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Take Note, Novato: Pleasanton Paid Out $4 Million to Fight Housing Quotas

Legal fees and lawsuits crippled the city coffers in Pleasanton as it fought for control of future housing plans. Could the same have happened in Novato?

One camp in Novato's ongoing affordable housing debate favored flat-out ignoring of mandates from the state that forced the city to zone for future housing developments.

The Do Nothing plan — intentional noncompliance with guidelines set by state and regional agencies — gained some favor with Novato residents fighting against high-density complexes that they said would be havens for crime and reduce surrounding property values.

But look what happened in Pleasanton. Before the City Council down there approved the housing element portion of the city's general plan update this week, legal bills had totaled $3.9 million as it repeatedly lost lawsuits filed by affordable housing coalitions. Check out this story in the Pleasanton Weekly.

Novato is moving forward with its housing element, sending a draft version to the state office of Housing and Community Development for review. Residents spent about two years hammering city employees and the Association of Bay Area Governments about the lack of local control over what is done with property within the city limits. Quotas be damned, they said, often at high volume.

But the Pleasanton lesson is profound. What's your viewpoint on compliance with the state and regional authorities about housing plans? Is it worth challenging with gusto or is it a risk no longer worth taking? Add a comment below.

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Bob October 18, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Our state elected officials were very clever when they passed AB32 and SB 375. Probably guided by developers that benefit from these laws. They assigned, in our area, ABAG to implement the mandates of the bill. So we are all up in arms at ABAG, for dumping these mandates on us, when we should be pissed off at our state congress folks. The fight should be at the state level. The state folks were so clever that they don't even have to get involved in enforcing the implementation of these state mandates as in the law they made it so the developers can file lawsuits against the cities and they usually win. Why doesn't the League of California Cities, tell Sacramento, enough is enough and to butt out? All of these folks are suppose to be working for us yet they are not listening.
Jim L October 18, 2012 at 03:05 PM
They will all be Posting the garbage on here once again. TheyHave all the time in the world,Complain about everything and do nothing but chatter . Run for the office! get it ? want change "RUN FOR THE OFFICE !
Deborah Garvey October 18, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Four million dollars to keep out developers and multi-family units is well worth every penny. No doubt we have spent well over 4 million dollars policing the Wyndover and Bay vista in the last five years. The do nothing plan will undoubtedly save us money in the long run. If you add up the cost to pay for the special task force in addition to all the paramedic and fire calls we will be way ahead.
Christine Scioli October 18, 2012 at 04:24 PM
State intimidation doesn't make it right, does it? If doesn't sound good, it doesn't feel good and the folks in this great city have the ability to find fair solutions without the heavy hand of state government. From the comments in the Pleasanton Weekly, the people there feel the same way. I just don't get why that's such a bad thing. CA is such a locally centric state. That's a great deal of the appeal in living here. Why don't city leaders jump on that philosophy?
Brant October 18, 2012 at 04:43 PM
The League of California Cities is not who needs to tell Sacramento to butt out. If We the People do not agree with what Sacramento is doing, then it is us that must make a change. We will soon vote for our representatives in Sacramento. Do we know how each candidate stands on imposing affordable housing obligations on us? If so, then each of us should vote for what we want. Most of us should then get what we want.
Tina McMillan October 18, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Deborah They didn't keep out developers or multifamily units. That is the punch line. If we want to maintain local control then we have to begin by getting multifamily density changed to 20 units per acre.
Trish Boorstein October 18, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Christine, I tried pointing this fact out to Council members the other day by citing the great efforts of a group of residents who fought big heeled engineers back around 1973'ish after the big flood. These humble folks proved that filling in Scott's Pond on both sides of Rowland and Redwood Blvd. would be disastrous. They got the ponds preserved and infill with development didn't occur. It's a matter of what is the most sensible and sustainable approach to provide AH for every city. Novato can't be flooded with AH while other cities walk away scott free. Community engagement has always been a hallmark of Novato no matter what city thinks. We can't give up.
