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School District to Discuss What to Do with Vacant San Marin Property

City is under pressure to locate spots for future housing developments. San Andreas Drive property is a prime candidate.

It's a harmonic convergence of two epic issues in Novato: school district properties and future housing development. Tuesday's meeting of the Novato Unified School District could be pretty darned interesting.

Here's why: People who want to keep a 21 1/2-acre property from being developed are being challenged to step up and figure out a way to preserve it. Otherwise it could end up as a housing complex at some point down the road.

The vacant greenbelt parcel in Novato's San Marin neighborhood will be among land-use topics to be discussed at the NUSD board meeting. According to a school district staff report, City Manager Michael Frank has suggested a proactive move by the district to start conversations with neighborhood groups to negotiate a sale of at least half the land as a nature preserve.

The city is mandated to pinpoint locations that could be rezoned for future housing developments a part of its general plan update. The housing element of the general plan for 2007-2014 has generated tons of controversy because, for the first time in state history, municipalities had to identify parcels that could be developed rather than just estimated the number of housing units that should be built to accommodate population growth.

The San Andreas site, just south of San Marin Drive, is not on the city's list of developable properties but remains the school district's largest asset of vacant land. To say that some neighbors don't want development would be an understatement. Officially, the San Marin Improvement Association has not stated a position on the matter, but the city has been — and will continue to be — under pressure to include part of the property on its list of potential housing development properties.

Meantime, the grassroots group called San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition is circulating an online petition to voice support for the city's draft housing element for 2007-2014, which does not include the San Andreas site.

What do you think ought to happen with this property? And is that different than what you think WILL happen?

The NUSD trustees also will discuss other buildings, properties and assets at the Tuesday meeting, which starts at 5 p.m.

