Op-Ed: An Open Letter the State Housing Office

Al Dugan writes that the ABAG formula does not fairly evaluate a city's past performance to meet housing needs or properly reflect actual population growth.

On Jan. 5, Novato resident Al Dugan sent the following letter to Glen Campora, assistant deputy director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development and included copies to members of the Novato City Council and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Dear Mr. Campora:

I am a resident of Novato and have lived in this city since 1983.  I got involved with the affordable housing issue in 2011 when the city was looking at zoning changes and sites for more affordable housing.  I began to research the issue and was very surprised to find out what has occurred in Novato during the 1999-2006 housing cycle.

The state of California addresses the distribution of low and very low housing in an equitable manner in Government Code Section 65584(d).  This requires “Increasing the housing supply and the mix of housing types, tenure, and affordability in all cities and counties within the region in an equitable manner, which shall result in each jurisdiction receiving an allocation of units for low- and very low income households.”  This was clearly not the case from 1999 to 2006.  Even though Novato is 20 percent of the county's population from 1999 to 2006, the city created 51.4 percent of the affordable housing in Marin County.  

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) report “A Place to Call Home: Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area 2007” provides a breakdown of affordable housing Regional Housing Needs Allocations and Permits Issued by cities in the county of Marin from 1999 to 2006. 

  • RHNA allocated 1,241 Very Low Income Housing for Marin County.  A total of 528 permits were issued and 297 were from Novato or 56 percent.  Five of the 11 cities in Marin (Belvedere, Corte Madera, Fairfax, Ross and San Anselmo) had no permits issued. Larkspur had 13 percent of its allocated goal, San Rafael had 6 percent and Tiburon had 15 percent.
  • RHNA allocated 618 Low Income Housing for Marin County.  A total of 751 permits were issued and 527 were from Novato, or 85 percent.  Six of the 11 cities in Marin (Belvedere, Corte Madera, Fairfax, Ross, San Anselmo and Sausalito) had no permits issued.  Novato was allocated 242 Low Housing units and 527 permits were issued or 218 percent more than allocated by RHNA. Larkspur had 21 percent of its allocated goal, San Rafael had 42 percent and Tiburon had 21 percent.
  • RHNA allocated 1,726 Moderate Income Housing for Marin County.  A total of 1040 permits were issued and 496 were from Novato, or 48 percent.  Six of the 11 cities in Marin (Corte Madera, Fairfax, Ross, San Anselmo, Sausalito and Tiburon) had no permits issued. Larkspur had 4 percent of its allocated goal, San Rafael had 69 percent and Mill Valley had 73 percent. 
  • RHNA allocated 2,930 Above Moderate Income Housing for Marin County.  A total of 3,453 permits were issued and 1,646 were from Novato, or 48 percent.  All 11 cities in Marin had permits issued. Novato was allocated 1,130 Above Moderate Housing units and 1,646 permits were issue or 146 percent more than allocated. 

I do not believe the ABAG formula fairly evaluates past performance or properly reflects actual growth or the needs of Novato. I will address these issues:

It does not appear the current ABAG formula evaluates past performances like Novato for very low and low affordable housing to be in compliance with Government Code Section 65584(d). 

The census data indicates Novato population from 2000-2010 grew from 47,630 to 51,904, which is an 8.97 percent growth and an increase of 4,274 residents. The average household was 2.52 persons.  The household growth was 1,755.  In the 1999-2006 housing cycle, Novato built 2,966 affordable housing units. Thus Novato built 1,211 more affordable housing units than the TOTAL household increase in this time period.

More importantly, to complete a comparison for 2000-2010 for affordable housing and households affordable housing in 1999 would have to be removed and the affordable housing built in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 would have to be added, and I do not have this information.  Given one year would be removed and four years added, it is expected the 1,211 difference would be the minimum difference.

Adding the Minimum Housing Floor factor of 40 percent to Novato’s affordable housing calculation in the next cycle does not seem reasonable.  The affordable housing far exceeded the needs of Novato and was subsequently filled with residents outside of Novato.  It is not fair to the citizens for Novato to have to support tax free affordable housing for non-Novato residents that stresses the schools and public services.

Reviewing this information outlined above, it is clear that the result of this distribution in Marin County resulted in Novato serving as the prime source of very low and low affordable housing, as well as all other affordable housing, for the other cities in Marin.  This concentration of affordable housing in Novato results in not less traffic but actually more traffic in Marin.  This requires people to commute from Novato to other Marin cities due to the lack of affordable housing in those other cities and is at odds with the goal of SB 375.  This is also appears to be in violation of Government Code Section 65584(d). 

