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Talk of Local Control Dominates Chat about Affordable Housing

About 75 people listened Patch contributor Bob Silvestri talk and to discuss Novato's general plan update.

In the span of two hours, upwards of 75 curious Novato residents received a drive-thru degree on suburban planning and local government courtesy of a former developer turned grassroots neighborhood rights advocate.

Bob Silvestri, a Mill Valley resident and outspoken critic of mandates on housing quotas, was the featured speaker Wednesday at a meeting of the San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition at All Saints Lutheran Church in Novato. The Novato Community Alliance also participated. 

Silvestri outlined main points his new book, The Best Laid Plans: Our Planning and Affordable Housing Challenges in Marin, which summarized passages from his writings on Patch sites in Marin. He gave a short history of urban and suburban planning and talked about the housing element portions of any municipality's general plan. Silvestri's punch line was that "one size fits all" planning does not work and that high-density growth is bad for the environment.

The two community housing groups have been at the forefront of civic discussions about the pending certification of the Novato Housing Element for 2007-2014 by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.  

In the audience but opting to observe and not participate were Mayor Pat Eklund and Community Development Director Bob Brown.

Among the topics discussed were the compatibility of the present directives from the Association of Bay Area Governments with other aspects of housing development, such as the provision of water to such complexes.

"Local public policy should lead, not follow, ABAG," Silvestri said.

"The Q&A was lively and fairly lengthy with conversations continuing even after the meeting concluded," said Pam Drew, former president of the Novato Community Alliance.  

Susan Wernick and Leslie Petersen Schwarze of the San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition brought participants up to date on the potential reopening of opportunity site selections for the city's housing element. After the city turned in a draft version of the housing element in October, criticisms came the state's Housing and Community Development Department and from nonprofits.  

San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition decided its long-range goal was to educate the neighborhood about the housing element process, according to Petersen Schwarze. This was the first of a planned series of educational forums, she said.

"We are thrilled with the turnout and excited that so many new faces came to hear our first speaker," she said. "Bob Silvestri's presentation resonated with the audience and offered refreshing answers to the issues we have faced around housing. His honest answers to the illogical marketing we have been bombarded with was well received."

Wernick said it's important to tap Silvestri's knowledge with housing developments and housing elements.

"I hope that what people learned ... helps them better understand the dilemma with the issue of high-density housing and the negative long-term effects it can have both socially and environmentally," she said. "There are other alternatives out there and we need to be working on them. The evening provided a good opportunity to update folks on the status of Novato's Housing Element and to encourage their participation in the process."

Click here for past Novato Patch stories on the local debate over housing quotas.