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Dave Robertson January 28, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Great idea. I don't even live in San Marin and I would pay a tax to do so as well. Better yet, I would pay a whole lot more than a tax to fund candidates to populate the city council with people with enough between their ears to look at the big picture.
Dave Robertson January 28, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Sam - while I agree we shouldn't get into the "no speak English" issue, it still remains that our local governments are spending more and more money - money we don't have to spend! Why are we supporting people or families with incomes up to $90K a year? Lower income - maybe - and to a point. But higher incomes? California has some of the highest tax rates in the country - and still we can not make ends meet. Are projects like this helping to fuel the fires of bankruptcy? Finally, what are we to do with all these people? Are we going to give them jobs too? The last I heard it was hard to find a job opening out there. Novato has done enough - enough for the next 50 years. We need to put our foot down and say "NO" to this - just as many Marin communities have done for years. They have the guts to do so. We will be an overpopulated "wart" on the freeway north of "sane Marin."
Ralph Canine January 28, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Hello Sam, The "R" word is no substitute for facing the reality of what has happened to public schools in Marin County. The achievement gap is enormous and gives few signs of getting any better. It's a fact that students from families that don't speak English at home are at a serious educational disadvantage, especially when parents have low educational attainment. It's also a fact that the reputation for academic and behavioral quality at local public schools has an important effect on neighborhood stability. We all know these things are true so there is no point in politically correct pretending. As for the example of the family which earns $90,000 per year and qualifies for affordable housing, your point is correct but moot in practical terms. Affordable housing is required to operate on a quota system: no more than 25% senior / disabled, and the remaining 75% distributed among extremely low income, very low income, low income, and moderate income residents. A family earning $90,000 might occupy one of the apartments, but at least 50% of the other residents would have much lower incomes. For people of working age, low incomes are often associated with low educational attainment, single parenthood, and a tendency toward dysfunctional lifestyle choices. These issues arise from personal behavior and not determined by anyone's ethnic background or complexion. Once about 20% of a student body comes difficult home situations, academic and behavioral standards fall.
Anita Waite January 28, 2013 at 10:44 PM
The most compelling factor against building more housing of any kind is the fact that Novato's water supply from the Russian River is currently maxed out, as pointed out by someone at the SMCHC meeting last week. Building more housing would further deplete our water supply to the point there would hardly be enough water for showers, and certainly not enough water to fight fires. It was further noted that a specific California code prevents more housing development(s) unless it can be demonstrated that there is enough water to supply the development(s). Think how dry it gets here in the summer -- how often the fire department is called out to extinguish brush/grass fires. Do we want to risk not having enough water to protect our community?
Mark Cwirko January 29, 2013 at 01:38 AM
The City of Novato (led by none other than City Manager Michael Frank) told the group trying to build the bicycle Pump Track that their application, if it was to be built on City of Novato property, would not even be accepted. So they moved the Pump Track to County Property (Stafford Lake) to avoid dealing with the City. No way the City would approve this idea, unfortunately.
Mark Cwirko January 29, 2013 at 01:57 AM
No one is saying that people of all socio-economic backgrounds, races, ethnicities are not welcome in Novato. Where is this thought coming from? Novato has members of its community from a variety of cultures, who are welcomed with open arms. Many people of Novato are NOT in support of affordable housing (AH), which they have a right to express. Some of the reasons for this are: 1) The current low and low-low income AH in Novato has helped only a few citizens of Novato, and has hurt Novato (crime, blight). (Example: Only a handful of Novato families ended up in the Hamilton AH complex. The remainder were from other communities. How did this benefit Novato as a whole?) 2) Novato already has a disproportionate % of AH compared to Marin, and economics show that we cannot continue to support an ever growing % of AH funded by the remainder of the population. Simple math tells you that if you increase the % of the population who is taking from the public funds and decrease the % of the population who is giving into the pool of public funds - then the money will eventually run out. Just look at the countries Social Security dilemma, or if you are from another culture look at the issues in Spain, Greece, etc... If you believe in AH, then you have every right to get involved in it. There are plenty of groups who do this and happily accept your donations. But please don't ask me to pay for high density low income - I don't see it helping Novato.
Al Dugan January 29, 2013 at 04:55 AM
Wow, what a hire gun with an obvious pitch, and for the record it is all about making tax free profits. Novato, remember the city over built affordable housing in the 1999 - 2006 housing element and this is the 2007 - 2014 housing element being played by the triad, developers, builders and institutional investors. Here we go again. For the record A.M. Barnard we are TMIMBY..... Too Much in My Back Yard.
