Saturday, February 16, 2013

Relationship Between Crime and Affordable Housing Debated in Novato

High density affordable housing means high density urban problems.

Editor's Note 1/7/2018:  The Los Angeles Times has linked this article today with the unfair suggestion that it represents racial intolerance in Marin County.  It is part of over 3000 blog posts about housing and politics on this site.   This article republished from the Novato Patch simply states the crime occurrence in several large apartment complexes in Novato. The problems now have abated since 2013 with better property management.  

Our comments following the article simply makes the point that Marin County Supervisors targeted our  tiny community of 6 square miles with 83% of all the new low income apartments for the 843 square mile Marin County.  It was grossly unfair and resulted in the ouster of our long time Supervisor, Susan Adams.

Race was never discussed in this article or others as a cause for alarm despite the use of a photo of a MS 13 gang member first published in the Los Angeles Times. (I naively thought it could have been the back of a California surfer).  Gang problems do exist in Marin County but not to the degree in other parts of the State. In 2015, Novato had a grisly gang crime that involved the decapitation of a high school student and the near murder of his friend.

Marin county is trying to fulfill an agreement with HUD to make Marin more racially diverse or face steep fines.  Obviously, if it is to meet this goal virtually every Marin County sponsored apartment projects would have to have a high percentage of minorities from outside the county and house them in our tiny community.  We think this is bad social policy and racist.  Housing islands of minorities in large apartment complexes would only further isolate them from the rest of Marin.  We advocate distributing complexes in EVERY neighborhood of Marin, not just one small bedroom community in the unincorporated county.   Clearly the Marin Supervisors were using Marinwood to avoid political problems in their own district.  Former Supervisor Steve Kinsey,  (now famous for unethical practices on the California Coastal Commission) only put two housing units in his district that encompasses over 600 square miles.

The charge of "Racism" is meant to discredit us and distract from the real issues of concentrating 83% of the housing for Marin County in one small community.  Marinwood-Lucas Valley is far more diverse than most communities in Marin County and all are welcome.   It is ironic that most Marin supervisors live in the whitest neighborhoods.  

Article from the Novato Patch:

Relationship Between Crime and Affordable Housing Debated at Novato City Council Session

Police chief and housing management representatives shed light on realities of life in low-income, high-density complexes.
As part of Novato’s community-wide informational download on all things related to affordable housing, the Novato City Council hosted a work study session Tuesday night to go over crime statistics and rental property management at multifamily complexes in the city.

Police Chief Joseph Kreins crunched numbers that showed crime is significantly lower in the city than it was 10 or 20 years ago, and fares well when compared with Petaluma, San Rafael, Walnut Creek and Beverly Hills, but warned that “you can’t just focus on statistics because they don’t paint a total picture.”

Art Gerrans, a Novato resident since 1969 who was police officer for more than 40 years, said people used to move to Novato because it was safe. He said he raised seven kids

“When you get a situation with public housing, you’re going to have crime,” he said, adding that he worked on homicide and narcotics units with San Francisco police. “These are people who bring their problems with them … and will reflect on our society here. … If you bring these people here, the good people of Novato will leave.”

Kreins went through his presentation and acknowledged that Wyndover Apartments, a 136-unit complex near the downtown area, has been a particular problem for the police department for about four years.

“Quite frankly it was a mess when we started focusing on them,” Kreins said of Wyndover.
Starting in September 2010, the police department initiated meetings with Fairfield Wyndover management company to address the high volume of calls for service and improve quality-of-life issues for the residents in the 800 block of Diablo Avenue. Kreins said his department increased foot patrols and drive-throughs in the area, shared information about observed resident activity with on-site management and set up a liaison between the police and the Marin Housing Authority.
“Working with the on-site management is absolutely key and critical to working with that multifamily housing unit,” Kreins said.

In the time between Oct. 1, 2010, and March 31 of this year, there were 10 evictions and 25 probation/parole checks at Wyndover, Kreins said. Since the start of this year, the complex’s management company improved lighting on the site, locked the external gates and started a Neighborhood Watch group. Kreins said there has been a noticeable drop in person crime and property crime in the past three months there.

Crime statistics for 10 Novato housing complexes were compared and showed Wyndover as No. 1 in total calls for service over the past two years, No. 1 in calls for service per 100 units and No. 1 in percentage of all calls answered by the police department.