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Ellis Bell January 27, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Roger, I don't care for the implied racism and/or elitism - i.e. that Section 8 residents are "gardeners and housecleaners." The disabled are entitled to Section 8 vouchers as well. They are, depending on the individual circumstance, unable to speak, walk, process thoughts like the rest of us, are subjected to other various impairments. Please stop referring to those in need of Section 8 housing only "gardeners and housecleaners."
Craig Belfor January 27, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Ellis The word of a nom de plume? Sounds like summer school valedictorian, tallest hobbit, or Section 8 felon. You don't change the basic idea.
Bob Silvestri January 27, 2013 at 05:58 PM
To correct you, residents over 65 can apply, annually, for an exemption from school bonds and some municipal bond payment portions of their property taxes, but these are a relatively minor percentage of their tax bill (even in Mill Valley where are school bonds are plentiful). Further, purchasing a home decades ago does not make anyone immune to tax increases (my property taxes have tripled on the house I own for 20 years). Lastly, you are entitled to your beliefs.
Tina McMillan January 27, 2013 at 06:03 PM
On another note, please remember that by keeping property taxes lower, the amount charged for rental property also goes down. There is no motivation to provide rentals without making income on the investment. Every time you reduce the amount earned you decrease the incentive of using this mode of creating a return. When you provide a rental you are still paying for property taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance on the home. The value of the home increases if you are using depreciation to offset your income. I don't know if investment property provides the same kind of return as the stock market but somehow when people retire they have to have a source of income from a source of investment. Even those people who receive pensions must remember that pensions are based on investments too. When you punish people by creating laws that make it harder to earn income on investments you punish everyone. Unions have pensions, pensions are invested in the stock market, the stock market is made up of corporations, corporations pay dividends or have stocks that rise in value, that value is what creates the money to pay the pensions. While I am oversimplifying the point is that you do not want to punish homeowners or other investors.
Roger January 27, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Ellis, I am talking about low-income workers that commute from Novato AH to work at big houses in Ross Valley. For your point on disabled people, why would you expect Novato to have more of those people than proportional other Marin cities prorated on population? Remember Novato's 20/30 % situation.
Don Pierce January 27, 2013 at 06:41 PM
@Tina Mc Millan: Is your concern that this property might be sold or exchanged for very little money in order to develop AH? My thought is that it would be more likely used for workforce housing for district teachers. That certainly would be my choice Thanks Tina - no my concern is that if the district views this land is salable for funds, they had better study the original contract which was with the Novato City but is still valid. They probably have to give the land or the proceeds from any sale back to the developer's creditors. Worse than that - if they sell the land for $1 to a housing project they may have to give the market value of the land to creditors who are waiting for this to happen so as to institute legal claim to the value of the land. This has to be researched as there are several precedent cases just within the 55 year history of the City of Novato...unfortunately it seems the School District Planning Commission and their legal teams seem to be repeating the same error... I have no problem with affordable housing, but I do object to squandering property by violating the contract under which it was obtained. I suspect that whatever goes on the San Andreas property will have to qualify as an educational facility of some sort...Academy of Community Agriculture and Sports Training might work but other uses including AH should have to pass my concern of contract violation...
Tina McMillan January 27, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Like you I would rather see this land provide below market rate housing to teachers so that they can live locally. I am worried that the district might think that in the short run more cash is good.
John Parnell January 27, 2013 at 07:35 PM
Ellis - I don't want your pity, and I doubt most of us homeowners who struggled to buy here would welcome it. Stretching ourselves thin to buy a house is what most of us have had to do in order to live here. You quite obviously haven't, but feel that everyone deserves to live here, whether they can afford it or not. For the record, when I bought my house, I would have qualified for affordable housing - but I never even considered it. I guess I'd rather accept your "pity" for buying my own house, rather than your financial assistance. Your arguments ring quite hollow. You don't have the courage to even sign your name (unless of course you wrote Wuthering Heights). You don't seem to understand Prop 13, or the basic facts of home ownership around here. To give you an idea, most people nationally spend no more than 30% of their income on their housing, whereas here, it averages over 60%. It is a cost that most of us accept, in order to live here, or we buy elsewhere. Do tell though...what happens when the taxpaying homeowners who are actually paying for your misguided version of social justice decide to move, because they don't like what has happened to their community? What happens then? Who is going to pay for the basic services, schools, etc., as well as other people's housing? How do you see that as being sustainable? I'm sorry I couldn't attend that meeting. Thanks, Brent, for sharing it.
