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?


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.


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.

Leslie Schwarze July 12, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Thank you for explaining. Too bad the decision makers didn't consider those points when giving them the money to fix the place up and use it for affordable housing.
Marcus Griffin July 12, 2011 at 10:42 PM
The city didn't provide money to Wyndover. They did allow the bond issue and they receive a property tax exemption from the State. That said it is possible to renovate and convert properties like Wyndover and improve a community particularly when the market rate landlord isn't maintaining the property.
Bob Ratto July 12, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Marcus One other thing...the City has no agreements with Wyndover, as there was no change to existing use-I got that like a week ago from Tim Wong at the City. (I forget if I told you that)...something else to be kept in mind for other developments.
Marcus Griffin July 12, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Yeah. Sophisticated cities can require numerous conditions for issuing bonds even without a dollar outlay, including approving the scope of renovations, the management agent, etc. There have been abuses like all industries.
Edwin Drake July 12, 2011 at 11:06 PM
Marcus - I'm unaware of the specifics of the Wyndover/Novato bonds, but in general... if the city of Novato (or may Redevelopment) is the issuer, can't they call the bonds? If so, would that be leverage to Fairfield/Wyndover to get their act together? Or would that just require the City to come up with the money sooner?
Marla July 12, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Also, construction standards were quite different in 1964 when Wyndover was built than they are now. When visiting my friend Cheryl who resides there, I can hear the phone ring in next apartment as if it were in hers. The walls are paper thin, which explains the rather large number of calls for service regardng noise complaints. Contemporary AH is often built to green standards, with higher quality building materials that reduce noise and health concerns. For example, the new Drake's Way in Larkspur is LEED certified, I believe.
Marcus Griffin July 12, 2011 at 11:21 PM
The issuer is CSCDA not the City. If it were the City they would have had certain oversite rights. Issuers generally can't call bonds.
Lloyd July 13, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Marcus one of the aggravating things about Wyndover is the fact they are market rate and still don't contribute. Their reliance on Section 8 to subsidize their rents is a fraud and totally unconscionable.
Lloyd July 13, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Marla you keep saying you don't support high density while you condemn most sites as being too small. The argument that 1-2 acre sites are difficult to build especially providing professional management to insure better results. Yet that argument belies one of your basic principles of not causing sprawl. I understand but totally disagree. Firstly professional property management does not have to be on-site. Each and every complex of 16 units or more must have a resident manager. The true capable professional property manager visits several sites each day. They can have 3-4 sites for instance in one town and be as or even more effective in running clean, well run community supported locations. Per unit development is the same no matter how large and the real difference can be the land costs although I haven't seen any data that says it isn't completely doable. To the contrary when asked Dave Wallace, our Community Development Director answered that he had indeed talked to several developers and was confident it was build-able. Who should we believe someone who's job it is to get this approved or someone looking after big business tax credit investors? The need for master planning larger areas to include AH is also critical so just plopping down housing in the North Redwood Corridor, for instance without architectural and planning blueprints is the last thing we should do if we want to get it right. Spawl is not using community supported infill smaller sites.
Marcus Griffin July 13, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Lloyd. Wyndover is NOT market rate. Not sure how you got that idea. They do get market rents on some of the units via the section 8 voucher, but the residents pay below market rent. The rest of the units are definitely below market. There also isn't anything fraudulent going on, just poor oversite. I know there are many bloggers who have a different political philosophy than the majority of Novato, the county and state (i.e. they are fiscally conservative), but that is just a policy debate. Given the state of the economy I do believe the affordable industry along with all the other government subsidized programs must share the pain and cut back a bit until the economy improves. This process is underway right now with the elimination of Redevelopment Areas and the dwindling funds Cities possess to help new housing developments.
Bob Ratto July 13, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Marcus I don't know how they are NOT market rate...if a 1BR is from $1,069-$1,293 (same as much nicer Marion Park), and a 2BR is $1,548...wouldn't that be about right for market for its quality and condition (paper thin walls, etc)...just wondering. Thanks!
melissa July 13, 2011 at 04:59 PM
We all need to be watching: ABAG and MTC Housing Demands Will Hit Neighborhoods Hard http://paloalto.patch.com/articles/abag-and-mtc-housing-demands-will-hit-neighborhoods-hard
Trish Boorstein July 13, 2011 at 05:08 PM
From: Trish Boorstein Sent: Friday, July 08, 2011 8:56 AM To: Novato Council Subject: Wynndover Accountability I'd like the City to inform Novato residents of a current follow-up/accountability report regarding Wynndover appartments. How has the new management performed? What are the crime statistics there? Even with more safety features (concrete items, ie. locks, mirrors, patrol,etc,..), if management is not effective then all the added hardware is useless. Please follow-up. Copy of letter I sent. City Council should be bombarded with letters demanding accountability until it becomes a priority on their agenda.
