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Marin County Releases List Of Candidate Housing Element Sites


Map of Marin County's Candidate Housing Element Sites - Click on the map to enlarge the image.

The County of Marin is preparing a Housing Element Update and planning to accommodate a whopping 3,569 units in order to meet Unincorporated Marin's 2023-2031 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process to identify the total number of housing units each jurisdiction must accommodate.


Marin County’s total 2023-2031 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) and Unincorporated Marin’s RHNA allocation are unprecedented, exorbitant, and unrealistic. Marin County, as a whole, has been assigned 14,405 housing units for its total Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which is more than the current number of homes in Mill Valley (6,534 units) and Sausalito (4,830 units) combined.

Unincorporated Marin’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation of 3,569 housing units is 19 times larger than that for the last RHNA cycle, which was 185 units, and more than all of the housing units allocated to the County for the last 23 years (3 separate RHNA cycles – 1999 through 2022).


Due to new laws, this means that Unincorporated Marin will need to not only identify sites (and adjust zoning on those sites) for over 3,500 homes but, in addition, ensure that new housing is actually constructed on the sites, all within the 8-year RHNA cycle. If quotas are not met, then severe penalties (both fees and additional loss of local government control (per SB-35)) will apply.

This is an absolutely impossible task! During the last RHNA cycle (2015-2022), Marin County was able to identify enough sites to accommodate its housing quota of 185 units but not all the units were built. As a result, SB-35 kicked in and a very controversial housing development in Marin City was given a streamlined approval. If Unincorporated Marin couldn’t meet the last cycle’s goal of 185 units, it surely won’t be able to succeed in meeting 3,569 units. The unrealistic housing allocations are setting jurisdictions, including Unincorporated Marin, up to fail.


As part of Housing Element Update process, the County of Marin just released its list of Candidate Housing Element Sites.

Click HERE to see the list of Unincorporated Marin's Candidate Housing Element Sites.


The number of sites on the list of Candidate Housing Element Sites is much greater than necessary. Planners estimate that 6,332 residences could be built at the sites, whereas Unincorporated Marin's quota is 3,569. The County will not include all the listed Candidate Sites in its final Housing Element and will eliminate some sites, partly based on community feedback.

Yet, due to the No Net Loss Law (see below), County Planners still plan to identify more sites than the minimum needed to accommodate the RHNA allocation. During the February 2nd Tamalpais Design Review Board meeting, Planning Manager Leelee Thomas stated that the County plans to include additional sites in its Housing Element and provide a buffer of 15% to 30% more units than the RHNA. (That’s up to 1070 more units!) Thomas added, “This is to allow for scenarios when sites develop at lower density than proposed in the Housing Element.”

No Net Loss Law:

“The purpose of the No Net Loss Law (Government Code Section 65863) is to ensure that development opportunities remain available throughout the planning period to accommodate a jurisdiction’s Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA), especially for lower- and moderate- income households. The No Net Loss requirements include:

The City of Mill Valley plans to add a “No Net Loss” buffer of 15% more units than the city's RHNA allocation. Hopefully, Marin County will follow Mill Valley’s example and keep to the lower buffer of 15% more units, rather than provide one up to 30%. Although, a 15% buffer is still questionable, considering the magnitude of Density Bonuses these days.


It is important to note that the number of units listed next to the Candidate Housing Element Site addresses are not necessarily the total number of units allowed at the site. They are just the number of units that would be used to fulfill Unincorporated Marin's 2023-2031 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). Depending on the zoning, additional units may be built at these sites. In addition, it is very likely that developers will utilize the Density Bonus Law, which allows up to an 80% increase in units.

The Density Bonus Law (found in California Government Code Sections 65915 – 65918) provides developers with powerful tools to encourage the development of affordable and senior housing, including up to a 50% increase in project densities for most projects, depending on the amount of affordable housing provided, and an 80% increase in density for projects which are completely affordable.

2021 Density Bonus Chart by Meyers Nave:


Moreover, many of the recent legislative changes made to Housing Element Law (See Government Code Sections 65583 and 65583.2 for details) are affecting Marin County’s 2023-2031 Housing Element, especially as it relates to the selection of sites to accommodate the County’s lower-income RHNA. For example, sites in the current housing element which are identified to accommodate lower income housing may not be reused unless additional actions are taken to encourage and facilitate housing on those sites. These actions could include by-right zoning or re-zoning at a higher density. [2]

"By-Right" means review of an application is streamlined so that projects, which contain 20 percent affordable units and do not require a subdivision, are not subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and instead are subject only to an objective design review process. Objective Design and Development Standards have been developed to comply with this requirement.

Furthermore, in order for a site to qualify, Marin County may need to provide additional incentives and concessions (E.g. reduced parking, increased height, smaller setbacks, larger Floor Area Ratio (FAR), etc.).


Many Candidate Housing Element Sites are inappropriate for housing, especially high-density housing, which is required for sites qualifying for lower and moderate-income household quotas.

Many of the Candidate Sites are hazardous. These include locations subject to high fire hazards, unsafe evacuation routes, toxic air contaminants, hazardous materials, sea level rise, flooding, high seismic activity, high noise pollution and high traffic congestion. When trying to improve housing equity, it is unconscionable to expose vulnerable senior and lower income households to high hazard risks, when they have the least resources available to cope with the adversity caused by such hazards.

Numerous Candidate Sites are distant from employment and high-quality public transit, which if developed, would lead to new residents using vehicles for their transportation needs, thereby increasing Green House Gas emissions. Tackling climate change is overlooked.

Several Candidate Sites are adjacent to or near vulnerable natural habitat and endangered species. Developing housing at these sites, particularly high-density housing, would increase the risk of undue harm to the environment.

Moreover, the fact that Marin’s limited water supply is insufficient for such growth isn’t even considered. Deficient infrastructure and public services are also overlooked.


To evaluate Candidate Housing Element Sites and fully understand the potential impacts that would result from building housing developments at these sites, answers to the following questions should be obtained.

Questions to ask County Planners re: Candidate Housing Element Sites:

1. What is the acreage of each site?

2. What is the allowable density (# units/acre) at each site?

3. What is the highest potential number of units allowed at each Candidate Housing Element Site, if the existing building was torn down and 100% affordable housing units were built at the site?

4. What is the highest potential density bonus?

5. What are the known hazards and constraints at the sites?

6. Are the sites near or adjacent to vulnerable natural habitat and wildlife, including endangered species?

7. In order for the sites to qualify for this Housing Element, are any of them being up-zoned? If so, which sites and by how much?

8. In order for the sites to qualify for this Housing Element, on which sites will “by-right” approvals be allowed?

9. In order for the sites to qualify for this Housing Element, are any incentives and concessions being given, such as reduced parking, increased height, smaller setbacks, larger FAR, etc. ?



Please attend the upcoming Marin County workshops, ask pertinent questions, and voice your opinion about the potential housing locations.

Meeting Day/Time


Meeting Link



Recording will be available on the County's page.

02/02/22, 7PM

Tamalpais Valley

02/07/22, 7:30 PM



6-7 PM

Unincorporated Ross Valley


6-7 PM

Lucas Valley/ Marinwood


6-7 PM

Santa Venetia/ Los Ranchitos


6-7 PM

Marin City

Link coming soon.


6-7 PM

West Marin


6-7 PM

Unincorporated Novato




Marin County Housing Element