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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.

Steven Norwin July 15, 2011 at 10:36 PM
Everything you need to know about being Sustainable. Everyone should view this. http://youtu.be/ffbTBglMLHo
Lucy July 15, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Interesting tid bit about Novato's most prominent Affordable Housing Advocate- She lives in a $1M +, 4,500 sq ft house on 1.3 acres at the top of a hill. All that personal space must make it so much easier to preach high density on the rest of us!
DINAH MATTOS July 16, 2011 at 12:06 AM
I left because everyone has heard me before and that has not changed. I am not alone when i say "Stop everything...No more low income...low or high density...no smart train." Get rid of the gangs first and make Novato a safe place for our children. I'm will always be disappointed when it comes to change for Novato. I hate to be around to see the worst of it. But my children will and their children will.
DINAH MATTOS July 16, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Buy the way.....What has happened to SUNN? I didn't see one little pretty SUNN badge at the meeting.
DINAH MATTOS July 16, 2011 at 12:19 AM
OMG.....I thought the same thing!
Bob Ratto July 16, 2011 at 01:37 AM
Hutch I think that is an excellent summation of what went on. I think the council pretty much "got it right" last night, and hopefully this will lead to all citizens becoming more active and vocal about the future direction of Novato. The City Manager is supposed to serve at the pleasure of the council, but I think somewhere along the way there is a shift in the balance of power. The fact that the AdHoc group got "played" was highly evident when the weight of the minority group report was assigned a high level of credence, despite representing only about 20% of the committee. Up until last night, it was really a vocal minority that was driving the process, and the majority were clearly having their voices heard. Pat Eklund had clearly done the most work on this subject, and her finding about the "arbitrary" change in allocations from county to city was pretty shocking (where was staff on this?). This isn't over by a longshot. It is a battle against an extremely well funded industry who may well find new tactics to press their position. Hopefully the community will take note of what has happened in this case and become more active.
Trish Boorstein July 16, 2011 at 01:53 AM
In order to get more of the community involved in the future, Council members need to keep these meetings moving quickly. Maybe on Mayor's advice members should raise their hands in agreement and avoid repetition. Brevity please. Silence can be golden. Thank you to all Council members, staff, and mayor for supporting Novato last night. Amazing work Pat Elkund!
Andrew Vavuris July 16, 2011 at 01:57 AM
So after fifteen months the city council has succeeded in approving sites for permanent transient public housing? Our city council has endorsed a social engineering agenda. Permanent transient housing in a suburban community creates an underclass. Congratulate our city council? Don’t congratulate the very elected officials who should have looked to their constituents first and refused to accept socially engineered mandates by fiat. We don’t want radical mandates that alter the suburban nature of our community. Any city official in favor of that (all of them) should be voted out of office! What was confirmed Thursday night is “great society” government housing; socialism. More is on its way for 2014. It is outrageous!
Bob Ratto July 16, 2011 at 02:10 AM
The council could have said No, not going to do it. Then the city get's sued, and loses because they are in violation of state law. Look it up, it has happened numerous times, and in much less blatant situations than you are proposing. The social engineering is at the state and Federal level (HUD), not at the City level. Google "Agenda 21"...there is your big brave new world. Happy Nightmare! Capisce?
Edwin Drake July 16, 2011 at 03:38 AM
Thanking the Council members is like thanking someone when they stop smashing you in the face. Grading this whole AH fiasco (and it continues) I can't muster more than a D+ for the way the city has handled this entire thing. The expensive consultants, the lack on community awareness, the ignored Ad Hoc input, the patting themselves on the back. Exception to Ecklund, who seems to have smartly tried to find answers. But otherwise I view this as a near failure on the part of the City Council. I think a group of 5th graders could have done better. And "Mayor" Kellner, (who's pathetically pasted her honorary title all over), and Frank, should both be tarred and feathered and run out of town for so mismanaging this whole affair and ripping the town apart.
David Selzer July 16, 2011 at 03:53 AM
This writer’s comment exposes a strange bias against wealthy people helping others less well off than herself. What I wish to know is how many of us lower income folks living in condos and apartments, who, by the way, make up almost 40% of Novato’s current population, were there to support Affordable Housing. My guess is very few.
Bob Ratto July 16, 2011 at 04:20 AM
David Nice post. If you want to postulate that nearly 40% of condo and apartment dwellers are hurting that is just fine. May I kindly introduce you to the 60%+ of homeowners whose home values are way down? Good...those same condo and homeowners are footing the bill for subsidized (affordable) housing, and it is a bit of a stretch at this time..if you want to consider a viable program to work people into foreclosure's I am all ears..(first to pick up a power saw and paint brush)..where the head of AH in Novato lives doesn't matter to me...maybe I am wrong, but, hand up...I am there..hand out..not getting there today....or tomorrow...think about that for a bit. then a bit longer.