Needbetterleadership October 19, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Why aren't the Public Advocate bullies threatening to sue Ross or Kent Woodlands?? Look at the ABAG website. Ross has nill when it comes to affordable housing. Southern Marin is NIMBYISM at it's finest. We need leaders who don't quiver and shake everytime they hear the word "lawsuit". Sue them back for trying to have Novato take MORE than any other city in Marin. Novato will go bankrupt because soon there are fewer people paying taxes and more people that don't. If the Housing Bullies truly wanted "social equity" they would demand the Ross etc. would build AH. Ross School's aren't hurting. Novato's are. So explain that logic to us. Put more and more high risk students in Novato instead of Ross? Is it the Ross big bucks funding all of this AH pressure on Novato?
Needbetterleadership October 19, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Did you read in the IJ where the Supervisors hired a guy from Chicago who had to leave Chicago's HA because of credit card abuse allegatios----he is now the director of Marin Housing Authority!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He's making $167,000 a year. You are paying for that--- and he wants more and more AH.
Needbetterleadership October 19, 2012 at 01:38 AM
JIM L WE THINK YOU ARE MICHAEL FRANK
Tom James October 19, 2012 at 02:07 AM
I'd like to know who the "AH" is you won't identify himself and who thinks it's so easy to run for office. Running for office takes an incredible commitment, hard work and lots of money. I've never run but have been the treasurer and campaign manager for a number of people who have run. I wonder if Jim L, who is too afraid to identify himself has even done that. Tom James
Tina McMillan October 19, 2012 at 02:15 AM
SUNN supporters are challenging the draft housing element because they say it does not provide enough for AH developers. It isn't just Public Advocates or Marin Fair Housing. It is the Marin Community Foundation and the $80,000 they funneled to SUNN last year to disceminate information about infill development. SUNN wants to make certain that as much as possible Novato uses its remaining developable land to create low income housing. Plain and simple even though we only have 5% of our general plan land use zoned commercial SUNN would have those areas turned into mixed use. They do it because there are places to build. They don't in Ross where they used the Marin Art and Garden Center as a place zoned for low income housing. Why the Marin Community Foundation, and SUNN member Kaitie Crecelius is not going after Ross is the multimillion dollar question.
Roger October 19, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Tina, SUNN only threatened to sue the City over the Housing Element, but an actual suit hasn't been filed. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Tina McMillan October 19, 2012 at 02:57 AM
I don't know who threatened suit, I know at Monday's meeting SUNN submitted a letter that went to HCD to say that the properties and the concessions made by the planning department on the housing element were insufficient. Katie Crecelius has the ear of HCD. She is an AH developer. I see this act as stabbing the city of Novato and its residents in the back. When the planning commission spoke they knew the draft element would come back with changes. Why Crecelius would send notify HCD that her group does not approve of the element seems very nasty indeed. At the very least they could have allowed it to go through and seen what HCD had to say. SUNN distributed last years post apocalyptic flyers showing Novato as a wasteland unless we supported affordable housing development throughout the city. The only thing missing was flesh eating zombies, then it would have been complete.
Roger October 19, 2012 at 04:30 AM
Tina, is SUNN's letter available on their website?
Tina McMillan October 19, 2012 at 05:12 AM
You need to contact the Planning Commission to get a copy. It is dated October 15 and was cc'd to Melinda Coy at HCD. It was discussed at Monday's meeting. Many neighborhood groups compromised in the creation of the element. It gives far more to developers than it does residents but the 20 unit per acre designation for multifamily housing was the key. It meant more local control. Just getting that passed by HCD is a huge step. Asking by itself brings the element under more scrutiny. Homeward Bound's Oma's village is at 20 units per acre. The 30 unit per acre designation for senior plus the AH bonuses in both categories make for a substantial amount of units that developers could create in a reasonable fashion. Most of the land is commercial, so creating mixed use means less revenue and more long term costs. SUNN does not worry about the need to increase our property tax base to cover the cost of schools, fire, police and city services. SUNNs single minded focus is the promotion of AH. Almost everyone I know that lives in Novato, leaves to commute to the city, southern marin or the east bay and no one offered them housing in Mill Valley, Ross, Larkspur or any central or southern Marin cities. They bought homes in Novato because they could afford to live here and it is a wonderful community. Copying this letter to HCD is a not so subtle attempt to strong arm city planners.
