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Novato City Council Takes Stand Against State on Affordable Housing

Five properties destined for rezoning to accommodate a potential 202 units of housing; parcel north of downtown near Buck Center could handle 80 of those units.

A defiant Novato City Council pushed back against regional and state housing authorities Thursday and approved a list of potential housing sites for its general plan that might not pass muster.

After declaring that 20 units per acre would be as dense as it would allow — even if the state Housing and Community Development Department says that’s not enough — the Novato City Council came up with five sites that would provide 202 units of affordable housing if land owners and developers decided to partake in deals.

When the meeting concluded at 11:15 p.m., there was a smattering of clapping — much different than the occasional heckling that has taken place over the past year during intense meetings about high-density complexes for low-income residents. What was expected by some to be a dramatic crescendo of a summit was instead a mellow and routine affair with moderate opposition.

The sites chosen were:

— Undeveloped space on the eastern slope of Mount Burdell below the Buck Institute for Aging Research, Redwood Boulevard at Black John Road (80 units)

Bridge Point Academy preschool, 1787 Grant Ave (36 units)

Lifelong Medical Care, 1905 Novato Boulevard (21 units)

RV storage park, Landing Court (30 units)

— Undeveloped space at 7506 North Redwood Boulevard, a parcel off Olive Avenue near the railroad tracks and just east of Trader Joe's (35 units)

The total is 202 units, or two over the minimum required by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The 39.9-acre parcel off North Redwood Boulevard at Black John Road was a recent addition to the possibilties. Known as the Campus Property, its owner had told council members and city staff that he was open to development of his property. The potential of 80 units (four acres with 20 units per acre) accounts for 40 percent of the city's needs for the 2007-2014 housing element.

City staff members reiterated that nothing will happen to those chosen sites unless the property owners are willing. Novato has eminent domain privileges but has never used them during its 51-year history of incorporation.

Those properties on the short list of possible sites but not receiving support from the council were:

— Atherton Ranch, 7533 and 7537 North Redwood Boulevard between Pinheiro Circle and Ranch Drive

— 102 Hill Road, behind Journey Ford dealership on Redwood Boulevard

— 1901 Novato Boulevard, undeveloped parcel at McClay Road

— 7530 North Redwood Boulevard, just north of Trader Joe’s

— Buck Institute housing off Buck Center Drive

— Wood Hollow Drive at North Redwood Boulevard

— Seventh-Day Adventist Church, San Marin Drive at Simmons Lane

— Quest Church, South Novato Boulevard at Arthur Street

Pastors at two churches originally on the list of properties to be rezoned both spoke Thursday and thanked city staff for not recommending their sites after all.

“It appears you’re taking us off the list, and if that’s the case, thank you so much,” said Rev. Darrell Chilson of the Novato Seventh-Day Adventist Church on San Marin Drive. He went on to thank the residents of the adjacent Partridge Knolls neighborhood who stood up at past housing meetings and explained why it was a bad idea to zone the church property for high-density housing.

Pastor Joe Everly of The Quest church received similar support from people who live in the Presidents neighborhood near his sanctuary at the corner of South Novato Boulevard and Arthur Street, and he thanked them for their support.

There were 77 requests by the public for speaking for two minutes each in front of the council, but most who filled out cards had left the council chambers, likely because they were satisfied that the parcel they were opposed to was taken off the list.

The total number of units approved by the City Council should be an acceptable minimum to the Association of Bay Area Governments and the state housing department, according to city staff, but the density of 20 per acre is a violation of the metropolitan demographic designation to which Novato is assigned. Petaluma’s default housing density is 20 units because it is designated as suburban rather than metropolitan.

So Novato declaring 20 instead of 30 was sort of a “make me!” dare to the state.

“I know that may be rejected, and I know there are many communities (that turn in housing elements) that are rejected with comments, and then you address those comments,” Councilwoman Carole Dillon-Knutson said. “… There’s nothing wrong with being rejected with comments from HCD.”

Mayor Madeline Kellner added, “There have been appeals for smaller units per acre, and I know some jurisdictions have gotten lower allocations.”