Bob Ratto July 16, 2011 at 04:30 AM
New math gives a better grade, the saving face and passing "d". If I am out looking down on the proposed sites, I am flipping out!...wondering if it will be newly named "Novato North"...your comments on the process are spot on. I went to the meeting last night but I left after an hour (ADD, I think, all takes too long) much calmer than before. Frank did toast this whole process...one needs only to follow the chain of events....Pat Eklund is my heroine in this process...much more cogent than many other council members, some of which did not know the sites at all. Next task, fix broken processes at existing locations. Maybe I can talk to sheriff that I need a "carry" permit to ride my old scooter past Wyndover on my way to Pini.
Susan Clark July 16, 2011 at 05:02 AM
This explains Agenda 21, It is now our Reality http://youtu.be/ffbTBglMLHo
Tina McMillan July 16, 2011 at 06:12 AM
I know people are still angry about how this issue has been handled over the past year. I don't blame anyone for feeling exploited and distrusting given the mistakes that were made. However, the posts that assume all affordable housing equals crime ridden slums and tenements are wrong. Affordable housing includes senior housing like Nova Ro, workforce housing like the below market rate (BMR) homes and condos at Hamilton and transitional housing like the Next Key program at Homeward Bound. There are more than two sides to this issue. If we make it about us and them we lose the opportunity to take part in the planning process. I am grateful that the council listened to the Ad Hoc working group and made the decision to respect the lower density. This is a good place to start. We still have to submit a housing element in January. Let's see who runs for council in November. This will be one of many issues that should be debated. Novato has always been a wonderful town. People move here because it feels like a safe place to raise your kids and grow old. Affordable housing done correctly can be a positive part of our community. Lower density, form based planning and units supported by property taxes or other revenue stream will reflect the positive character of the city and its residents.
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 July 16, 2011 at 06:27 AM
VOTE FOR LESLIE PETERSON SCHWARZE FOR CITY COUNCIL IN NOVEMBER!!!
Sylvia Barry July 16, 2011 at 08:51 AM
Now that the council has made the decision, I think it's time for us to work together, be open minded, keep a balanced and educated outlook and help the city plan the town's future. We are all responsible for the outcome, good or bad, involved or not. A well thought out, strictly enforced policy and management practices will help ensure quality housing units is built and run as we intended. On another note, as I finally get to relax some tonight, I happened upon a recorded June 26 (replay of March 6) segment of the 'Sixty Minute' where it talks about the homeless school children in FL. It breaks your heart! Those are kids belonged to middle class families and are newly homeless caused by recent economy and housing crisis. One teenager came back to a locked out house, the other was embarrassed by her father for holding a 'please help, need work, family of 5' sign, another said that he grew up and matured much faster, a few cried, describing going to bed hungry or the humility of asking friends for food, another described how he had to tiptoe around and hope not to inconvenient the neighbors who took the family in. Some studied under candle lights when their electricity was cut, some sleep in cars, one said she will be able to help much more when they are later able because now she understands. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7358670n And yes, we have many of those proud but hard hit families in Novato too, let's try not to stereotype them.
Marcus Griffin July 16, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Thanks for the thoughtful note Sylvia. I have been out of town all week and missed the action. The action by the City Council was blatantly political but I guess that's how it goes. I hope HCD is open minded about the suburban designation but I also hope they reject the North Novato site as a blatant attempt to sidestep the intent of the zoning requirement. That site is remote, economically infeasible and would never qualify for most funding programs. I know that is music to the ears of many opponents of AH.
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) July 16, 2011 at 04:44 PM
More coverage of Thursday's meeting: http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_18486875
Tina McMillan July 16, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Yes! We are fortunate to have Leslie running for council. Her many years on the school board make her a wonderful candidate for public office. The three incumbents are Mayor Madeline Kellner, Carole Dillon-Knutson and Jeanne MacLeamy. Remember the current sites may not wind up on the final plan. In essence this issue has been put to rest because we have an election coming up but will after the election, be at the forefront due to the necessity of filing a housing element on time.
Mary July 16, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Who else is running for City Council in November?
Tina McMillan July 16, 2011 at 08:10 PM
http://www.ci.novato.ca.us/Index.aspx?page=319 Here is a link to the page that shows all the current candidates.
Andrew Vavuris July 17, 2011 at 04:56 AM
Tina how does "affordable housing" help our community?
Tina McMillan July 17, 2011 at 05:40 AM
Andrew: Affordable housing represents a wide range of housing options. The ones that help the community are either supported by a tax base or offer a needed service that the city can afford to support. The Hamilton development includes a form of affordable housing called below market rate (BMR). One of my youngest son's middle school teachers applied for the lottery to be able to purchase a BMR condo. She had been teaching in the district for more than twenty years. These homes maintain a lower than market rate price and provide workforce housing for teachers, fire, police, city and county workers. They are by no means free. They also pay property taxes which support the community. Not all affordable housing is the same. If we want to be heard on this issue we have to be specific about our concerns, we have to know the laws and we have to learn from the actions of other cities that were in the same position we are in now.
Nina Zhito July 17, 2011 at 11:26 AM
I can't possibly be the only observer of this process taken aback by how the Working Group ambushed the community with last-minute additions to the list of proposed locations. Such viable locations ought to have been obvious sooner, wouldn't you think?
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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