Displaced: A Deer
It was 2 pm on the Thursday after builder Phil Richardson had erected a maze of tall lumber boards with six-inches of bright orange paint at the top.The story poles crisscrossed this way and that. Knowing what the complex structure of poles represented, I felt great sadness in anticipation of the loss of the hillside view of trees and shrubs being replaced with a thick bank of buildings. I imagined the open blue sky blocked with uncharacteristically tall, out-of-place, box-like structures.
Looking at the street level, it was hard to imagine where the driveway(s) would be placed to accommodate traffic for residents of the 25 units driving in and out of the complex. It isn't clear where residents will park, nor is it clear where people coming to access services at the 2,240 feet of ground floor commercial office space will park.
The daytime deer was unusual. In my 43 years of living on Ryan Avenue, I had never seen a deer walking, in the middle of the street in the middle of the day looking dazed and confused. After turning its head this way and that, it cautiously found its way into the neighbor’s yard, just a stone's throw away from busy E. Blithedale.
The deer is being displaced, along with hundreds of other creatures who claim the former Kite Hill as their natural habitat.
Displaced: Formerly Housed Men and Women
That night I returned to Mill Valley about 9 o’clock.It was dark. As I prepared to pull into a parking space in front of the post office, I saw a shadowy figure shuffle to a darker corner of the building. I could make out a shopping cart piled up with plastic bags. I could make out the handwritten word “homeless” on a scruffy sign leaning next to the cart.
The man is displaced, along with hundreds of others who once had housing they could afford, but who are now outsiders in their own community. Richardson's project will not provide housing for this man or others in need of housing that is affordable.
Displaced: Community Planning, Decision-Making, and Authority
Mr. Richardon’s project comes before the Mill Valley Planning Commission on Tuesday, November 8 at the Mill Valley Community Center at 6:30 pm. A Planning Commission is appointed by the city’s elected city council. It used to be they were a collection of professional planners, designers, and architects who lived in the city and applied their professional know-how to the well-being of the community. They weighed projects against the city’s painstakingly developed General Plan, which included a Housing Element. They weighed subjective standards along with objective ones, like singing the music that is otherwise only notes on paper.
Richardson’s ambitious dreams to build on this site have been rejected over the past 18 years, not because a few noisy neighbors objected. His plans have been dismissed because hundreds of residents recognized dozens of reasons the project was a bad idea: no safe or reasonable plans for getting in and out of the complex, bottleneck traffic at Mill Valley’s busiest intersection, reduced pedestrian and bicycle safety, elimination of an already strained evacuation route, disruption of the natural habitat, and failure to provide a significant amount of housing to meet the needs of the homeless man lingering nearby in the post office shadows or others trying to make ends meet with wage-based jobs and rising inflation.
The Planning Commission that will convene to discuss the Richardson Project, still composed of respected, knowledgeable, community-oriented citizens, will be working in different circumstances. The flurry of state housing bills passed over the past ten years has reduced their authority. Legislation has focused on catchwords like streamlining, ministerial review, and objective standards. In translation, these terms mean environmental protections are gone, city authority is replaced with administrative rubber-stamping, and discernment is discredited.
Community planning, decision-making, and authority in Mill Valley are being displaced, as it is in hundreds of cities and counties throughout the state.
Displaced: Values & Integrity
Perhaps the worst of the displacement is that profit, greed, and autocracy are displacing the common good, fueled by honesty and a spirit of collaboration.
In 1776, Thomas Paine, American political activist, philosopher, and supporter of the American Revolution, wrote “Common Sense.”He made the case for independence from outside rulers. He wrote, “Common sense will tell us, that the power which hath endeavored to subdue us, is of all others, the most improper to defend us.”
Paine’s words are just as relevant today. The California legislative proclamations that we have a housing crisis started with the big lie that we needed 3.5M units of housing. It’s been followed up with the big lie that the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers are more than double what they were eight years ago. A state audit found the RHNA methodology careless and the numbers unreliable.The state is losing population at a rate that has led to California losing an Assembly seat. Attorney General Rob. Bonta threatens to use his “strike force” to bring independent, rebellious cities who object to state overreach, into compliance.
There is an economic crisis that ruthlessly drives the displacement of the deer, the poor, local control, and the fabric of society that keeps life safe, honored and protected.
Paine’s first essay starts with the famous line “These are the times that try men's souls.” He includes the concept, “Government has no other object than the general happiness. When, instead of this, it operates to create and increase wretchedness in any of the parts of society, it is on a wrong system, and reformation is necessary.”
If you're concerned about displacement, mark your calendar for the next Catalysts 4-part Zoom Workshop Series on the theme “Save Your City, Sue the State.” Thursday nights from 5:00-7:00 pm. Go to the Catalysts website (CatalystsCA.org) to register for this free event.