Resistance to housing mandates force-fed by the state of California was as strong as ever Wednesday night in Novato.
overflowed with concerned residents who spoke before a 21-person volunteer committee charged with making recommendations to the Novato City Council about sites around the city that could be rezoned for housing.
Organizers kept the microphone open for about 3 ½ hours as each of the nine sites proposed by the City Manager’s Housing Ad Hoc Working Group was discussed. Dozens of people took their 90-second turn speaking out, and nearly all of them were opposed to development on the properties.
But at least they were civil, forum organizers said. Almost a year ago, when the city began outreach efforts on the housing portion of its general plan update, meetings turned into vocal sparring matches complete with finger pointing and threats. On Wednesday, there were pointed words but calmer nerves.
“I was very pleased with the level of engagement, the sincerity and the politeness of my fellow citizens,” said Pam Drew, a working group member . “We had no idea that people really did know all the effort that has been made (by the group) and they understand how long the process has been. They were super.”
Novato needs to zone for about 200 more housing units out of the initial 1,241 for which the city needed to plan as part of its housing element update for the years 2007-2014. Community Development Director Dave Wallace explained that the city “is not going to take people’s property and force them to construct housing. That’s not the case here at all. Our mandate from the state is to identify properties that could potentially accommodate housing. It’s up to each property owner if they would like talk to a developer about selling.”
Despite Wallace’s clarification, several people criticized the city for wanting to knock down a preschool or church to build low-income housing. Many speakers with a better grasp of the facts justified their not-in-my-backyard positions by citing concerns about safety, health, traffic, property values, environmental issues and crime. Several people mentioned that Novato has 20 percent of Marin County’s population but has 33 percent of the affordable housing.
“Novato can’t afford affordable housing,” said Kenneth Holmes, a longtime Novato resident and retired county coroner. “Our infrastructure is suffering now. Our schools, our streets, our police, our fire district … everyone is being tested right now.”
Cynthia Sundberg riffed off the name of a pro-housing group called when she added, “I don’t want to be neighborly Novato anymore. I want to keep our property values and be safe. … It would be nice if Novato took care of the people who take care of Novato.”
One woman said she was saddened that every neighborhood can find reasons why a high-density housing complex for low-income residents shouldn’t be in their neighborhood. On the flip side, a man who said he heard that Novato will be asked to carry a larger housing burden in future years said, “My answer is no, hell no.”
There was a large contingent of neighbors of a targeted site near the corner of San Marin Drive and Simmons Lane who were strongly against high-density housing in that area. They said it wouldn’t be smart to build units on the property owned by the because of how much traffic already rolls — often too fast — on San Marin Drive, a gateway thoroughfare for the Partridge Knolls, San Marin and Pleasant Valley areas.
“Child safety is of great concern as we encourage our kids to bike and walk to school,” said Partridge Knolls resident Victoria Crawley.
The , a church on South Novato Boulevard, is on one of the sites on the list of nine properties targeted by the ad hoc working group. A portion of the Quest’s land could be suited for 20 to 22 units per acre, and that doesn’t bother Pastor Joe Everly.
“I must say I’m concerned that the new young teachers in our schools may not have a chance to live in the community in which they teach,” he said. “I’m concerned my own kids … might now have a chance to live in Novato. The Quest property was purchased in the late 1950s, and we have many good neighbors. My hope is that we can balance our concerns so that we can have a new generation move into Novato. The only way to do that is to compromise … We need to meet the needs of a new generation.”