Edwin Drake July 13, 2011 at 07:21 PM
From city email notice: "NOTICE: July 18 planning commission meeting: NEW ITEM: 2. DRAFT EIR FOR THE HANNA RANCH MIXED USE PROJECT (AL) 110040; GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENT, MASTER PLAN, PRECISE DEVELOPMENT PLAN, USE PERMIT AND DESIGN REVIEW APN 153-340-06; SOUTH END OF ROWLAND BOULEVARD "Hold a public hearing to receive public, agency and Commission comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) prepared for the Hanna Ranch Project. The proposed Hanna Ranch Mixed Use Commercial project includes a 116 room hotel, two restaurant buildings of 5,000 sq ft each, a single story 13,571 sq ft retail building and a 42,240 sq ft two story office over retail building, and is located northeast of US Highway 101 and State Highway 37." After this whole affordable housing debate, they need to FORCE some residential units into this property, affordable or not. With the density requirements coming from ABAG, single story building s are NOT acceptable. Tell the developers "take it or leave it!" Services wise, Hanna ranch will be nothing but headache for Fire and Police, out where it is. And groceries are available in Target, plus Safeways are not that far away, especially if the (stupid) SMART bike path goes in. Planning Commission REALLY needs to insist on some additional amenities and requirements to this project.
Marla July 13, 2011 at 09:23 PM
LLoyd, You say we want "bigger sites", but all we want are sites that are viable. At 22 units/acre, that means sites that are 1.5 acres of buildable land. Most of your Board members likely live on parcels larger than that. You heard Eden Housing answer my question of what total unit size for the neighborhood (not density) is viable - 40 - 50 units. At a low density, that means an acre and a half. I also heard Dave Wallace say he has had conversations with developers who said small sites are buildable. But when I asked him for specifics, he mentioned PEP Housing & admitted the conversaiton took place awhile ago. I reached out to the Executve Director of PEP, and she said:"it would be hard for me to do 25 units or less. I could have done it 4 or 5 years ago. I haven't had any response to any recent letter to staff or City Council." I have to omit last sentence, because I don't think she meant it to be broadcasted, but basically it appears as though PEP won't be interested in doing anything in Novato. About 6 years ago, Mercy Housing proposed a senior affordable community of 60 units in Hamilton next to the Next Key. It was met with resistance from neighbors, and the folks who live in mcmansions in the Hills overlooking it. The City reduced the approval to only 25 units. Mercy told them that wasn't feasible anymore. The land has sat a vacant field of dead weeds ever since, despite having zoning & approvals for a 25 unit affordable neighborhood. .
Pamela Griffith Pond July 14, 2011 at 05:53 AM
I don't believe anyone at all is advocating for communities such as Wyndover, nor have such developments been contemplated.
Pamela Griffith Pond July 14, 2011 at 05:57 AM
Neither Katie nor Marla had anything whatsoever to do with Wyndover. Both Katie and Marla continue to advocate for state-of-the-art affordable housing communities that employ best management practices, including background checks.
Sylvia Barry July 14, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Multiple-Family Housing Management Policy - For the ones who did not go to the Working Group sessions or read the staff reports (for both council meetings), a 'Draft Policy Recommendation' was developed and to be reviwed by working group. As I recall, WG was too busy to review the complete draft. A couple members recommended the staff to talk to Walnut Creek because Walnut Creek has a good policy for Multiple-Family Housing Managemnet. If you are interested, and you shoud; you can find the draft policy by going to WG agenda dated May 19th and on. http://www.ci.novato.ca.us/Index.aspx?page=1513. Here is a direct link to the draft policy and multiple family housing management. This one is posted with the May 19 agenda. http://ci.novato.ca.us/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=7275 It is a draft, so probably needs enhancement, but at least it is a start to make it better.
