Regional housing strategy wrong for Marin

POSTED: 1/24/18

Publication: Marin Independent Journal - Editorial

Marin officials planted themselves firmly in a defensive position when it comes to the regional push to build more housing.


The county’s representatives on regional planning panels — the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission — voted against the “CASA compact,” an ambitious plan to build more housing across the Bay Area.


There’s no question Marin needs to do its fair share, but it doesn’t need “one-size-fits-all” regulations that might allow development of a housing complex that would fit San Jose or San Francisco, but not Marin.


CASA is the first initiative of the MTC since, in a deftly handled political power play, it took control of the Association of Bay Area Governments’ long-standing planning role. The logic was that building housing and jobs is directly linked to traffic congestion.


The problem is that CASA sees the Bay Area through a telescope’s single lens. The Bay Area is much more diverse, especially in the size and character of its towns.


What may fit in Milpitas or Fremont may not be the right fit for Lafayette or Larkspur.


Not every town has room for the kind of growth sought in CASA. For some Bay Area communities, meeting regional housing goals is easier than others.


Most of Marin’s towns are already built-out and opportunities lie in sites that could be redeveloped. Those sites are not always readily available, especially in the time frame dictated by regional housing goals.


In taking a defensive position, Marin gets painted as being anti-housing or anti-growth.


In recent years, Marin officials have correctly stepped up their efforts to take advantage of opportunities to build or secure affordable housing. They don’t get credit for it, as Marin’s political image is one of tightly restrictive zoning and vocal political forces that object to relaxing it.


Assemblyman Marc Levine didn’t help when he pushed through legislation that exempted Marin from an agreement for a reduction in state-mandated housing-density standards for a five-year period to prove that the county and cities could approve their fair share of affordable housing with a lesser density.


Marin’s best and most responsive approach would be to strive to meet the goals of the five-year trial.


That means the county and cities coming up with realistic plans to build affordable housing, pinpointing possible opportunities for redevelopment and having the political resolve to follow through with those goals.


That won’t require erosion of local control or the establishment of a regional housing agency, yet another layer of regional government.


Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was right when she spoke in support of CASA and said it is time to “drive home the message and awareness to everyone in this region that the affordable housing crisis is hurting you.”


But CASA’s approach is flawed. It might be right for Oakland, but not for Fairfax or Corte Madera.


CASA should not be a green light for developers who are going to build as many residences as they can and leave locals with traffic jams and buildings that do not complement the community in site, size and design.


But Schaaf is right about the need to grow greater awareness among local officials and their communities. That includes Marin’s political leaders and Marin residents.


A “no-growth” strategy simply fuels traffic congestion and longer commutes, difficulties for local businesses to hire and keep workers and, even closer to home, widening distances among families.


Certainly, it makes sense for MTC to focus its transportation funds on areas where cities and towns are striving to build affordable housing that’s within walking distance to jobs or transit stops as a way to reduce traffic congestion. But setting development standards and mandates that don’t make sense undermines the objective.


Our local officials are right to vote against the CASA compact, but they need to follow-up those votes with a commitment to prove that Marin is ready and resolved to do its fair share by supporting construction and protection of affordable housing.


To read original article posting, click here: https://www.marinij.com/2019/01/24/editorial-regional-housing-strategy-wrong-for-marin/

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