The Marin Mindset: Why it Exists and What We Can do to Change it

Updated: Sep 19, 2018

Matthew Torkelson NextGen Marin | Novato

In addition to being the oldest county in terms of age demographics in the Bay Area, Marin County was ranked as the second least affordable place to live in the United States by Forbes Magazine. These problems are largely an outgrowth of an unwillingness to increase the supply of housing. From 2010 to 2017, Marin’s housing supply increased by only .7% despite total job growth of 12.2% in the same amount of time. Of those .7% of housing units added, only 10 are considered affordable. This limited housing supply drives up prices, keeping out a huge percentage of Marin’s workforce.

So what is driving this anti-growth mentality? Well, anyone that is familiar with politics in Marin is familiar with the NIMBYs, a small but extremely vocal group of people who are actively involved in local politics. This small minority of people, who have no singular political goal besides hindering any and all attempts at development, dominate the political discussion in Marin, yet they do not truly grasp the negative impact their influence has had on the county, namely an absurdly overbearing local government that has constructed a web of restrictive ordinances and fees that make solving the housing crisis next to impossible.

What is motivating the NIMBYs? Well, to a certain extent, the Not-In-My-Backyard mindset in Marin is comprehensible. Property owners do in fact stand to benefit from development restrictions. Lower supply and higher demand can lead to higher home prices - something that is directly beneficial to the property owners. More development may also result in less open space as well as potentially less parking. However, restricting development also leads to a stagnation of growth, the emigration of labor and businesses, diminishing opportunities, and the destruction of the American Dream for many.

Is the isolated feel of Marin County worth preserving in its entirety if that entails splitting the younger generation from their elders, barricading any potential for renewal, jeopardizing sustainability efforts, and giving the prosperity of Marin a cold shoulder? We’re not asking to turn Marin into San Francisco - or anything close. We just think that it’s time for our overbearing bureaucracy that has been responsible for blocking any and all attempts to build in Marin to take a step back.

Ideally, we’d live in a world where fixing a window wouldn’t require a permit. Where expensive signs reminding people to not swim in a pool if they have diarrhea wouldn’t be mandatory. Where the city wouldn’t have the authority to dictate the aesthetics of Marin resident’s front yards, and where mandatory annual apartment inspections weren't in existence— and yes, these are all real constraints. Restrictions in the housing sector of our not-so-communal community are more substantial than ever, and their cost gets passed onto consumers and residents. The understanding of the relationship between “cost” and “benefit” has simply been cast adrift into the bay. Unfortunately, these restrictions ultimately lead to the constraining not only of Marin’s economy, but the economy of the entire Bay Area.

With a median home price of over $1,000,000, it takes an annual salary of $175,000 a year in order to afford to purchase a home here. Marin County needs to be able to support its own working class— a population that includes young engineers, recent graduates, medical assistants, and teachers. Let’s face it: few of these workers, people who perform functions that are vital to the everyday lives of Marin citizens, can afford to live here— and those who do have to sacrifice their quality of life.

Our population is aging, the growth rate of Marin is stagnant, and countless businesses are picking up and leaving. So why must we preserve every aspect of “Marin’s signature character” if no one can afford to live here to appreciate it? This mindset will facilitate the deterioration of an economy that will never be able to accommodate the next generation of Marin residents.

Shifting the direction we are headed in is feasible, but we must make our voices heard. We are calling upon the residents of Marin to congregate and fight the stagnation of our special little piece of the Golden State. The current mindset on housing in Marin MUST change, but this will not happen without Marin residents of all ages becoming aware and active in the matters of local government. By simply becoming aware and educated on this issue, we can outnumber the small number of NIMBYs who have had a chokehold on this county’s politics for a long time. The cost of doing business in Marin must be reduced and the overbearing establishment must retreat. If we step forward as an engaged and open-minded community, we can reassign power to the people— and ultimately make Marin a prosperous home for all.

For more information and data on housing in Marin, check out our other articles and factsheets.


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