For years, Sacramento set regional housing goals for communities.
Those goals were mostly ignored by politicians, other than having to invest tax dollars into writing a plan for meeting those quotas, a plan that once approved largely collected dust.
In recent years, with California facing a statewide housing crisis, Sacramento lawmakers have toughened the state’s approach, turning a goal into a demand, both eroding local control and significantly upping its numbers.
For a small county, with few wide-open development opportunities, the state’s higher quotas are perplexing.
Marin is largely built out and most of its open land is local, state and federal parkland or protected ranchland.
Marin is a community where five- or six-story buildings are a rarity. There are a few even taller.
But Sacramento is paving the way for more.
That’s why county supervisors are challenging the numbers presented by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
Since the 1980s, Marin has been a county where growth has been slow and small. The local political hurdles facing development proposals have driven up real estate prices and costs as well as forced more of Marin’s local workforce into lengthy commutes.
The lack of local affordable housing has also widened racial- and social-equity gaps, pricing lesser-income households out of the county to increasing overcrowding of apartments and homes.
In recent years, local jurisdictions have been turning toward a more proactive attitude in trying to address Marin’s need for affordable housing, including senior housing.
It’s been slow, but that progress is too slow for Sacramento lawmakers who have passed laws that allow developers to circumvent reasonable planning that respects those who would be impacted by what’s built.
Concerns about traffic, parking and public safety are being trumped by the state’s top-down approach. Concerns about design and size that complement the surrounding community are being ignored by the state’s approach.
In short, the state has pushed the pendulum too far the other way, in a direction that actually sidesteps addressing local housing concerns and the need for affordable housing instead of luxury homes.
ABAG has come up with numbers that show a lack of respect for the geography and environments of small towns, like those that make up most of Marin.
For Marin’s unincorporated areas, ABAG would have the county supervisors come up with plans to build more than 3,500 housing units.
County supervisors intend to get that number revised downward, but the county still faces a deadline to come up with realistic plans for meeting the higher quota.
Falling short of that quota opens the door to Sacramento-enabled shortcutting the normal public planning process, which has already led to county staff’s approval of a five-story apartment complex in Marin City and a plan submitted for expedited approval in Novato for a six-story building at 1020 Fourth St.
Thanks to Sacramento lawmakers, the local stage has been set for building housing complexes that are out of scale with their surroundings.
In a letter to ABAG, which drafted the quotas, Supervisor Katie Rice wrote that Marin may not be able to meet the higher quotas while also protecting environmentally sensitive areas, respecting valid concerns about fires, flooding and sea-level rise.
Certainly, it is important that Marin meet its regional fair share. But those quotas should be realistic and achievable without sacrificing good planning that recognizes community concerns and real constraints.
Certainly, issues such as racial and social equity must be at the forefront in coming up with realistic plans for needed housing, but the state is wrong to grease the skids for developments that are out of scale with the communities in which they are built.
The county and Marin municipalities are right to push back.