Don Pierce January 27, 2013 at 07:42 PM
Tina - I agree...
John Parnell January 27, 2013 at 07:44 PM
I'm not positive, but I believe that if a public body like NUSD wants to get rid of a piece of land, then the right of first refusal goes to every other public agency first. It can't just be sold to the highest bidder at fair market value. I remember my father explaining that to me when he was on the COM board, when they were trying to figure out what to do with the Indian Valley campus. Their options were quite limited.
John Parnell January 27, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Don - I have always agreed with that argument, and been in favor of affordable housing. I bought what we were fed - that we need it for our local teachers, public employees, young, old and disabled. But the question I have been asking affordable housing advocates, is one that doesn't get an answer, which I'd love to hear. The affordable housing that has been built is NOT going to these people in OUR community for the most part. Why is that? Before anyone plays their NIMBY naysayer racist cards, please answer the question. Name calling those that take issue with affordable housing doesn't answer the question. My friend's mom lives in Bay Vista in AH, and is from Novato. She now lives in fear in her own neighborhood, because of some of the residents who live there who are not from Novato. Why do we as a community find that acceptable?
Tina McMillan January 27, 2013 at 08:32 PM
As to why the subprime mortgage crisis hit Novato so hard, it is not because Novatoans necessarily stretched themselves any thinner than their neighbors to the north, south, east and west. It is because we have so much more to lose because we do not have the cushion of higher property taxes and income from sales tax revenue that other cities might have. Remember Novato essentially operates on a shoestring. We must live within our means as a city in order to support our residents. When a crisis hits, those people that are living closer to the edge to begin with are affected most. You keep implying that Novato is "the" place for affordable housing development because through the RDA and the Hamilton Reuse Plan we have experience. I would argue that we have provided a significant number of options and now we need to refocus on revenue. We should be building more homes on the upper end of the scale to increase our property tax revenue and we must bring jobs and businesses to Novato to increase our sales tax revenue. We have the Redwood Corridor to focus on. The last thing we need is to copy San Rafael and put extremely low income housing over businesses on Redwood, that would then add to costs such as schools, police, fire and other city services. We will continue to zone but where and what we build needs to be an organic process based on what the market requires.
Susan Wernick January 27, 2013 at 08:58 PM
The San Andreas site is not owned by the City of Novato. It is owned by NUSD.
David Randolph January 27, 2013 at 09:19 PM
I couldn't agree more with the statement that Brown, Frank and the NCC are the root of the problem and part of the cabal known as Agenda 21 and ABAG.
Roger January 27, 2013 at 11:38 PM
I heard of a teacher that isn't happy now with the constraints on her moderate AH when she wants to move. Teachers and civil servants need to think twice about going the AH route because often it is better buying a fixer-upper and reap the equity rise later when you want to sell and move south in Marin where the better teachers get pulled.
Tina McMillan January 28, 2013 at 12:19 AM
It's even worse than that. There was an article about an older couple that bought below market rate senior housing in Novato and was told it would be bought back by the city should they want to sell. The subprime crash made it worth less than what they spent. They needed to leave the state and the city wouldn't buy it back but they couldn't sell it either. I don't know how it was resolved but can you imagine putting that much money into a home and then being stuck with no alternatives. There was another article about a person in Sausalito that qualified for a loan on a below market rate condo. The agreement said that no money could be borrowed against it because the price was fixed for essentially 20 years. The person went to a bank that gave them a line of credit worth far more than the property. After the crash the person walked away from the debt and the city was left buying back the condo from the bank's line of credit. These issues with purchasing AH make it far more difficult to tell if you are getting the deal you think you are getting. The fact that the bank gave out a line of credit to a person without the means to pay is the other insane part of this all.
Craig Belfor January 28, 2013 at 12:52 AM
Here's another one. I attended the meeting for the affordable housing in Hamilton with my daughter, who was born and raised in Novato. When they said there would be some "transitional housing" built, I stood up and asked who they were going to put in these units. The speaker said that the determination had not been made at that moment. I said that with only carports for the new homeowners, we needed to know if these "transitional people" were coming from prison, drug rehab, or mental institutions. The speaker would not answer me, so I walked out, saying to all that only a fool would take their resale limits and put up with this. Years later I moved a couple who'd bought into this project. After 2 years of car break ins, home burglaries, and their paper being stolen so many times they canceled their subscription, they sold for the mandated price and moved to another home in Novato that had gone up $180,000 during their time in Hamilton. Hamilton is a war zone, and Ross and the rest of Marin know it. That's why they are doing so much to avoid AH. Their only hope is to stuff it in Novato to meet the county quota, and the developer and lawyers think they can do it. They can. As much as we on the Patch are seeing through the sheep's clothing, most of the people in Novato are unaware of the Patch and this AH boondogle/crisis. Tell everyone you know- your neighbors, co-workers, and friends to read the Patch and speak up. The developers have the lead now, but we can change it.
