Tuesday January 24th, 3 PM and 5PM: Board of Supervisors Hearing.
To the Board of Supervisors,
On January 5th, Commissioner Biehle rightly referred to this hurried process as “Planning at gunpoint.”
I am writing to ask that you do not approve the Housing Element or CWP until the details can be better worked out. That said, I deeply empathize with the situation you have been forced into.
I hope you follow the lead of your advisory body — your diligent Planning Commission — which overwhelmingly voted not to endorse the Housing Element or changes to the CWP in their current state.
All of the new state laws impose objective standards. But the HCD still works subjectively, so there is no guarantee that if you send it now, the current Housing Element would be certified. It could just be sent back with another multi-page letter of further demands.
I believe this situation could have been at least partially avoided if the CDA and planning staff had been more respectful of the concerns clearly expressed by the Planning Commission from the beginning, and better incorporated their input into new language.
Some CWP amendments go beyond what is required by state law. Why give up more than we have to? The overlay designations, zoning, and rezoning are not completely worked out. New CWP language still doesn't attempt to protect community plans, which seem to have lost their relevance except in narrow instances of single family homes. Development, especially with density bonuses, could lead to gentrification of neighborhoods currently occupied by residents in the lowest income levels.
A reasonable RHNA would have made the past two years much less stressful for the county. Population projections do not support the numbers, which failed a state audit. Supporting links at bottom.
With a RHNA of 3,569, even if every last unit is permitted, housing production results are out of the county’s hands. In the current economy, with the free market determining project viability, cost/availability of materials and labor will keep projects from penciling out. So most development will not occur, at least not in the ratios required by the RHNA.
Above-moderate units will, as usual, exceed their RHNA quotas. The free-market makes sure of it. There is no shortage of expensive housing now, nor will there be in the future. Regardless of the acute needs at the lower income end, 80% of development could easily end up market rate, if 20% of projects are used to qualify for density and other bonuses. That means only 20% accounts for extra low to median, thrown in for bonuses.
More plainly, that means 2,855 market rate units, and just 714 others, in exchange for 15 permanent, unavoidable environmental degradations.
Cities and counties should be working in partnership with the state, not bullied into making rushed decisions. Our county should be confident that their plan will actually increase housing stock for those in need, and without a solid plan that replaces punishments with subsidies, this will not happen. Last week Newsom proposed cutting $350 million in housing funds from the new state budget. With the upcoming deficit, following the recent catastrophic floods (and fires) California will need huge investments in infrastructure to bolster levees and create new reservoirs to capture rain. Without that, existing and future housing is in peril and the future water supply will be insecure.
I understand you have a difficult decision to make. Your Planning Commission was unsatisfied with the Housing Element for sound reasons that not only reflect their expertise, but also the stated concerns of the greater community. Revisions are unlikely
if the deadline is to be made, and builder’s remedy avoided.
But when you are making decisions based on the threat of builder’s remedy, please remember that missing just 11 units from the 5th cycle is already allowing SB 35 projects, like the one quite unfairly imposed on Marin City.
The 6th cycle RHNA ensures the county will be forced to accept SB 35 projects in perpetuity.
So I hope you vote — as painful as it may be — to follow the recommendation of your Planning Commission, and reject the plans in their current form, even if it means missing the certification deadline.
The state has left local governments unable to look out for the safety of their population and environment. By starting this process with a summary dismissal of all appeals, the state set the stage for these problems, which will continue to haunt us. Decisions are now only made in favor of free-market development. If the state believes in creating low income housing, they should be subsidizing it.
Because of the way the deadlines were timed, the draft Housing Element had to be submitted long before the required Safety Element report and DEIR were completed. The conclusions of these reports, no matter how concerning, can’t — by law — be used to limit housing. Please take the time for the Planning Commissioners to oversee a site list they are comfortable with. There are still issues of evacuation access, encroachment on environmentally sensitive areas, and development in areas subject to sea level rise, earthquake liquefaction, and sinking. The EIR concludes that building out the Housing Element will result in 15 permanent, unavoidable, and significant environmental degradations.
The state just revised their Fire Hazard map for the first time since 2007. Now 50% of the unincorporated areas fall into SFHZ or VSFHZ.
The county will be held accountable to our certified Housing Element, so it should be crafted as sharply as possible to safeguard people, property, and the environment. With over 70 state laws looming over us from the top down, this process is too rushed. We will be still judged, in the end, by the actions of private developers. Creating the Housing Element has already cost a fortune, considering consulting fees, the cost to the county in staff and legal time, your time, and the many volunteer hours of the Planning Commission.
The state is not acting in concert with cities/counties to produce housing in the categories where it’s most needed. Instead, we are being bullied into compliance with unfunded mandates that are hazardous and based on flawed population projections. Please remember that almost every city and county government in the state has received unmanageable numbers, without any redress. Almost all are struggling.
PLEASE represent the safety and well being of all of Marin by:
1. Voting to hold back the Housing Element and the CWP amendments until they are more clearly worked out
2. Seeking the only remedy possible: join the HCD/RHNA lawsuit based on faulty population projections.
Citizens on their own have no say in this or anything else, with CEQA and other public input now considered a nuisance.
Member, Tam Design Review Board