Marla July 14, 2011 at 06:36 PM
What do successful affordable communities have in common, and what are good examples? The Bay Area’s network of experienced, highly professional affordable housing developers have produced more than a thousand successful, affordable properties over the past 30 years that have avoided the trouble of Novato’s two bad apples. Sylvia's link abovet summarizes many of the best practices that unite these successful properties, written in the form of policy-based guidelines. Success is closely tied to high standards for: • Leasing • Management (crucial because the real mark of a safe community is how quickly and effectively the landlord resolves a problem if it does come up) • Design • Maintenance, and • On-site services. Track-record is also worth special mention. Novato’s two bad apples are so atypical for the field because both were created and run by for-profit companies with little to no experience in affordable housing development. As a result, these examples are quite rare for the region. (This is also why I think they’re not at all useful indicators of what future affordable housing would be like in Novato – even without new multi-unit building guidelines. I think it would make much more sense to look at the other 99% of the region’s affordable housing portfolio – and of course shape the future with more explicit conditions on city funding support.
Marla July 14, 2011 at 06:39 PM
There are many great affordable workforce housing examples nearby Novato, such as Pickleweed in Mill Valley (http://www.bridgehousing.com/Pickleweed), Centertown in San Rafael, and EAH’s Stonebridge in St. Helena (80 total units), and San Clemente in Corte Madera. Suggest any intersted please stop by any of these for a tour, speak to resdents etc. While it is important to learn from past errors, it is also important to review successes and model our standards after those.
Patty July 14, 2011 at 06:54 PM
How about this - when Eden Housing decides to move forward with their aquisition of the Quest site and build their 50-60 units, put it before the Planning Commission at a public meeting and let the chips fall where they may. Why should the city put their future on the line earmarking hundreds of units of affordable housing with no guarantees from the developers? They are laughing all the way to the bank while we (homeowners) are left holding the bag. All in the name of being open minded? I don't think so. Sorry, the plea from SUNN founders for Novatoans to set a good example and lead the way for affordable housing.....Not buying it.
Tina McMillan July 15, 2011 at 02:45 AM
There is an ongoing discussion on Patch about whether Rancho should be re-designated a neighborhood school. Though the goal is unclear given Rancho's history of low cost and high test scores one element appears to be the distribution in the other schools of children from SED Socio Economically Disadvantaged Groups. This is important to our discussion because there is no tax base associated with affordable housing. If the goal of AH is to provide homes to otherwise tremendously disadvantaged families then we need a revenue stream to help children who are currently floundering in our schools. The data comes straight from the NUSD site. http://www.nusd.org/files/_NBBwv_/d1e9c0b238e7af213745a49013852ec4/_10_7__18_Academic_Success_for_all_Subgroups.pdf
Tina McMillan July 15, 2011 at 02:48 AM
NOVATO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY TO: Board of Trustees FROM: Connie Benz, Director of Information Technology DATE: September 7, 2010 RE: Staff Report: Academic Success for All Subgroups, Socioeconomic Status, Race/Ethnic Balance Objective: To provide demographic information, subgroup distribution among schools and STAR test data for subgroups (Board Goal: Academic Achieve #1d – Evaluate standards based instruction through a variety of measures) ETHNIC/RACIAL STAR PERFORMANCE GR 2-11 There is a significant disparity in the performance among various ethnic/racial groups as evidenced by the percentage of students scoring advanced + proficient in both English/Language Arts and Mathematics. % Advanced + Proficient ELA Math Caucasian 76% 68% Asian 82% 78% Hispanic 41% 46% Afr American 35% 35% 7. SOCIOECONOMIC STAR PERFORMANCE GR 2-11 There is a significant disparity between the performances of socio-economically disadvantaged students compared to their non-socioeconomically disadvantaged peers % Advanced + Proficient ELA Math Disadvantaged 38% 45% Non-disadvantaged 76% 69% These are some of the demographics. It is significant to our discussion because we will need developers who are not going to contribute to the property tax base to otherwise provide some form of supplemental funding to support school interventions to help disadvantaged children. We do not have the resources to do this.
Tina McMillan July 15, 2011 at 02:52 AM
I understand that the communities that AH developers have created are substantially different from Wyndover but that does not provide an ongoing revenue stream to supplement our schools. I would like these developments to be fiscally sustainable.
Trish Boorstein July 15, 2011 at 07:25 AM
Tina, I think this is done at the planning stage where ordinances are formulated and set-up so that Developers know exactly what Novato wants from them. Each City can make their own demands. I believe Santa Monica made many demands to benefit their community.
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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