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Novato City Council Gets Earful from Residents on Affordable Housing

Public vents for three hours as council ponders eight recommended sites that would allow the city to meet state requirements for housing accommodations.

How did they describe those nail-biting San Francisco Giants games last year during the team’s run to the World Series?

“Torture!”

Novato is on the edge of its collective lower-reserved box seat about a contentious , hoping for an end to a year of fairly vicious infighting, but it might as well settle back and order more popcorn because a settlement is going to have to wait at least three more innings ... er, weeks.

It was packed at on Tuesday night — with seats taking up the foyer as well as the training room a block away, watching on TV — as the Novato City Council let residents loose at the microphone for more than three hours to vent about that could eventually serve as sites for high-density and/or low-income housing.

By the end of the night, 76 people (at least by one person’s count) had cashed in on their 2 minutes of open time, and it was 11:30 p.m. when the council and city staff started to contemplate the next move. It took another 35 minutes to hash it out from there.

The result? The meeting would be continued until the week of Monday, July 11. A specific date will be nailed down over the next few days, but it won’t be July 12 because of a full agenda for the council’s regular session. Dates proposed by staff were July 11, 13 and 14.

Torture!

The one curveball thrown by the council was the strong hints that several members would like to recommend additional properties to the list of eight sites recommended by the City Manager’s Housing Ad Hoc Working Group, which debated properties for almost nine months prior to Tuesday’s council meeting.

Council members, especially Pat Eklund, advocated for more time for public comment, saying it is critical to the process and its transparency.

“There have been only two opportunities for public comment in the past nine months, and for us to cut off the public debate — especially when we’re talking about adding new sites — is not appropriate,” Eklund said.

Councilwoman Denise Athas made a motion to continue the meeting, and the council agreed on several amendments including e-mail ideas about additional sites to the city staff, having a council discussion prior to more public comment about density and legal issues, and notifying residents who might be affected by new properties on the list.

The council also asked for clarifications about the designations for housing units per acre. The ad hoc working group recommended 22 units per acre, short of what state and regional housing authorities would like but above the “we can get away with it” mark of 20 units per acre.

Mayor Madeline Kellner had to shush the crowd regularly and remind people to stop clapping. The raising of hands was substituted for clapping when audience members were in favor of a speaker's comments. There was some heckling — gadly Gail Meyers received three warnings for speaking out of turn — but nobody had to be tossed out.

For an account of the meeting’s earlier moments, click here.

Tina McMillan July 30, 2011 at 10:32 PM
If you haven't all ready please read this post by Lloyd and Stacy. It says it all! http://www.marinscope.com/articles/2011/07/27/novato_advance/opinion/doc4e308b0448214542327904.txt An open letter to City Council and City Manager By Submitted Lloyd Pittman Stacy Tachis Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 3:06 PM PDT
Sylvia Barry July 30, 2011 at 11:17 PM
Tina - I see this article was published 07/27, but I wonder when it was written. The reason I question that is - not going into details nor analyze the whole article - three things jumped out 1) Buck center never had 130 affordable units. That site has 130 total units with mostly regular housing for their researchers/employees, and some affordable housing for their researchers/employees. These were already included in the 2007-2014 planning cycle. The staff was hoping Buck can increase units for affordable housing but after discussions with Buck right before the last council meeting, that did not seem possible. 2) The site north of redwood and wood hollow - per last special council meeting on housing element, the site owner talked about donating 2 (or 4?) acres and possibly build 60 afford housing for seniors. This was discussed in relatively length in that. meeting. Not the 26 units as originally suggested. 3) Police station was scratched Just thought I'd bring this up since changes were discussed at the last city council housing element meeting which are not included in the Op-Ed piece.
Lloyd July 30, 2011 at 11:25 PM
Sylvia, The article was written before the 7/12 & 7/14 City Council meetings. It is unfortunate that it is now out of context on several points as you pointed out. I guess the great news is our Council is going to propose a "suburban density" and we have a chance to have some say over how we build our element and how we manage our town for all our benefits. :>)
Sylvia Barry July 30, 2011 at 11:32 PM
Thought so, Lloyd. Glad you confirmed that. Agreed on the suburban density and the importance of citizen's input thoughts :-)
Tina McMillan July 30, 2011 at 11:56 PM
If I understand correctly the Housing Element is not a done deal yet. The council has held off submitting it until January. By making a compromise everyone calms down as we get through the fall elections. Then, the new council will decide on the actual proposal. My spirited support for Lloyd and Stacy has more to do with the way this process has unfolded. There were many times where I felt that the working committee was being used to placate rather than assist in the process of making decisions about the housing element proposal. I still believe that the higher density proposal may wind up on the element. Perhaps I am being too pessimistic but I look at what is happening in Sausalito as an example of high density housing being pushed through without any attempt to give voice to the other options. I also found Brad Breithaupts IJ editorial referring to Novato as "whiners" an example of the local bias on this issue. The implication is that we should be willing to move forward with high density growth or be ashamed of ourselves. http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_18509929?IADID=Search-www.marinij.com-www.marinij.com http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_18580534 Meeting Sausalito's quota http://marinscope.com/articles/2011/07/22/sausalito_marin_scope/news/doc4e27295655c7d070536965.txt http://www.rntl.net/valhalla.htm

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