“Where is Fairfield Wyndover tonight?” asked resident Toni Shroyer, an outspoken critic of the Wyndover management. “They have a lot of questions to answer. … They are making more than $1.6 million per year and not paying any taxes.”

However, Kreins pointed out that the Bay Vista section of Hamilton had higher numbers than Wyndover when it came to person crimes and property crimes, the two that are more closely related to criminal activity.

Wyndover had 321 service calls for disturbances or suspicious circumstances in the past two years, more than double that of Bay Vista and significantly more the other eight complexes. But Kreins said that those responses only rarely result in arrests for person or property crimes.

He added later that in some cases a low percentage of residents can create a high percentage of crime in a given complex or neighborhood. “You can have one location that creates a tremendously high level of calls for service,” Kreins said, “and in those cases we can continue to move those people out.”

Ned York, an assistant vice president with the John Stewart Company, spoke about his firm’s properties at Bay Vista and Creekside in Hamilton. At Bay Vista, built at the former Hamilton Air Force Base after it was decommissioned, crime has been a major concern and calls for service are much higher than the average in Novato.

The rents at Bay Vista range from $745 to $1,782 for the 220 two-bedroom and three-bedroom units, and the density per acre is about 13 units. The typical household income at Bay Vista is $32,303, just more than half the average in Novato.

York said applicant households are rejected if anyone planning to live in a unit has committed a felony, and background checks date back seven years. Credit checks are a key part of the screening process, too, he said, because “we want to make sure the folks who live at our site have the minimum amount of income to give us confidence that they can pay the rent.”

Marie Chan, an advocate for sustainable affordable housing, begged to differ with anyone who doubted Kreins’ crime statistics.

“It is totally unfair to categorize Novato as crime-ridden,” she said. “… Novato doesn’t need to have this black eye within the county so that other people think we’re a crime-ridden community.”

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Editor's Note:

The Novato citizens comments about article: are very worthwhile reading for citizens of Marinwood Lucas Valley.  They document the actual experience of Novato with affordable housing. You could also ask neighbors in Santa Venetia what they think of the 28 unit affordable housing unit at 10 Labrea Way (off San Pedro Rd).  The non profit developer EAH housing  is a major affordable housing developer like Bridge Housing ,  the potential developer of Marinwood Village.  The surrounding neighbors complain of loud music, public drunkeness, drug dealing, trash, and police calls. The schools have suffered impacts of crowding.

Marinwood Village will be three times the size. 

  We are going to have a much higher percentage of affordable housing in our neighborhood according the Housing Element for unincorporated Marin. In fact 71% of all affordable housing for unincorporated Marin (and 83% of the lowest income families.
At least 25% of our population will be extremely low income to moderate income living in rent subsidized apartments.  
Where are the jobs for all these new arrivals?  

Isn't Marin County simply creating a new warehouse for low income people paid for by the community of Marinwood-Lucas Valley?

 It is time to wake up.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dispatch from Palo Alto: Local People Fight ABAG housing numbers

Bold leaders are fighting the taking of our communities by ABAG, HCD, HUD and other power hungry bureacracies.

Editor's Note: The housing allocations in Marinwood-Lucas Valley are totally out of scale with the actual need and legal requirements of the community.  What sense does it make to concentrate 71% of all affordable housing in unincorporated Marin in a single 5.78 square mile community of Marinwood-Lucas Valley?  We are only 2% of the total population.

We cannot afford to carry the burden of a housing development which will pay miniimal taxes to support 83 families and their estimated 150 school children in the Dixie school system for the rest of Marin.  We currently pay about $10,000 per student making the total annual burden of $1,500,000 for at least 55 years. 

Clearly this is unworkable but came as a surprise to Marin County planners and politicians.

We can do better.

Palo Alto is fighting back. 

Our very future as a livable, affordable community is at stake. 


Local comments on the ABAG housing story printed earlier this week.

The real issue was not the division of the regional allocation among the local cities but the size of the allocation made by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to our council of governments (ABAG). ABAG and HCD settled on a base allocation for the Bay Area of a total number of housing units that is 15% above the forecast amount that the Demographic Research Unit of the Department of Finance is currently using; the discrepancy grows to 40% by 2040. ABAG refuses to discuss this discrepancy, allowing local governments to send in appeals based only on the regional allocation process of the California Code relevant to the Housing Law (Section 65584.04 and 65584.05). 

