Op-Ed: Housing Allocations Have to be Reasonable

Al Dugan writes to ABAG and the Novato City Council to prove Novato has done more than its share with the lowest-income levels of housing.

Editor's note: On July 10, Novato resident Al Dugan sent the following letter to Mark Luce, president of the Association of Bay Area Governments, and CC'd the members of the Novato City Council.

I am a resident of Novato and have lived in this city since 1983.  I got involved with the affordable housing issue last year 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 population from 1999 to 2006 the city created 51.4 percent of the affordable housing in Marin County.  

The Association of Bay Area Governments 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. 

  1. RHNA allocated 1,241 Very Low 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 their allocated goal, San Rafael had 6 percent and Tiburon had 15 percent.
  2. RHNA allocated 618 Low 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 their allocated goal, San Rafael had 42 percent and Tiburon had 21 percent.
  3. RHNA allocated 1,726 Moderate Housing for Marin County.  A total of 1,040 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 their allocated goal, San Rafael had 69 percent and Mill Valley had 73 percent. 
  4. RHNA allocated 2,930 Above Moderate 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. I will address both of these issues:

  1. 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).  Can you please send me the actual calculation for Novato for the coming housing cycle and explain how it allows compliance given the past performance for very low and low affordable housing?
  2. The census data (www.bayareacensus.ca.gov) 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. 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. (See attached worksheet.)  Adding the Minimum Housing Floor factor of 40 percent to Novato’s affordable housing calculation in the next cycle does not seem reasonable.

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 ABAG RHNA allocations for Novato in the future cycles are reasonable and properly reflect past performance and local conditions.


