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The Future of Marin: A Broader Perspective of Sustainability

A forum on "The Future of Marin: A Broader Perspective of Sustainability" was held on  November 13, 2014 at the Council Chambers of the City of San Rafael.

Hear Kevin Haroff, Environmental Attorney talk about 'How 'Sustainability Plans' Push Densities beyond Sustainable"; Richard Hall, San Rafael Planning for Reality (Blog) about "Myths and messes in Transit-Oriented Developments"; Royce McLemore, Marin City Activist about "The Inherent Social Equity of Preserved Housing"; Susan Kirsch, Cofounder, Citizen Marin about "What's next for Plan Bay Area 2017?" Dick Spotswood, political columnist for the Marin IJ  moderates.

Watch the video below.

Silvestri on Why We Need to Keep Speaking Out on Housing Plan

On September 23, 2014, Bob Silvestri’s article called “Marin Voice: Why we need to keep speaking out on housing plan” appeared in the online edition of the Marin Independent Journal. You can read the article and comments here.

Mr. Silvestri’s article was edited for its publication in the paper. What follows below is his unedited article. The parts of his article that were not published in the paper are underlined.


The proposed Marin County Housing Element has produced a great deal of discussion lately. Unfortunately, it's been "dumbed down" to being a "for" or "against" argument. This kind of "straw man debate" distracts from the real issues, does a disservice to the community and does nothing to address our affordable housing challenges.

We're also told that those who disagree with the element are only "against" things and have no solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. But sometimes one has to stop bad solutions in order to make room so better solutions can prosper.

Public criticism of the HE (housing element) is a good thing. But the devil, as they say, is in the details and that is what this discussion is and should be about.

Community Venture Partners, a nonprofit I recently founded, has taken an increasingly active role in monitoring local government and supporting a more responsive public process. Toward that end we've made comments on the element and how the county has been conducting its hearings. These comments serve simple objectives: to bring about better governance and decision-making, to ensure that our county's public process is based on accurate information and adheres to the law, and to promote greater transparency and accountability.

If sometimes accomplishing that requires legal action, so be it.

It’s amazing to me that some people, including some of our County Supervisors, apparently now feel that requiring local government to adhere to the law is somehow objectionable, improper or even "undemocratic."

We fully acknowledge and understand the county's responsibilities to adopt a housing element plan that makes a reasonable and good faith effort to address the state's growth projections and affordable housing quota for Marin. While many of us may feel the entire system of state quotas is nonsensical, that's an issue we need to deal with separately and one that we're going to have to take higher up the ladder to be effective about.

But at the local level, what we object to is a public process that is increasingly driven by state and regional agencies stepping outside of their legal authority to compel local municipalities to meet artificial and legally questionable requirements.

We object to public hearings that make a mockery of public input and consistently arrive at predetermined conclusions. We object to a plan that exceeds the county's legal obligations by over 400 percent, while ignoring its infrastructure and public service impacts.

And we object to decision-making based on incomplete and often inaccurate information, which is repeated over and over at public hearings, even though the county has been advised otherwise.

So when Supervisor Katie Rice sends out a newsletter stating that "proposals for development of any parcel are required to conform to local code, community plans," etc., when state housing-density bonus law specifically overrides all of those, we feel a need to correct that.

And when Planning Commissioner Wade Holland tells his colleagues at a "Draft" HE meeting that it's "too late" to change the number of sites or units based on public comment (when Ms. Rice has just assured us in her newsletter that it's a long process with plenty of time to comment), we feel a need to protest that.

I'm sorry if democracy is "messy," but the law applies to us all. And that is a very good thing. This is the spirit in which we bring our arguments and criticisms.

In fact, I believe it's our fundamental civic responsibility to question the actions and decisions of our government and elected representatives on any matters at any time, regardless of whether the views expressed are "left" or "right," Democrat or Republican, or popular or unpopular or politically correct to discuss.

And in the meantime, some of us will continue working diligently on more socially equitable and economically and environmentally sustainable solutions that must come next.

Bob Silvestri of Mill Valley is president of Community Venture Partners.