Dave Robertson January 29, 2013 at 04:58 AM
Yes, that is likely the only point that will get through these people's heads until we get a city council with some backbone. It was about 4 years ago, and water levels got so low that Sonoma cut off a good percentage of Russian River water flow to Marin. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the trends here. Given that Novato has a "swimming pool" sized reservoir, we could easily end up so severely cut back that it could threaten our very existence. If I also remember correctly, new water hook ups were put on hold for a time, etc. Instead of stuffing Novato full of more people, how about giving room for the people that already live here?
Renee January 29, 2013 at 05:01 AM
I sympathize with your comments and feelings about Novato turning into a urbanized unpleasant city it seems to be morphing into before our very eyes. I use to love the fact that Novato HAD so much open space, there was no traffic congestion! big box stores. One of the reasons my family settled here in the early seventies, was to not live in urban sprawl. I still feel some hope that we can fight hard for to keep our way of life here.
Al Dugan January 29, 2013 at 05:08 AM
A.M. Barnard, do you get paid by post?
Al Dugan January 29, 2013 at 05:18 AM
Wow, and for a troll so condescending...isn't that kick.....are you paid per post?
Dave Robertson January 29, 2013 at 05:22 AM
I agree with Mark Cwirko above! This mirrors lots of problems we see on a national basis. Frankly, I don't see what one bit of additional high density housing could possibly do for this city, except destroy it! While I can accept this county being filled with ultra-liberals bent on "leveling the socio- economic playing field", sometimes it goes way too far. We are watching what was a perfectly lovely town 15 years ago be spotted with urban sprawl - giving more free services to the needy. But at what point do we realize that giving beyond what is feasible is destroying this town? Then we have the city politicians and civil servants who think their role is to maintain this immense body of government. Lots of city staff have nothing better to do than plan for what will never happen. They create all these documents and plans to the point of absurdity. I guess if we let some planning and PR staff go, we would have less people to fill in the brand new city buildings that are being constructed as a monument to this city's enormous infrastructure and the people required to staff it. Bob Brown was just made community development director, to which all of the city planning reports to. What does our planning staff do these days? Given that I haven't seen a new home built in years - likely very little. I wouldn't be surprised if the lions share of their time went toward planning more high density housing. Do we even know what we want in Novato?
Dave Robertson January 29, 2013 at 05:32 AM
No! The people of this city need to have a unified voice and tell the people running this town that we won't take it any longer. What affects each neighborhood affects all of Novato. And I disagree that the way through this process is to become a part of it. The people supporting high density housing have amassed large sums of money to achieve their goals. It's time for the opponents of this housing to do the same. There certainly is enough spare cash to go around from many residents I have seen. Only then can we take this battle to the courts, and eventually replace the whole city council with non-politicians who simply want the best for our community. If we don't, this city is going to see an exodus of many long-time residents. The new acronym should be NNIMBY - or "not needed in my back yard".
Al Dugan January 29, 2013 at 05:38 AM
Dave, go with TMIMBY as we have earned it in 1999 - 2006 housing element when we built 56% of the affordable housing of Marin and 85% of the low affordable housing in Marin. TMIMBY stands for "Too Much In My Back Yard".
Al Dugan January 29, 2013 at 06:12 AM
For the record, please note A.M. Bernard is probably a troll who is supporting affordable housing in Marin, and is probably paid to do it or benefits from affordable housing. In 1999 - 2006 Novato built 56% of the affordable housing in Marin and 85% of the low affordable housing in Marin. The Novato motto has to be TMIMBY which stands for " Too Much In My Back Yard".
Tina McMillan January 29, 2013 at 09:48 AM
The San Andreas property could provide a combination of market rate senior housing with a range of units priced to assist existing Novato seniors on fixed incomes and workforce housing for teachers. It is large enough to add an attractive mix of retail/commercial and areas of park and open space. 21 and half acres could be designed to meet many of the needs and wants described by people posting on this thread and still fit into the existing neighborhood and create property tax revenue and sales tax revenue if it was mixed with retail/commercial. This is an extremely large parcel that could be largely market rate residences that would bring in revenue. Novato has a shortage of housing for teachers and an aging population that will need places to live. If the parcel is left in its current zoning does anyone know what it is zoned for?
A.M. Barnard January 29, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Sorry to disappoint, Mr. Dugan, but I don't get paid by the word, the letter OR the post. However, yesterday, I did post several pseudo-coded pieces of Novato trivia as indication of my long and deep roots in town. Any fellow long time towner would easily be able to decipher what I wrote. What a shame that we cannot meet at TH for a beverage, though we could go to the site and get some Benjamins nowadays. Mean anything to YOU?