Heidi Eberle July 17, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Well folks, Novato had an air force base that had more land so as a 30 resident of Lanham Village, supposedly low income, I have to differ with the comments. “Low income” has a bad rap. These homes ARE NOT for welfare recepients but for those of us hard working people who may not make as much money as you but do want to have a home to call their own. But I do agree that Novato has had more “lower income” housing than the rest of Marin. So why complain to Novato....start attending council meetings of other cities to get them to take up the slack.
Baxter July 17, 2012 at 04:42 PM
When all is said and done and whether or not other cities in Marin "take up the slack" in building affordable housing - there are land owners in Novato who are drooling over the opportunity to sell their properties to developers who will build very low income and very dense affordable housing units regardless of RHNA numbers. Not everyone is screaming "eminent domaine." ABAG and the new state laws has provided an opportunity for the owners of acres and acres of land to make a profit. And, in this economy who could say "no". The perk for the cities is that they can include the dense affordable housing in their future RHNA numbers.
Shonni Tidwell July 17, 2012 at 04:53 PM
What Novato has for Low income housing is a Laugh it is not affordable low income housing, a 1 bedroom is $1250.00 to 1300.00 a month and those are supposed to be low income housing. What a joke I had to move so I had to rent a 5th wheel to live in Could not afford my apartment, the rent is so high here and that is one big reason why we have so many homeless.
Ventress Dugan July 17, 2012 at 06:21 PM
It is curious that the very people that oppose transparency and responsibility of our local government DO NOT use their real names! Al is willing and has in the past been at all the meetings he is able to attend and met with our city leaders, one on one to discuss the issue of affordable housing. The city council has been very open to discussion and more than cooperative on these issues. It is called an open dialog. This is how a democracy works.
Tina McMillan July 17, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Thanks Mark! There should be a means of stopping people from posting under multiple pseudonyms particularly in same article. It takes away from any constructive dialogue. Grimes just posts to get folks riled up.
Tina McMillan July 17, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Heidi While Lanham has been in place for 30 years (I remember when Little Village Preschool was there) Al is talking about housing quotas handed down by the state that need to be changed. Denise Athas wrote a letter to ABAG earlier this year to question our numbers given the amount we have already built. Novato, more than any community in Marin, has always had more affordable housing. That is why I moved here. It also has a diverse community that is a blend of rural and suburban and that wants to see a balance between housing that is built without a tax base that contributes to local schools and city services. Attending the meetings of other cities wont change the system. It will take a combined effort of people from Novato, the city council, the county, the regional agencies and the state to get this right. Al is pointing out how much Novato has already done without getting credit in its RHNA numbers. Providing reasonably priced housing is part of Novato's history, now we also need to provide revenue to support schools and city services.
Tina McMillan July 17, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Shonni One problem has been the lack of section 8 housing vouchers. When SB375 passed the push became building new housing to provide to folks with lesser incomes rather than providing subsidized rentals. You can't even get on the section 8 list it has been closed for so long. I don't know why the county shut down this option but it allowed people with lower incomes to remain in Novato (and other cities) simply by supplementing market rate rents. It was a great system.
Al Dugan July 17, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Thank you Mark. As I have said before the good news is anyone can comment and the bad news is anyone can comment......I still like it dispute the attempted disruption of real discourse.
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 July 17, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Thank you Al for another informative piece. What the high density low income housing industry/corporate nonprofits DON'T talk about or tell you is--- how our public schools are impacted. Studies show time and time again that there is a direct link between poverty and education. With the corporate nonprofits not paying any real estate taxes, which include school tax, and having potentially high risk students enroll in Novato's low wealth school district, (yet making up to millions of dollars a year on rents)---- this is not paying "their fair share" into the system---and they know it. The corporate nonprofits are NOT required to provide tutors, funding for schools, educational intervention. etc. etc. As an active volunteer in the Novato Public Schools, I can tell you that our teachers and schools are doing "more with less" and the needs of our students are greater and greater.
Roger July 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Al, when you get a rely from ABAG's Mark Luce, please share it. I know Mark as a Napa supervisor, and he will likely take the time to write you a full answer. Does anyone here on the Patch know when our Novato Council plans to having a meeting on their revised list of AH sites before it is sent to the State in 2013?
Trish Boorstein July 18, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Al, keep researching and making transparent! Roger, I don't know the date specifics which you might be able to get from Staff by inquiring and asking Anne Moore or Bob Brown. What I have noticed at city meetings that I've attended recently, is during public comment, a housing advocate will stand up and speak the usual talk about not having enough affordable housing in Novato, etc... I suggest that anyone can arrive to speak during public comment and speak about honoring the 20 units an acre density, following the general plan of two story height limits, complying with Government Code Section 65584(d) that Al talks about, and anything else relevant.
NovatoGuy July 18, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Who the f--- wants low income/section 8 housing here? Not those who know what it's like to work for what we have.
Tina McMillan July 18, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Section 8 is not the same as low income housing. Section 8 vouchers supplement housing that pays market rate taxes by supplementing the difference. In the past section 8 was available to people with disabilities, single parents families, and seniors. You are right, we must all work for what we have but the current system, which eliminated section 8, would rather build new housing, with no tax base and use that to provide for the poor and needy. Section 8 was a healthier model because the taxes paid by the owner were market rate and supported the schools and the city services.
Shonni Tidwell July 18, 2012 at 02:22 AM
If you only knew what it is like to be disabled, and have very little income coming in From your so called remark you sound like a rich heartless asshole, do you realize that a lot of people work their asses off but don't make enough to pay rent of $1,000 or more, so low income and not everyone is on section 8 or some kind of housing, the Rent in Novato is to Damn high.
Gretta C. July 18, 2012 at 04:18 AM
Shonni, I would like you to live in a nice place. However, Novato's government allows slumlords like owners the of Bay Vista and Wyndover. you wouldn't want to live there. It would be safer to live under a bridge. I don't think drug dealers live under bridges, because they can live at Bay Vista and Wyndover.
T. Allen July 18, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Al I've read this same article several times now. Of course the little bit of affordable housing Marin has will go in Novato and San Rafael. Novato has room and lower land costs Land is too expensive in Ross, Belvedere etc and places like Corte Madera are too small and built out. You picked a time frame when Hamilton was built. Have we also cherry gotten any AH in last decade? None. Hopefully the new senior housing will open soon, but that is first affordable housing in last 10 years. Instead of comparing us to rest of Marin, look at need. It is huge and growing. Thank you Shonni and Heidi for speaking up. These people are out of touch with the reality of rents in Novato. Renters subsidize their home mortgage deduction and in many cases, renters are paying far more than their mortgage on homes bought 20 yrs ago.