Lloyd October 20, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Brant please lets compare apples and apples. Correct me if I am wrong but didn't Pleasanton refuse to accommodate it rhna allocations by limiting the amount of homes that could be granted through restrictive zoning. Novato's housing element completely meets the RHNA imposed numbers. A lawsuit sabre rattling by Ms Cresilius and her development pawns are empty threats. Novato is meeting not only its obligation now but has exceeded in previous elements the number of AH units actually built. This is altogether different then the Pleasanton situation. Someone with a legal background needs to take a long hard look (and maybe advise the City Council and Attorney) Perhaps the only threat is to the pocketbooks of development interests that want to act as carpetbaggers. It appears Ms. Cresilius definition of consensus on the AH working group really was more like capitulation or else. If, as stated she supports 20 units per acre for Novato then other than some tweaking to certain counted numbers where is this threat of lawsuit coming from? I urge the City Council to continue to stand by its residents and not bend to baseless threats and coercion. Our City has no obligation to name any other sites as long as the ones designated fulfill our commitments. It is time to take a long hard look who is doing the threatening and what they really stand for. Interesting how they avoid any AH need for our wealthier enclaves to the south. Wonder why?
Lloyd October 20, 2012 at 03:51 PM
p.s. I have said this b4 and I'll say it again. The City should hire a real advocate (attorney) for our rights and be prepared to not only challenge these threats but turn the tables and counter-sue when it is shown these lawsuits target lower income cities like Novato in Marin and are discriminatory in nature, and baseless in reality to the real goals of actual AH provision. There are some things worth fighting for such as the rights and well being of our entire town. Self-certify our element, provide fiscal relief for the creation of second units that serve our existing residents along with providing affordable work force housing, continue to build senior developments for our aging parents and others. Novato can and does all this so lets not be shamed for doing the right thing all along by greedy, for profit, tax avoidance developers.
Dave Robertson October 22, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Yes, good point. Basically "we don't give in to terrorists!" Pleasanton had the guts to fight for their rights. Second units are of minimal help, and present lots of problems to deal with. Affordable work force housing is not as easy as it sounds as it can be turned into low-income no work force housing with a few eraser strokes on the building plans. Housing for seniors is essential. We should now force people out of the place they have lived for years just because they have gone onto a fixed-income. But senior housing can be more easily designated as senior housing and it will attract honest developers with good attitudes.
Dave Robertson October 22, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Tina: I do not know many people who commute - then again, I do not know that many people in Novato. I do know that lots of people commute from Santa Rosa to the City ... so Novato isn't that big a trek for most. I'm afraid this is the way of the 21st century. I moved here because a nice home was "affordable" at the time. SR and south were expensive and not so nice. If I had to do it over, I would choose some other area. This area has changed a lot - especially in the last 10 years. Cookie cutter neighborhoods approved by our desperate city council to get warm bodies here in the hope that they can rebuild a useful downtown. The low income housing would really turn me off now. Senior housing is fine, but why move to a place that is actively trying to marginalize existing property values with rezoning tricks and others to build extensive housing for other low-income people? I would be most turned off by a city and city council that was too weak or not bright enough to see how they are destroying a city. Who wants to buy a ticket to the titanic after the fact?
Tina McMillan October 22, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Dave: Having lived here and raised two children here I have an attachment to the community. Novato has always had to contribute to the AH quotas but in recent years due to the declining economy, the fact that we are not a basic aid school district, the overdevelopment of AH at Hamilton, and the push following Schwartzenegers implementation of SB375, to build housing without a tax base and that does not reflect the needs of the community, we all need to become active participants in city government if we want to save our communities. I never thought I would spend my evenings reading housing elements and double checking the city council agendas for MTC, ABAG and One Bay Area funded projects but that is what takes up my time. In Novato, if you have skin in the game you need to participate in local government to help your community. What we build, how its funded and where its located are extremely important decisions that I am not willing to leave to Marin Community Foundation, AH developers or AH proponents like SUNN. Since the passage of SB375 we have taken a stand that is essentially socially engineered communities that turn suburban and rural towns into mini urban hubs. This whole idea that putting people closer together cures the carbon footprint and leads to a utopian society is hogwash! I support the reduction in fees for second units to help families help ailing parents and adult children who are living at home. It is not about quotas but people.

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