Contrasting Novato's and Strawberry's Housing Elements

At the February 11, 2014 Board of Supervisors' Meeting, Bruce Corcoran of Strawberry contrasts Strawberry's and Novato's Housing Elements.  This was Bruce's fifteenth consecutive appearance before the Board of Supervisors, including Strawberry's Supervisor Kate Sears who has finally allowed the question of Strawberry's opting out of their PDA to be heard on February 25th. Bruce has been asking at least since December.  Thanks again for such good work to Hans Grunt and Elizabeth Dunn, Novato city planners.

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Mismanagement of Public Housing Funds Spreads Misery in Richmond

A soft-spoken man lives in public housing at the Hacienda in Richmond.  He preaches to relieve his stress.  He has no where else to go. "Amenities" which were undoubtedly promised next to Richmond City Hall seem beside the point when compared to maintenance issues like leaking sewage and roofs.  The local government's track record is not good.  Click here to read the story and scroll to the bottom of the linked page to hear "Nowhere Else to Go, Eddie Williams."

Thank you Novato: The State Approved Our Housing Element!

Dear Novato Community,

I am immensely thankful that the state of California has certified Novato's 2007-2014 Housing Element. As former president of the Novato Community Alliance (NCA) and a member of the Housing Working Group, I have been involved since the controversy erupted in June of 2010. The past three years has been characterized by the intrusion of lobbies organized through large interlocking Smart Growth networks simulating grassroots organizations. These networks include the Marin Community Foundation, Nonprofit Housing for Northern California, the Urban Land Institute and Greenbelt Alliance, among others. This Housing Element is what a lot of the fuss has been about in Novato politics since 2010--the selection of sites for affordable housing, now zoned with an affordable housing 'overlay'.

Both the Pacific Sun and the Novato Advance carried stories incorporating much of Novato's (new PR officer Peggy Flynn's) news release. Nicole Bautista of the Advance additionally contributed a sketch of some the tumultuous history of this particular housing element. Although the Sun and the Advance recycled some of the old saws about residents crying foul and expecting crime, noise, and traffic with affordable housing, the high point was omitted. Hans Grunt's and Elizabeth Dunn's arguments about a range of 20-23 units per acre being reasonable for our affordable housing base density, despite housing law's default density for Novato of 30 units per acre, were agreed to by the state of California. Recall that Hans and Elizabeth are the city planners who shouldered major responsibility in writing the housing element. The state commended Hans and Elizabeth as well as Assistant City Attorney Veronica Nebbs in their approval letter and Novatoans should thank them for their service.

This, by far, is the most significant recent achievement of Novato's planning department. Novato achieved this while the County of Marin did not. Although Judy Arnold appeared to be aware of Novato's achievement in off the cuff statements at the Board of Supervisors meeting last month, she erroneously credited it to two city council members and the Housing Working Group. The two council members in question, Denise Athas and Jeanne MacLeamy, in fact, brought in a new affordable housing site north of the North Redwood Redwood Corridor, unvetted by the Housing Working Group which understandably stirred a hornet's nest of opposition. Also, this along with the last minute emergency shelter zoning near Bel Marin Keys did not really allow time for community/neighborhood feedback. This is one area in the process the city could improve upon in order to promote citizen trust and co-operation for our next Housing Element. The Council kept four sites and threw out four recommended by the Housing Working Group.

Another high point of the 2007-2014 Housing Element is that our planning department and the state shifted their emphasis from 100% affordable housing sites to 20% inclusive affordable housing requirements for all housing developments in the city in order to disperse the affordable housing rather than concentrating it.

Unless genuine local volunteer groups like NCA, the San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition, Partridge Knolls neighborhood associations, Novato Homeowners Association, the Clausen Court Neighborhood Association, the Bel Marin Keys Homeowners Association, Novato Neighbors, and others continue to organize, the outside networks will move in again to try to regain control. Please continue to support us as we turn this year towards a general emphasis on good local government and particularly the issue of transparency. We have a long way to go on transparency.


Pam Drew

PS. Please consider This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , the City Manager, commending Hans, Elizabeth, and Veronica.

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