College of Marin explores housing options

POSTED: 10/21/18

Author: Editorial Board

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

People walk by the Academic Center at College of Marin in Kentfield. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

College of Marin’s leadership has taken strong steps to get into the housing business.

It has broached this issue before, more than a decade ago, at its expansive Indian Valley Campus in Novato, but stiff neighborhood resistance ended that initiative.

Today, Marin’s high cost of housing has created a significant obstacle for the community college’s efforts to recruit and retain teachers. The College of Marin board knows that the quality of its teachers is important in building enrollment and strengthening community support for the institution.

But when teachers turn down opportunities at COM or move to other schools where they can find affordable housing, the college, just like many employers in Marin, has a problem that needs to be addressed.

Less than half of the college’s workforce lives in Marin, mainly because of our county’s top-dollar home prices and rents.

To that end, COM’s leadership has been quietly working on buying a building on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, near the Kentfield campus, to turn it into the school’s print center and for use as affordable housing for staff.

The building has been used as a private gym, with two apartments upstairs.

Often public real estate deliberations are conducted behind closed doors. That’s appropriate for hammering out the details of negotiations.

And, the district did appropriately post the exact address of its closed-door negotiations on its public agenda.

But the district’s intent to buy property for staff housing — and spend $2.5 million to acquire the building — did not get the widespread attention this important step deserves until candidates for the college’s Board of Trustees mentioned it, albeit obliquely, in a meeting with the IJ editorial board.

There should have been steps taken to involve and inform the public of this initiative before COM started shopping for properties. The taxpayer investment alone deserves to be addressed beyond the board’s closed-door session.

The college is also looking at revisiting the promise of building staff housing at the Indian Valley Campus. There’s plenty of room across the 333-acre campus and, if properly located and designed, it could be an answer to COM’s problem.

In Marin, however, the front-end taxpayer investment is not going to be cheap.

The College of Marin deserves credit for taking action and working to address this need. Other educational institutions have faced similar problems and have started affordable housing programs to attract and keep faculty.

The Novato Unified School District has been collaborating with the city to look at the potential of using some of its surplus property for faculty and staff housing.

These initiatives are based on recognizing the fact that this obstacle, when it comes to recruiting and retaining important employees, is not going to go away and it’s time to look into possible actions that could help address it.

Involving the public and openly explaining the dilemma and costs will be important to the success of this initiative, and it would set an example that other agencies could follow.

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