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City of Mill Valley

Comment on Mill Valley Housing Committee proposal to sell public lands for housing

The following is a letter sent to the Mill Valley City Council, commenting on the recent proposal by city staff and the Mill Valley Housing Advisory Committee to "Identify Public Land to Leverage New Affordable Housing." In short, the proposal is to sell or donated publicly owned land to generate revenue for the City's housing trust fund or to otherwise promote housing development by private, for-profit housing developers. A staff report, showing all the properties under consideration can be found HERE.

To Members of the Mill Valley City Council:

I am writing to offer perspective and comment on the Housing Advisory Committee’s Work Plan Priority 2. Identify Public Land to Leverage New Affordable Housing, and work completed to date as referenced in Housing Advisory Committee Meeting #8 Memorandum, dated September 30,2020, and Danielle Staude’s Staff Communication to the Mayor and City Council, dated October 5, 2020.

I offer some observations before commenting on three (3) of the Topics of Discussion and Draft Scope of Work 1. Review and Finalize Sites Analysis.

To review the Staff Reports to the City Council and the documents referenced, please CLICK HERE and HERE.


To Leverage – This suggests that our public assets are being managed by greed to attain highest and best use irrespective of intrinsic or community values. “Leverage” in this context connotes “a taking” or ‘giving away” or “loss of.”

Community Ownership – Public assets belong to the community, to the taxpayers. They are not the City Council’s to sell for profit. I agree with Bob Silvestri’s comment to the City Council in his letter of September 28, 2020:

A government body selling public lands or other public assets, which have taken lifetimes to accumulate and maintain, in order to achieve public policy goals, must always be a desperate last resort, but never a first option

No Plan B It appears that the Housing Advisory Committee is fixed on a single plan of action with no Plan B. That is a significant failure. To be trapped in a single plan is to be bound to justify that plan and ultimately to force that plan. In other words, the train has left the station. That is not a proper public process.

NIMBY – I understand that residents of Scott Highlands were called out as NIMBYs during the meeting. NIMBY is a term used to bully, to intimidate and to brand. It is code for “the discussion is over.” I recall that one California community voted to prohibit the use of that term in public meetings when discussing affordable housing. Mill Valley would do well to establish a similar policy. It is unconscionable that a neighborhood’s love of its small park is used to brand them to advance a public policy agenda. The two have been linked by “to leverage” but are in fact unrelated. There simply is not a nexus between support for a neighborhood park and one’s position on affordable housing.

Topics of Discussion

General Approach – I am sure the approach sounded reasonable – identify underutilized public land as a vehicle to fund affordable housing. It just did not work out. The Memorandum notes that after a review of the 71 City-owned parcels “the subcommittee determined there is not a large piece of land available to dedicate solely to affordable housing.”

The analysis to identify viable candidate sites for sale to for-profit developers also failed. The few sites with sufficient development value are the vary sites with well- established community value. They are not “underutilized” nor are they “vacant.” A park is not “vacant.” The Scott Highlands neighborhood Park and parcel by the 7th Tee should be removed from consideration. The only site with some prospect is the Public Safety Building and the Hauke Park parking area.

Unfair Burden on a Neighborhood – The suggestion that a neighborhood or neighborhoods should be expected to give up communal open space as a social responsibility is ludicrous. Will all neighborhoods be expected to give up their parks – Freeman, Sycamore, Boyle, Molino…? Again, there is no nexus. As noted above, the plan just has not worked out.

Selling Land Prior to Identifying an Affordable Housing Site or Actual Costs – This is a desperate pivot – selling public assets is somehow alright if there is a guarantee that the “deal” will happen. It is not alright.

Draft Scope of Work: 1. Review and Finalize Sites Analysis

This appears to be an effort to shore up conclusions already reached - the train has left the station.

After determining that most sites were not feasible due to attributes such are prohibitive slopes, irregular configuration (fragment parcels), use and parcel size, a very few “buildable” sites remained. Of those remaining sites with acceptable slopes and of adequate size, shape and use, several more sites were eliminated due to high use and value to the community (e.g. Community Center and Golf Clubhouse). For the reasons noted, the Golf Course Near 7th Tee sites should be removed from further consideration. So, what is left? The Public Safety Building sites.

Confirm City analysis through additional research and outside consultant review” would appear to be a hollow exercise unless the City’s intent is to seek outside academic support (i.e. detached from community sentiment and values), to prop up the Golf Course sites.

Staff appears to have done a competent analysis. The conclusions are generally well- reasoned, understandable and supportable with the exception of the Golf Course sites. The subcommittee is clinging to that site as its only conceivable candidate for the sale of a public asset to a developer for profit, wrong as that is. No Plan B.

Items 2-6 have some merit, but not if engineered to prop up the “approach.”

Now is the time to redirect the Housing Advisory Committee to explore in earnest alternative approaches to the single-minded rezoning and sale of public lands and assets approach, perhaps apart from The Public Safety Building sites. The subcommittee has a narrow knowledge base. There are others in the community with experience, insight and creativity willing to contribute content to the discussion.

Respectively submitted,

Burton Miller, FAIA