State housing efforts should be collaborative

POSTED: 02/21/18, 11:01 AM PST

Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Editorial


Most Marin agencies face a state deadline for updating their plans to meet state-imposed housing goals.

Last year’s passage of statewide housing bills ramps up the political pressure on Marin to make room for more housing and requires the county and city to put greater certainty in the sites listed as potential locations for the development of affordable housing. The state says Marin County and nine cities have fallen short of meeting their state-dictated regional housing goals and are required to come up with plans that streamline the otherwise involved local planning process facing those developments.

That means the local process and approval of possible sites are a lot more than bureaucratic suggestions or the mere beginning of political decisionmaking, as they have been in the past. The Legislature’s goal was aimed at removing the time-consuming and costly political risk at the front end of the process in hopes of making it less precarious and pricey for affordable-housing builders.

The zoning approved in meeting state housing goals is no longer the start of a debate. It is a number developers are supposed to be able to count on.

Local political leaders and staff know this. They need to make sure the public knows this as well. The state rules changed business as usual for local planning approvals.

That means there needs to be a broad-based local discussion aimed at detailing sites and zoning standards for building a community’s fair share toward meeting the Bay Area’s regional housing needs.

Those numbers call for the construction of 2,298 new housing units — both market-rate and affordable — between 2015 and 2023.

The law, SB 35, differentiates between affordable and market-rate housing. For example, the county, San Rafael, Larkspur and Ross have been deemed to have met SB 35’s goals in the creation of market-rate housing, but they still have to build affordable housing.

Novato, Mill Valley, Fairfax, Tiburon and Belvedere were out of compliance for both market-rate and affordable housing.

Marin is always targeted for its slow-growth planning standards, but it is far from alone among the jurisdictions failing, so far, to meet SB 35’s goals. More than 97 percent of cities and counties statewide are out of compliance.

In Marin, there are clear local and regional economic, environmental and social benefits of providing affordable housing. Forcing local workers to commute from areas where they can find housing feeds traffic jams and pollution and makes it harder for local businesses to recruit and retain workers.

While the law generates a lot of political pressure, the Legislature, of course, didn’t help its own goal. It built its own political hurdle, a “prevailing wage” clause, often pushed by labor to help make sure union members get the work.

Local planners expect that rule, combined with the high cost of real estate, will cut into builders’ interest in using “streamlining” to build in Marin.

But the Legislature is intent on top-down solutions to the state’s housing crisis rather than creating a collaborative process where local jurisdictions are encouraged to promote affordable housing of the size and scope that complement their communities.

Instead of undermining local control, the Legislature should focus on getting much-needed affordable housing built.

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