Veronica Nebb, assistant city attorney, made note that the council decisions made Thursday were not necessarily etched-in-stone verdicts but rather direction to city staff to lay out final options at those sites. The final housing element document is not expected to be presented as a draft until January.

The Rev. Pamela Griffith Pond, a co-founder of Stand Up for Neighborly Novato, said her group — which favors affordable housing — was not pleased with the final list.

“These sites are not viable and aren’t going to result in the reasonably priced housing for those who desperately need it,” she said. “ … I urge you to select sites that would lay the groundwork for actually building the housing Novato desperately needs.”

The meeting culminated 13 months of intense debate in Novato, engaging hundreds of people who had little or no experience participating in local government. Council members urged people to stay involved because, as Eklund said, they made a difference in the city’s decisions.

All five members of the council gave special thanks to the ad hoc working group set up by City Manager Michael Frank, 21 volunteers who spent every Wednesday night for nine months plus countless hours of research and discussion devoted to the affordable housing issue. Although only two of the five sites chosen by the council had been recommended by the ad hoc working group (Landing Court and Bridge Point Academy), several members of group commended the council for its final recommendations.

“I’m tremendously surprised by your delightful creativity,” said group member Pam Drew.

Roger July 17, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Bob, I noticed on page 4 of the June staff report that Novato has an ordinance that requires all new market-rate housing to include a small percent of AH, but the State agency doesn't allow those AH units to counmt toward our RHNA numbers. Do you know why the State has such a policy? It seems to go directly against a key principle of the Ad Hoc group that AH should be spread out and not concentrated in dense big projects. Should Novato's rep on ABAG push for a policy change in the State agency's procedures?
Pam Drew July 17, 2011 at 05:20 PM
The Working Group did NOT 'ambush the community with last-minute additions to the list of proposed locations'. The process was rushed and pressured at the end because of the excessively lengthy indoctrination attempts early on by staff and by the inability of the facilitator to move things along, it is true. We were frustrated by this just like the citizens were. At this time in the process of infill housing for Novato, there are NO obvious locations. We are forced to pick between hard choices and harder choices. If you are referring to the six sites picked by Council, the Working Group had little to do with those. The sites were chosen separately by each councilmember with no collaboration with more than one other councilmember, maybe not even that, because Michael Frank made the call. The substance of the Black John Road property deal was only revealed to the former Housing Working Group members at the Council workshop. Many aspects of the Working Group's deliberation were ignored or altered in the final selection but the major point about 20 units per acre was made and sites were chosen. The Black John site has too many units on it but that can be remedied, if the quota goes down because of Pat Eklund's research into an error in the allocation. Anyone who thinks the Housing Working Group didn't struggle valiantly with very unfavorable odds wasn't paying attention. Pam Drew Member of the Housing Working Group, now finished
Nina Zhito July 18, 2011 at 09:22 PM
You are right, Pam, I wouldn't have the intimate acquaintance with details (or experience to put it into appropriate perspective) that you would and do, as a member of the Working Group (Now Closed). Thank you...and the rest of the Working Group... for your service and commitment of time. From this newcomer's perspective, the process has been unwieldy, and challenged from the very outset, from the earliest community input meeting. Let's applaud y/our vigilance and Pat's research skills.
Nina Zhito July 18, 2011 at 09:22 PM
You are right, Pam, I wouldn't have the intimate acquaintance with details (or experience to put it into appropriate perspective) that you would and do, as a member of the Working Group (Now Closed). Thank you...and the rest of the Working Group... for your service and commitment of time. From this newcomer's perspective, the process has been unwieldy, and challenged from the very outset, from the earliest community input meeting. Let's applaud y/our vigilance and Pat's research skills!
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr July 21, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Please, please, browse Palo Alto Patch for the article about housing requirements. The Palo Alto city council and staff have taken a stand against Sacramento leftists and told them "this is our town, we are going to plan for our future". Why not Novato? Because the Novato City Council uses sanctuary social engineering as a tool against their own constituents. Vote the bums out. Screw leftist "affordable housing" social engineering mandates.

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