T.Sprocket January 29, 2013 at 02:28 PM
SMIA you need to buy this land asap. Should they drop ANY low income development in here you will be paying the price via lower property values, to combat crime, and for other costly city services. Novato has provided its fair share (and far more) of the county's low income housing. Additionally, there is no need for this type of housing. SMIA get ahead of this thing. Homeowners in SM would overwhelmingly support some tax to keep crime, congestion, and gang bangers out of their neighborhood. For those of you that believe that teachers and elderly will benefit from this plan. I am wondering what would prevent an "elderly" person(55+) from some other locale taking advantage of some govt program (say Section 8) and then inviting their criminal cousins over for the weekend or the month and then finding out that they are harboring a murder suspect from Oakland? Wait.. I guess nothing.. because it just happened this week in Novato at Wyndover. Wake up San Marin/Novato. http://www.marinij.com/novato/ci_22468467/novato-police-arrest-murder-suspect-oakland-shooting?source=most_viewed
Avanti Monty January 29, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Amy We have raised three sons in Novato with success as have our neighbors and friends .Our kids were always involved in some activity . Theirs are numerous park and rec programs, little league programs, Scouts ,The boys and girls club, football and baseball fields, school yards with basketball hoops ,hiking and biking trails . .A multitude of parks which unfortunately are regularly populated by losers who sell drugs and do drugs and alcohol.( these kids have something to do all the time ) The kids of Novato and Marin county have all kinds of venues open to them . The problem is their parents lack of interest they need to get involved and pay more attention to what their kids are doing or not doing. Its called parenting 1A .
A.M. Barnard January 29, 2013 at 08:49 PM
Ms. Wigton, have you not driven around the town of Novato? There are indeed plenty of sports fields, parks and playgrounds. Land stretches as far as the eye can see at Stafford Lake. Parents have been known to even take their kids to Scottsdale Pond to feed the ducks. The older kids are welcome to drop in at the Teen Center. In short, there are opportunities galore for children to play. Furthermore, the "for the children!" ideas are pricey, would encumber the city with tremendous liability, and stand to generate an increase in vehicular traffic in and out of San Marin. Interesting that cost, liability and traffic are of no concern when it's well-to-do kids reaping the benefits.
Tina McMillan January 29, 2013 at 09:05 PM
If I understand correctly this is school district property and not city property. The two are separate financial entities. The district is currently operating at a $3.3 million dollar structural deficit. If the property were developed it could also house a charter school. The grants for start ups still exist. It is a large lot that could be used in a variety of ways. The best way to find out what may happen is to contact the school district directly. Here is Leslie Benjamin's email. She may be able to provide information. LBENJAMIN@nusd.org; The San Andreas property is not named in the current draft housing element. If it were to be named then the multi million dollar question is, how will the district create funding to build teacher workforce housing. I can't imagine why the district would give away the land. I don't know if there are any other preconditions on it that would limit what was built there. Again, contacting the district seems like the place to begin.
Lloyd January 30, 2013 at 12:18 AM
OMG. First I have to say emotions are running quite high on all fronts. I for one do not live in San Marin. I do not have a 21.5 acre unused site next to my home. Therefore I wouldn't suppose to tell those there what they should or shouldn't want. Michael Frank did suggest having half the site dedicated to a park/open space and that represents a big step in the right direction. The schools most definitely need the money a sale of this land could bring. The real question is who should buy it. One poster said the residents of San Marin should buy it through some type of assessment district. I believe the residents of the Town of Ross did something similar for their Botanical Garden site. Perhaps the NMWD would donate a water hook up and some water and a large community garden could be developed with much if not all the fruit and vegetables going to the various food banks. Everyone wins... Just an idea but shouldn't we have a positive approach?
Tina McMillan February 01, 2013 at 10:00 AM
FYI, Ross designated both Marin Art and Garden Center and the Branson School for their affordable housing sites and got their draft element approved. Our draft housing element was challenged before it even reached Sacramento when SUNN wrote a letter to HCD and presented it at the Planning Commission meeting. In their letter they stated that the draft housing element did not provide sufficient land or density to meet the AH needs of Novato. If you are concerned about what is built where please take a look at several neighborhood groups. Novato Community Alliance http://nca4bh.org/ncasite_j17/index.php/en/ San Marin Compatible Housing https://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Marin-Compatible-Housing-Coalition/146336562110267 Novato Homeowners Association http://www.novatohoa.com/ Each of these groups supports a suburban designation for affordable housing at 20 units per acre. The petition link below is intended as a show of support for our city planners who have submitted a draft housing element for 2007-2014 to HCD. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/supportnovato/?utm_medium=email&utm_sour%20ce=system&utm_campaign=Send%2Bto%2BFriend