It is essential that the HCD reviews for Novato in the future cycles are reasonable and properly reflect past performance and local conditions.  It may be necessary, if there is not equality or goals that are in the Novato’s best interest, for a citizen’s group in Novato to take legal action.


Al Dugan

(Patch readers: What do you think about this stance? Add a comment below.)

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Bob Ratto January 24, 2013 at 02:00 AM
This is very well written, I think a cohesive campaign to push back against these mandates would make a lot of sense. Given Novato's budget situation, adding more people (which means more services any way you slice it) without adding material revenue (the 2/3 of Novato resident's that are homeowners provide most of the funding for the city) is a financially irresponsible act.
Al Dugan January 24, 2013 at 05:30 AM
Bob Silvestri gave a presentation based on his book "The Best Laid Plans" in Novato tonight and as usual Bob was brilliant and presented the history of affordable housing and what is required to survive in the current atmosphere created by ABAG and HCD. The homeowners of Novato need to unite to express their views to offset a vocal minority that has an agenda to support for profit building of affordable housing in Novato.
S. Eyler January 24, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Please let us know what HCD's response is? The government never mentions the lack of water Marin has OR that the current residents will have to pay for all the services the nonprofit builders do not pay for.
Lloyd January 24, 2013 at 04:37 PM
A very well written and documented article. I believe the time for fairness and equity in distribution of affordable housing has reached a critical point. Al is very correct in alluding to possible legal action. In addition to his analysis of the inequities of ABAG and HCD there appears to be a hypercritical double standard that HCD practices in Element law. There are examples of approved elements that have no basis in reality and in fact have proven that AH is in fact not being built as a result of this practice in other communities. Novato has offered a very large helping hand in the past and continues to supply sites and zoning that are in keeping with the towns values and meeting its RHNA numbers only to find the affordable housing, for profit, tax deferred investor/developer based terrorist style groups now want an arm and a leg as well. There comes a time when good, caring people must get involved and stop this inequitable proportioning based on flawed projections and force HCD to take others to task to do their fair share.
Al Dugan January 24, 2013 at 05:40 PM
Lloyd right on point. This small vocal group that I call the Triad, developers, builders and institutional investors have driven the bus in the past. The Marin Community Foundation gave Stand Up For Neighborly Novato (SUNN) $75,000 to help push affordable housing in Marin. It appears the Marin Community Foundation has targeted Novato as the Marin solution for affordable housing as well as to provide tax free investments to investors. The average hoemonwer, which is 2/3 of the Novato, needs to stand up now. This lobby group always uses the threat of litigation, but that works both way.
Tina McMillan January 24, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Thank you Al. As a community Novato always has been the largest provider of economically diverse housing. Most folks who moved here did so because it was affordable. If we continue to build housing without a tax base our existing residents will find more and more services disappearing because we don't have a strong economic base to support our schools, police, and other city services. With the schools and the city running at a multimillion dollar budget deficit we must take to heart the concept of living within our means. Additional housing brings additional costs. We must approach any new housing with the idea that balance is the goal. In the case of the recent HCD response to the draft housing element the complaints that are being leveled at the city are from disgruntled AH developers and non profit agencies that support them. The draft housing element had not even gone into the mail when Katie Crecelius presented the SUNN letter that would be used to chastise the city's efforts to satisfy its RHNA numbers by providing potential sites on which AH could be built. The law only requires that sites be provided not that they be developed. Marin Community Foundation is moving force behind much of the controversy. MCF decided that Novato was the last remaining place in Marin to develop affordable housing. They have been funneling money toward this goal ever since.
Trish Boorstein January 24, 2013 at 07:08 PM
S.E, since Novato is the last on the line to receive water from the russian river, can you tell us more about the water ramifications for Novato? Thank you
Trish Boorstein January 24, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Al, thank you for your letter to HCD. Your perseverance to affect change is held in the highest regard and appreciated by many!
Dave Robertson January 24, 2013 at 07:42 PM
Al, great letter! I do have a rather naive question, though. Why doesn't the City of Novato - or the residents of the City of Novato (in a class action) file a lawsuit against ABAG, the California HCD, as well as perhaps SUNN and the MCF (if their actions can be proven)? The lawsuit can name some or all of the above. If Novato has been treated as unfairly as you demonstrate that it has, this should prove to be a pretty straightforward argument. A good law firm might take this on a contingency fee basis, or assuming someone could set up a Novato Homeowners association - enough money could be collected to certainly get to the injunction stage where this is all stopped pending judicial review. I do suspect that, with enough members, we could collect a substantial sum to fund these efforts.
