also helped me. I know there are benefits to higher density but I believe it also depends on the specific group being served. I have no problem with higher density in senior, over 55 and disabled housing as long as the builders do a good job with soundproofing, heating and cooling and overall quality materials. In some of the online tenant complaints these issues were not properly handled and the problems that occurred as a result made the units unlivable.
Marla March 04, 2011 at 05:57 AM
Lloyd, I'm gad to hear we are working towards the same goal. I suspect like all of us, Lynne is busy trying to best juggle her home/family life with the tremendous amount of volunteer activities she is engaged in and thus hasn't been back to tread the 80 comments on this patch article! Yes, most apartments/condos fall in the "high desnity" 20-30 range. That is technically what high density means in Novato. It is two-three stories of multifamily homes. The few examples of affordable homes that are well below that desnity range (Bay Vista, Meadow Park and Creekside) are in Hamilton, and that is only because the land was available fairly inexpensively for the closure of the military base. we won't have another opportunity like that in Novato. I suspect that anything less than 20 units per acre is unviable now that land costs are so high, but we will hoepfully get some clarification on that at our next working group meeting. By the way, my offer from a month ago to meet and discusss these issues still stands. You have my email.
Marla March 04, 2011 at 06:12 AM
Tina, Tina, Actually disabled housing can be done at low densities because of the additional funding sources available, but I hear you in regards to senior housing. I hate to think of what Novato would have missed out on if the NovaRo I, II, or III hadn't been built, or the Villas, or Mackey Terrace jsut because they are "hgih density" at over 20 units/acre. The Villas didn't have air conditioning becuase they refurbished the old army quarters, but it is needed. Most of the seniors now have their own air conditioner units in the windows. But what about places like the Next Key, which just like senior housing also have very small units, little parking requirements and are built and managed by mission-driven local non-profit with a proven track record. The building is two stories high and fits in well with the character of existing neighborhood. Could you also support a proposal such as that? I will tell you that it is a truly treasured part of our community and I have loved geting to know some of the residents there.
Tina McMillan March 04, 2011 at 06:45 AM
Marla, I need to learn more about Next Key before I could say that I would support a similar proposal. Next Key is a transitional housing program run by Homeward Bound. Homeward Bound is a program with mixed reviews. On the one hand they provide an incredible service to the community. On the other hand when they supervised housing to clients in San Rafael on 4th Street they were above The Odyssey Bookshop and due to poor client management our store was repeatedly flooded by overflowing toilets and sinks. This occurred at least six times over a period of five years. When our lease was up, after 11 years at that location, Homeward Bound tripled our rent, forcing the closure of the San Rafael store. So as you can see there are many possible repercussions to businesses and communities when affordable housing is part of a mixed use development. I have learned from experience not to assume that affordable housing will be well managed. It is extremely difficult in these times to maintain a small business. Small business is the heart of the community. I would like to see developments that are small enough in scale to be held accountable to both residents and neighbors. Like you, I don't assume higher density is always inappropriate. I am grateful for Nova Ro and for the Rotary's contributions. I just don't like the idea of ABAG or the State making decisions that should rest with Novato.
Marla March 05, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Tina, Your comment about Homeward Bound surprised me, so I checked with their Director and it appears their is a misunderstanding. She said: Homeward Bound purchased the property in Aug., 2001 and did not raise the rent then. The Bookstore letter to us in Sept., 2001 said they were thinking about leaving when their lease expired in Feb. 2003 but would we be open to renewing their lease. We wrote back and said yes we would renew the lease. We actually raised their rent in April, 2002 by 2%, according to the CPI index and our lease agreement with them. We absolutely never tripled their rent. According to our records, they started renting that property in 1995 at a cost of $3,000+ per month. By the time we took over in 2001, their rent was $4,176. By the time they left, in 2003, their rent was $4,259. As for the plumbing, the property was built in the 1880’s and while we did have several instances of leaks, we paid for all of the items lost in the bookstore (likely boosting their sales for the month). Because of the antiquated plumbing, we eventually removed all of the sinks in the SRO rooms. The sinks in the rooms were the problem (there were no toilets in these rooms). It wasn’t “poor client management,” it was antiquated plumbing & our response is always to take care of any issue & mitigate quickly. Hope that helps assuage your concerns -- I too think it is critical to support local businesses and I know Homeward Bound has been a good neighbor.
Tina McMillan March 05, 2011 at 04:55 AM
Marla, The plumbing was antiquated, however, the flooding was due to overflowing toilets and sinks when the upstairs tenants would continue to flush and run water after the toilets and sinks were clogged. Many of the tenants were street people who had long term drug, alcohol and mental health problems. Some would spend time in the bookshop talking about their lives and reading. Peter and Gary were always respectful of the tenants but were not so kind to management when dealing with issues of flooding. I was there, I remember. The money we were reimbursed in lost stock and cleaning costs did not make up for the embarrassment of having to close parts of the shop and have the carpets cleaned and throw out damaged books. It was not profitable, it was disruptive and disheartening. The negotiations for the lease renewal in 2003 were with a gentleman who I believe has since retired. I don't believe he liked dealing with Peter. Perhaps the threatened increase in rent was simply to get us out of there. I don't have it in writing so all I can give you is my recollection of the experience. We closed in February 2003. As I said, Homeward Bound is a vital agency in our community but as a small business owner I would never, ever again lease property under a transitional housing unit in a mixed use development. Gilead House is an example of a transitional housing program that I would support as a result of its design and management. http://gileadhouse.org/
Marla March 05, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Hi Tina, That certainly doesn't sound like a fun experience with the bookstore! I think the Homeward Bound folks also learned that purchasing buidlings from 1880 and trying to do housing over retail in such an old building is a challenge they are not likely to repeat. The Next Key is also mixed-use, with updated plumbing of course, but also it is vertical not horizontal. The culinary arts trianing center is attached and next door. I hope if you haven't had a chance to already, that you will check it out. It is an amzaing place that is truly a treasured part of our community.