JC Peters January 28, 2013 at 06:27 PM
Narcissistic personality disorder-Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves A person with narcissistic personality disorder may: •React to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation •Take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals •Have excessive feelings of self-importance •Exaggerate achievements and talents •Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love •Have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment •Need constant attention and admiration •Disregard the feelings of others, and have little ability to feel empathy •Have obsessive self-interest •Pursue mainly selfish goals
JC Peters January 28, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Narcissistic personality disorder-Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves A person with narcissistic personality disorder may: •React to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation •Take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals •Have excessive feelings of self-importance •Exaggerate achievements and talents •Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love •Have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment •Need constant attention and admiration •Disregard the feelings of others, and have little ability to feel empathy •Have obsessive self-interest •Pursue mainly selfish goals ...
Baxter January 28, 2013 at 06:48 PM
Many moons ago my spouse and I rented a condominium in Marin City for a few years. It had a beautiful view, close to S.F. The "diverse" culture of the area didn't bother me. The rent was similar to other apartments and condos in Sausalito and Mill Valley. When my spouse asked the owner of our rental if she would be willing to sell to us, she said she could not because of the affordable housing law. Turns out several "low-income" owners of the condos in this development were renting out their units to yuppies for a substantial amount of money. It was all done very secretively. Makes you wonder how often this still happens, and if so, what are the repercussions of low-income owners sub-letting under the table; that is if you are caught. To Bob Silvestri: Where can I purchase your book? I don't want to go through Amazon or any other online outlet, if possible. Thanks for your valuable fact-based knowledge.
Trish Boorstein January 28, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Baxter, makes you wonder who actually buys these units, doesn't it? So who are we really building all this affordable housing for if owners can get away with renting at market rate?
Bob Silvestri January 28, 2013 at 07:05 PM
The only store currently stocking my book is the Depot Bookstore in Mill Valley. Book Passage refused to carry it because it was self published. If you know of a local bookstore in Novato that might want to offer it, please let me know and I'll contact them. Thanks for asking.
A.M. Barnard January 28, 2013 at 07:14 PM
I fear a case of whiplash, the grenades-turned-to-smokescreens are flying in such different directions. Initially, the NIMBY cry was "illegals! minorities! criminals!" Now, we are to fear that the developers will house yuppies? Certainly makes it hard for the "illegals! minorities! criminals!" cries to continue. It matters not; we have a moral obligation, as caring and compassionate human beings, to welcome those in need. To the extent that land exists for such housing, we must make good use of it.
Baxter January 28, 2013 at 07:29 PM
Bob - Turns out the only book store in Novato that I know of is for used or new "donated" books called The Book Place. All this talk about affordable housing....what I would really like to see in Novato is a really nice book store. My cousin in Oregon manages one of the Powell's Bookstores and their stores are extremely successful. Guess I'll make a trip to Mill Valley....Thanks.
Tina McMillan January 28, 2013 at 07:37 PM
Novato has had many wonderful new bookshops in the past but Crown in Vintage Oaks, pretty much destroyed each and every one. The library bookshop that remains survives because it is a non profit. It helps raise money for the library a worthy cause. What I did find was a small shop called the "Loveable Rogue" which professes to be a sort of man cave. Here is the link. http://novato.patch.com/articles/loveable-rogue If you approach the owner they may be able to carry Bob's book.
Bob Silvestri January 28, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Baxter: You might want to call the Depot before going to have them hold you a copy. They have been selling quickly. Thanks again.
Anita Waite January 29, 2013 at 05:06 PM
I highly recommend Silvestri's book. It's a compelling, easy read filled with clarity and good sense. His book shows he has buried deep in his research to come up with logical suggestions for resolution to our affordable housing issue, a win/win offering for Marin County.
Tina McMillan January 29, 2013 at 09:08 PM
Agreed. I ordered a copy from Amazon. You can also read the separate articles that Bob posted on Patch. The clarity of his writing makes the concepts much easier to understand.
Roger February 01, 2013 at 02:47 PM
The City's 4/1/13 workshop on the draft element and EIR alternatives should be interesting. I wonder if Bob Brown will make the drafts available before the meeting?
Julia May 11, 2013 at 04:21 AM
The Plan Bay Area Public Outreach Meeting - by Common Sense Studios https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51W2xlIZ95E

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