Dave Robertson July 18, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Novato is basically a suburban commuter city feeding San Francisco. We don't have the proximity to even be feasible to commute to the South Bay - where the money and jobs are. Why do we want to push ourselves into the distinction of having the lions share of low income housing? It lowers the already devalued property values of existing homes at a time when people are trying to make ends meet to keep what they came here for many years ago. This is like a lifeboat overloading itself to allow more people on - only to capsize and sink with all aboard. Sorry, I feel for those who cannot afford to live here. But many who already live here - and have lived here for years cannot do so for much longer. It seems that Novato always gets the lions share of low income allocations. And the City just sits there and takes it. Why doesn't the City do anything to protect the people who have lived here 10, 20, 30 or more years? I mean financial protection of most people's largest asset - their home. Now who will ever want to move here knowing that their home investment will be devalued further - simply because this City feels obligated to bow to housing "needs allocations"? News to those making those allocations: things are falling apart up here. We are not growing and there is no where to go!
Al Dugan July 18, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Quietly frankly Mr. Allen the "little bit of affordable housing for Marin" should have no problem fitting in Ross, Belvedere, and Corte Madera, or any of other 7 cities other than Novato in Marin. If you are from Novato, which would surprise me, I suggest you read the the Op-Ed one more time or you can read Mr. Ratto's comments above for a brief summary. I am not even going to mention Government Code Section 65584 (d) which you totally ignored. Then you need to read Mr. Robertson's comments below.
Dave Robertson July 18, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Yes, put all the affordable housing in Novato. Put a glut of vacancy here, so we can lower our property values even more. This is still Marin, a commuter feeding city for San Francisco. There a lots of people who get up very early each day for a 2+ hour commute each way from Santa Rosa to San Francisco each day. They do this to find cheaper housing than in Marin (i.e. - Novato). People in Marin have enough problems keeping their own homes afloat - they certainly don't need ABAG or the City of Novato deflating their home values even further. Those of us owning homes here are not "out of touch" with rents. Perhaps those who rent are "out of touch" with the costs of home ownership - especially as equity takes a steep dive into the toilet over the past 4 years. I will say this one more time ... When will the City of Novato do something to help out it's CURRENT residents? Short sales and foreclosures are epidemic here. And renters SHOULD be paying more than the mortgage costs to rent a house purchased over 20 years ago. Taxes and insurance costs well over $1000 a month for the average home. Or should people rent out their "distressed property" at a loss just to do a good deed?
Al Dugan July 18, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Mr. Robertson, great job of laying out where we are and the danger to the biggest asset of most persons, their house, that they have worked hard for the last 5, 10, 20 or 30 years. It is a matter of record this is the largest asset of the majority of Americans.
Dave Robertson July 19, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Al, thank you - and a great article. You give some real numbers to describe the problem of the City of Novato's apparent obsession to destroy itself by adding tons and tons of affordable housing. It seems to me that the City Council and City Manager are so eager to turn this city into a thriving business center, that they are adding tons of units just to "grow" - as if this will make business thrive here. It won't, and never will. Instead of working on ways to preserve what home value people have - the City Council is finding ways to dilute the pool on the supply side even more. The rezoning of a neighborhood to create low income housing is an unconscionable affront to the people that currently own homes there. The City Council should be ashamed of this behavior. Yet they go on trying to find new ways to add housing. If you own a home that is "underwater" in Novato, there is far less hope of getting "upright" than in the other Marin Cities and towns. Our current Mayor, a realtor, still doesn't admit that homes here are selling simply because most people cannot afford to put theirs on the market. How and why we elect these people is beyond my comprehension.
TR. Bales July 19, 2012 at 05:46 AM
You obviously don't have a clue how the Novato Public Schools are having to deal with all of the low income students that have many behavioral problems. Not all of them of course that are low income do have problems, but a lot. Biting, kicking, screaming, knives, gangs, etc is appropriate for our schools? Ross et al don't have those problems in their schools but Novato does....and we wonder why that is. What Southern Marin Schools have security guards like Novato Public Schools do? Wonder why? Think about it.
TR. Bales July 19, 2012 at 05:49 AM
We need to add that Warner Creek is building units at $400,000 a piece when you can buy a condo for less than $200,000 a unit in Novato. I hear Warner Creek is already full when units are built from OUTSIDE of Novato. So, you bring up very good points Mr. Robertson that Novato needs to help it's own and they are not. The construction industry is sure making it out big on all of this.
TR. Bales July 19, 2012 at 05:52 AM
The unions are behind all of this low income housing. They make a lot of money with the construction industry. As seen in the past, unions are connected with organized crime and corruption.
Dave Robertson July 19, 2012 at 06:18 AM
TR: I own a number of east coast apartment properties. Rentals are way up - both % rented and rental price. Very few people are willing to invest in new construction, however. Apartments, maybe - but condo's - no. Even then, the larger companies are buying existing complexes and very few are building new ones. There is too much pressure from the communities NOT to build new housing when existing housing is underwater and over-abundant. ONLY NOVATO seems to think that now is a good time to build. This city could care less about current residents and is willing to do anything to bring in more people. The pathetic part is that the City Council thinks that this will bring in new business. What business would want to go into a town where the residents are made even more bankrupt by diluting an already huge pool of existing housing? Our mayor and City Council need to understand that this is NOT Palo Alto or Mountain View. We don't have Google or Facebook to fill the city bank accounts with revenue. They need to face the facts about the realities here. We need to vote in people who back existing residents - a campaign issue that is rarely raised. Just "pro-growth" vs. "anti-growth". How about survival?
Dave Robertson July 19, 2012 at 06:20 AM
I think it is more likely that we have a case of "clueless politicians and bureaucrats."
Al Dugan August 07, 2012 at 05:57 AM
For the record, I have not received a response from Mr.Luce of ABAG. Several Role asked me to let them know.
Al Dugan August 13, 2012 at 05:20 AM
I have still not received a response from Mr. Luce or anyone from ABAG. I am following up and will post the letter following up for a response.
Mark Burnham August 13, 2012 at 05:26 PM
novato will become the 1985 version of hill valley that marty mc fly returns to after biff gets ahold of the sports almanac. someone has to steal the almanac back from our city council.
Al Dugan September 04, 2012 at 02:14 AM
I had numerous people email me and ask i provide any response received from Mr. Luce, President of ABAG, or anyone from ABAG. Even after a followup I still have not received any response from ABAG or Mr. Luce. I believe this clearly indicates ABAG does not believe they own any citizen a response or that they care about the people and jurisdictions they are trying to top down plan based on the flawed SB 375 law. They have sent a clear message without any message.


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