Stacey March 17, 2011 at 12:38 AM
Sounds like deep pockets with an ajenda: May 9, 2007, article in the Marin Independent Journal titled “Marin Community Foundation declares war on NIMBYism,” details how the MCF was inviting affordable housing advocates and developers to submit grant proposals to change the NIMBY, or “not in my back yard,” mindset. The article states: “If people can’t be persuaded by the facts, ‘we’ll look to the other legitimate and available steps that can be taken,’ Peters said.” - ----- Just what, exactly, does this mean?
Tina McMillan March 17, 2011 at 06:55 AM
It looks as if Marin Community Foundation ( MCF) is more interested in manipulating local politics than providing direct services to existing agencies that serve the aged and the needy here in Novato. $75,000 is a tremendous amount of money to spend on "dissemination of information." Imagine what Habitat for Humanity, Novato Rotary or Gilead House (to name a few) could do with a grant of that size. Peters of MCF says it's important to provide affordable workforce housing in Novato implying that we are somehow dropping the ball due to NIMBYism. Perhaps Peters hasn't visited us recently. According to the US Census in the past decade our population has increased by 9%, more than double any other Marin town or city. Perhaps the dissemination of misinformation is with Marin Community Foundation and their perception of the housing debate here in Novato. It is disappointing to say the least to discover that so much money is being spent to influence a dialogue that is available for free.
Annan Paterson June 13, 2011 at 02:42 AM
M.- It is great to hear from you. I want Novato, my community, to be the place I know it to be- a place that reaches out a helping hand when needed, that has different housing options for seniors, working families, persons with disabilities. I have talked to many residents that are working several jobs, dealing with disabling conditions or are on a fixed income. They want to stay here and value all that Novato has to offer. As I age and deal with health challenges, I hope Novato will continue to be a place I can afford to live. Pass the word and ask friends and neighbors to endorse Stand Up for Neighborly Novato at www.neighborlynovato.org Let our City Council know we support reasonably-priced housing.
Edwin Drake June 13, 2011 at 03:50 AM
Enough already with the commercials for SUNN. Must every, every, every "Neighborly Novato" post include the web address? Each time a SUNN person posts the website it makes it seem this is soooo much more about campaigning, and propaganda, than it is about getting the housing element 'right.' Please, stick to factual discussion and stop with the advertisements.
Tom Neidecker July 19, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Hi Tina - this is Tom Neidecker from Santa Rosa. I was a steady customer at Peter's Odyssey Bookstore in San Rafael and then in Novato. Peter told me that he was planning to continue to sell on-line and I searched but did not find a link or internet presence. Could you put him in touch with me ? Does he still have great books for sale ? My email is "tompn@sonic.net" - Thank you for your feedback.
Gail Wilhelm July 19, 2011 at 07:55 PM
For those who were pleased with the turn of events at the July 14th meeting of the city council I have one word of caution. The late breaking issue of the 80 -120 units of senior housing at Wood Hollow on the former Bill Wright property holds the seeds of real problems. First, the 80 - 120 units is in conflict with the clearly stated goal of small projects. This will not be a small project by any stretch of the imagination. Two, as we found with Wendover and Bay Vista, supply exceeded demand and the owners recruited tenants from out side of Marin and paid no heed for the quality of tenant and the increase in crime was predictible. My concern is that the developer may switch and demand that they be relieved of the requirement for "seniors only" and open their project up for section 8 families once again building a supply well beyond the local demand. This project will bear constant scrutiny so we don't get blind sided by an all too accommodating city council no longer staring a re-election campaign in the face.
Tom James July 19, 2011 at 09:29 PM
Gail, good advice. Was it the owners of Wyndover and Bay Vista who recruited low income people from outside Marin or was it the City? If low income people had to be recruited from outside the city to fill these two developments, how can the advocates keep claiming that Novato has a crying need for more affordable housing.
Marla July 19, 2011 at 10:37 PM
The manager of Bay Vista presented to our ad hoc committee. I had heard this before too, but as it turns out, the "recruited from outside Marin" theory is not true for Bay Vista. Over 90% of their residetns came from Marin, you can contact Uella Laughlin for the data. Apparently they also have a lengthy waitlist for their lower income units (I seem to recall she said it ws aobut 3 years). Some of the units are basically market rate and those don't have a waitlist. I don't have the details for Wyndover, but that was of course was built in1964, so many of those tenants have lived there for a long time.

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