Dave Robertson January 24, 2013 at 07:52 PM
If (as Al says in his post above) the MCF forwarded that kind of cash to SUNN to promote high density housing in Novato - housing well beyond what is warranted or fair, this action could be viewed as prejudicial. It seems to me that the MCF views Novato as the "waste dump" for all of the projects that they don't want elsewhere in Marin. This is a further argument for tying this up in the courts - not as a frivolous legal action, but one with substantial merit. The City of Novato doesn't seem willing to lift a finger against these things - so perhaps it is time for the citizens of Novato to group together, pool their resources, and stop them right in their tracks.
Al Dugan January 24, 2013 at 08:01 PM
Dave, you are spot on and the homeowners of Novato need a voice and protection. Bob Ratto, Tina and I are starting a Novato Homeowners Association that has only two goals: 1. Protect the value of the homes of the homeowners of Novato. 2. Protect the character of the City of Novato. The web site will be up soon and will be fully functional allow easy access to join, at no cost, and stay informed on these isses and advocate for the homeowers.
Susan Wernick January 24, 2013 at 10:37 PM
From the MCF website: "Strategy 1: Increasing public support for affordable housing and influence zoning changes that support affordable housing." I'm not sure when MCF became an expert on land use planning so that they could effectively assist a city in their zoning changes. Also from the MCF website: "Under its Strategic Plan, the Foundation is focusing on three critical areas of community need. Besides making grants, MCF will address these issues through research, education, advocacy efforts, and bringing people together to collaborate and share ideas." Again, I'm a bit confused on how MCF has successfully brought people together to collaborate and share ideas. They haven't engaged the community at all. It seems they have their own ideas and want others to accept them. There's a lot of room for improvement here.
Dave Robertson January 25, 2013 at 12:08 AM
Well, you can count me in! Thanks.
Al Dugan January 25, 2013 at 01:44 AM
Of course not bud light, my way or the highway, Old N. Grouchy Peter whatever, etc. I don't want to mis your outstanding discourse.
Dave Robertson January 25, 2013 at 04:21 AM
While it is difficult to tell from the numbers for household growth vs housing growth, it seems to me that Novato has "imported" an enormous number of households. Given new housing planned or being built, one would expect all of Novato's growth to be from affordable housing. I wonder if a computation is available for Novato's commercial output ( GDP on a city level). If that has dropped, then there is no justification for any growth. Again, we'll written and very scientific article. We need people of your intellect and caliber on the city council. I am sure the NHA will receive large donations to keep this movement going, and keep others in check. Unfortunately we are running out of time for fresh faces to run for CC on this platform.
Al Dugan January 28, 2013 at 02:47 AM
I had a telecom with Mr. glen Campora of HCD and will be calling him back as he had limited time. He did indicate they would provide a written response and I will share it with my comments when I receive it. The water is a key issue.
Kirk Gillary January 28, 2013 at 05:27 AM
Al, Is HCD discriminating against Novato? Or does HCD know Novato will build low income housing and the other cities won't, so the pressure is on Novato?
Eleanor Sluis January 28, 2013 at 07:45 AM
Asking questions and judging answers is necessary to being involved with the use of city money. These public responses both emotional and rational are necessary for a democratic society. Yet, what seems to be happening in Novato is my concern. I think that the city administration and the council are not listening to the residents, following the Vision Plan of 2028, or the General Plan. Those plans are to keep the small town atmosphere, with two and three story heights, zoning at 15-20 units per acre, provide and protect residents with safety personnel, parks, recreation, pleasing aesthetics of hills, trees, setbacks, low traffic count, bike paths, healthy people, and with great schools. A 6pm workshop on Tuesday at City halol is not only for the agenda, but is also for approval of the new strategic plan. It gives politically correct language to the new agenda, while it subverts the intentions of the plan by favoring the developers, the Chamber, and those businesses who care only to exploit the rural Novato atmosphere. The public wants a balanced housing approach, maintained infrastructure, safety personnel and top notch schools and since they pay for it-they deserve the best. I certainly want this.
Eleanor Sluis January 28, 2013 at 07:51 AM