Tired February 01, 2013 at 02:48 PM
Toni, if you are going to keep posting using false names, at least change your message. You used to say you were for affordable housing at low density, now your true colors are showing.
Tired February 01, 2013 at 02:50 PM
Tina, Why so reasonable all of the sudden. I actually agree with you!
TAK February 01, 2013 at 05:30 PM
I am not well informed on this issue, but I did attend the NUSD Board meeting on Tuesday. Dr. Cunningham said that her recommendation to the Board would be to do nothing with the site for the long term -- 5 to 10 years kind of long term. If Novato started growing again it is a "beautiful site for a school". With all the NUSD facilities one of their assumptions for the plan was not to sell off any property. Cunningham acknowledged the political sensitivity of the issue and the San Marin residents in the audience. Trustee Knell suggested that the Board should not accept a "do nothing" recommendation and that they should look at the revenue that the parcel could generate given the district financial situation. Trustee Butler agreed. Knell also brought up the idea of "imminent domain" that if they didn't do something the land could be taken and NUSD would get nothing. Best bet if you want to hear and see the discussion first hand is to request a copy of the NUSD Board meeting. They tape the public meetings. gbatz@nusd.org is the contact for these requests.
TAK February 01, 2013 at 05:34 PM
And, it was clear from the meeting discussion and the documentation in support of the meeting that NUSD owns the San Andreas parcel, not the city.
Tina McMillan February 01, 2013 at 09:24 PM
Tired I bet if we sat down and talked over tea at Dr. Insomnia we would find that we agree on many things. It is the places where we disagree that require the greater effort toward conversation and compromise. My problem with SUNN and MCF has been their effect on the neighborhood groups. MCF is one of the nine largest foundations of its kind in the U.S. If it decides to fund one group over another then the rest are left without a voice. Many people who want lower density want it for reasons that make sense if you look at why they moved here. For me it was Novato's rural character and the fact that it has people from every walk of life and great public schools. Now the lack of property tax revenue and sales tax revenue have put the schools and the city in deficit spending mode. I would not build extremely low income housing in higher densities in one location. I would ask that workforce housing be part of any development that brings more low paying jobs to Novato, including Hannah Ranch. I would also focus on what is needed, i.e., more second units, more rentals, more senior housing, reopening section 8 as a way of giving landlords the choice of whom to rent to and local zoning and planning for everything. My hope is that the draft housing element passes at 20 units per acre and that Novato is seen for what it is, a suburban/rural community.
Avanti Monty February 02, 2013 at 08:17 AM
Tina that's interesting that these organizations approve of affordable housing at 20 units per acre. Lets put those organizations to a test and put affordable housing to a vote place it on ballot.asking, " Do you the people of Novato believe we should provide more affordable housing ".yes or No The majority of the people in novato will vote NO not only to disapprove of 20 units per acre of affordable housing but the entire concept. We have eyes and ears we are experienced intelligent people stop conning us and insulting our intelligence we see what happens to our neighborhoods, our property values, our schools , our crime rate and the degradation of our high quality of life ..How can our political leaders in good conscience continue to ignore what the people want ? How can they treat us like unruly children and threaten us by withholding funds if we don't comply with their mandates They can do it because we let them do it !! Blackmail doesn't meet the criteria for a democracy I sincerely hope the people of Novato fight this mandate with everything they can muster . Its not for anyone's best interest other than the developers and people with self interest agendas.
Tina McMillan February 02, 2013 at 08:47 AM
Monty Many issues require compromise. If we do not provide a draft housing element that can be approved at the state level the consequences are costly and time consuming. I don't see this activity as blackmail as long as the choice of what to build and where to build stays within the community. I do believe that along with zoning we need laws that penalize absentee landlords for allowing tenants to remain in subsidized housing, of any kind, when they commit crimes, harbor felons or cause harm to neighbors and to the community as a whole. Creating those laws does not stop us from submitting a Draft Housing Element. In providing zoning that reflects the existing community you support local control. The Draft Housing Element at 20 units per acre for multifamily housing is low density. If I went to the same people and asked them how they felt about future homes developed by Novato Unified School District for teachers or by the Rotary for the elderly I don't think they would be up in arms. What people are angry about is housing like Wyndover where management gets tax breaks at the expense and safety of the community. In supporting Novato's Draft Housing Element the single most important change is the density reduction to multifamily housing. This is a huge step and if approved would allow us to have the same approach to housing as our neighbors to the north. What I do believe in is balanced housing with a tax base that supports city services and schools.

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