Why am I concerned? On page 7, new strategic plan- part A c-1. The city wants to combine all the plans for Hamilton and the City into one plan. The administration’s reasoning is my concern. Translating their wording into plain English the city implies that developers and staff are 2/3 more important than residents are. It shows that residents are given only 1/3 of the emphasis for their needs in the city. Yet, it is residents who foot the bills. It is an unbalanced approach to a democracy. The developers and staff should not have more power, prominence, and money while not listening to the public. The city council is colluding with this reasoning by placing this item and others as consent items not discussed with the public in forums, commissions, or in the media. http://ci.novato.ca.us/agendas/pdfstaffreports/012913_Agenda%20Planning%20Item%201-29-13.pdf Please attend the meeting at City Hall, Tuesday, at 6 o'clock to speak about your concerns.
Dave Robertson January 28, 2013 at 10:06 AM
Eleanor: Of course the City Council is not listening to the residents! That is a problem inherent in local city government. Frankly it is all a bunch of nonsense that really reflects the fact that there are many city employees with nothing to do but churn out volumes of this stuff to "paper" everyone with. And yes, the city council not only encourages it, they require it. If only we could pare our city staff down and get rid of the people who write this nonsense. That would be progress! This reminds me of the time long ago when I worked for large Silicon Valley corporations. Big companies love this sort of material - glossy flow charts, projections, all the things that make it look as if there is much to be done when in reality we just need to go about business as usual. I guess I wonder quite simply .... what are we planning for? We are currently in a period of anemic national growth with no end in the forecast. California is not doing well itself either. What growth are we planning? As Al Dugan said in his Op-Ed, most of the recent growth here is due to the low income housing - housing that is overdone here. Is there some great economic revival planned for Novato that no one is aware of? Do we expect a major influx of residents in the next ten years? I think not.
Dave Robertson January 28, 2013 at 10:18 AM
Please, lets not make this problem more complex than it really is. It is all a result of local government with too little to do - so they plan. They all have grand plans! Are any of them realistic? This is not Cupertino, Palo Alto, or Mountain View. We don't have the hundreds of billions in revenue that flow through their residents pockets each year. We are just "Novato." And there is nothing wrong with that! What is wrong is when we have a government that plans Novato's future when they have no idea of what the future will bring. I think the expression many years ago was "all dressed up and no place to go." That's what i see that describes the plans for Novato's future. 2028 is only 15 years from now - likely a bleak one economically all over the country. We shouldn't be going to meeting and talking in "politician-speak". We need to stop the fluff, get down to reality and do precisely what Al Dugan concluded his article by saying .... "It may be necessary, if there is not equality or goals that are in the Novato’s best interest, for a citizen’s group in Novato to take legal action." We don't need more politicians saying the same things and promoting the same studies - none of which are even needed. We need to put a stop to this right now. If that means repopulating the City Council by electing non-politicians to bring us into reality - then so be it! Reading that planning/PR nonsense is nauseating!
Eleanor Sluis January 28, 2013 at 07:37 PM
You can be a winner with a Novato rural, family oriented strategy especially moms and dads who understand issues as noted by bloggers. Yes, it is difficult. However, you will not faint if you are authentic. Women and men need support in asking questions and judging answers. This is necessary to being involved with the city plans.. Public responses both emotional and rational are necessary for a democratic society On page 7 new strategic plan parts A c-1. The city wants to combine all the plans for Hamilton and the City into one plan. The administration’s reasoning is my concern. Translating their wording into plain English implies that developers and staff are 2/3 more important than residents are. It shows that residents receive 1/3 of the emphasis for their needs in the city. Yet, it is residents who foot the bills. An unbalanced approach to democracy is developers, staff, and Chamber having power, prominence, and money while not listening to the public. The city council colludes with this reasoning by placing this item and others as consent items not discussed with the public in forums, commissions, or in the media. Pick three blogs about improving Novato and read them aloud or create your own. Be in the winner's circle of those who have written or spoken. http://ci.novato.ca.us/agendas/pdfstaffreports/012913_Agenda%20Planning%20Item%201-29-13.pdf Please attend the 6pm meeting at City Hall, Tuesday, to speak about your concerns. Thanks.
Al Dugan February 01, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Dave, click on your name and you will see a message from me with the link to Novato Homeowners Association that will have a full press release very soon. You can join now.
Dave Robertson February 02, 2013 at 12:25 AM
Al: Do you mean me? I didn't know all that existed here. I did as you said but there is nothing there from you. Can you try again, please? Thanks.
Al Dugan February 02, 2013 at 01:38 AM
Dave, checked and the message is pending. You should have it soon.
Roger February 02, 2013 at 03:09 AM
Buds, give Al a break. He is just trying to do what you always tell readers to do....stop complaining on the Patch and take some real action to get the change you want.


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