 But the full section of the Code clearly says that the housing numbers for each region will be determined only in a wider context. Section 65584.01 starts with the statement: "The department's (Housing and Community Development) housing determination shall be based upon population projections produced by the Department of Finance...". This section goes on to say that HCD and the councils of governments (ABAG) can appeal for a change in growth but says that the final decision will be made by the Demographic Research group at the Department of Finance.
The Code also clearly says that local governments have the right to appeal the decisions of the council of governments or HCD. Section 65584.2 says: "A local government may...appeal regarding allocation data provided by HCD or the council of governments pertaining to the locality's share of the regional housing need or the submittal of data or information for a proposed allocation, as permitted by this article." [Bold added]. These two parts of the Code say pretty clearly that the demographic forecast of the Department of Finance are critical to the process when there exists a disconnect between the Department of Finance and HCD and that local governments have a right to appeal the use of selected data that are used to calculate regional housing needs.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Study Shows Links between Land Use and Crime

full article: SPEA study shows links between land use and violent crime rates

Land use matters when it comes to predicting violent crime rates, according to results of a study by two professors in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Thomas Stucky and John Ottensmann show that rates of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault are generally higher in areas with high-density residential developments and commercial property, and generally lower in areas characterized by industry, parks and schools.
Urban Crime
Illustration by Ned Shaw
But the correlations aren't always straightforward. They are influenced, to varying degrees, by socioeconomic factors such as poverty rates and neighborhood residential stability.
"We found you couldn't look at either the socioeconomic characteristics of a neighborhood or the land-use configurations separately," Stucky said. "It's critical that you understand both in order to understand the crime patterns."

The study, titled "Land Use and Violent Crime," was published in the November 2009 issue of the journal Criminology. It employs geo-coded Uniform Crime Report data for the city of Indianapolis, along with information on 30 categories of land use and demographic information from the 2000 U.S. Census, to map relationships between land use and crime. The research was sponsored by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute (

While other studies have examined crime rates by geographical units such as street blocks or Census tracts, Stucky and Ottensmann took an innovative approach. They used data for 1,000-by-1,000-foot grid squares, providing objective and precise plotting of land-use types and crime locations. Also, previous studies of crime and land use tended to focus on specific uses, such as proximity to taverns or schools; and they often looked at land use independently of socioeconomic factors.
Some of the results are, on the surface, not unexpected -- for example, that there are more robberies in commercial areas. But putting both land-use categories and socioeconomic factors in the mix led to complex and sometimes surprising findings. For example, in "disadvantaged" areas with no commercial land use, rates were higher than average for homicides but lower than average for other violent crimes. At the same time, in better-off areas with commercial land use, rates are higher than average for robbery but low for other violent crimes.

"People might expect the rates for homicides and robberies to both be higher in disadvantaged areas, but we didn't find that," Stucky said. "This allows you to think in more nuanced ways about where you would expect to see different crime configurations."

The study found higher rates of all types of violent crime in areas of high-density residential land use, even after controlling for overall population. The correlation was more pronounced in disadvantaged areas but held true in other areas as well.

"There seems to be something about (high-density residential) units that is associated with all types of serious violent crime, even controlling for the other factors in the model," the authors write. "Apparently, high-density housing units promote serious violent crime."

Generally speaking, the study found higher rates of robbery, aggravated assault and rape in commercial areas, and higher rates of all violent crimes in areas traversed by major streets. It found generally lower violent crime rates in areas with parks, cemeteries and schools.

Stucky is a criminologist and former law enforcement officer, while Ottensmann is an expert in urban land use, especially the development of land-use models. Their collaboration took root several years ago when Stucky attended a presentation by Ottensmann on LUCI, the Land Use in Central Indiana model, which facilitates urban planning by showing the relationship between policy choices and development.

They realized that, with massive data sets available on both land-use patterns and crime, it made sense to combine the topics -- and their research specialties -- and look for relationships.
"It's a perfect example of the kind of collaboration that comes out of serendipity, being in the right place at the right time and open to new opportunities," Stucky said.

Dispatch from Palo Alto : ABAG says "Let them eat cake!"

Marie Antoinette,  "Let them eat cake"
Editor's Note: Citizen groups are rising all over the Bay Area to protest the affordable housing quotas given them by Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).  Despite the unsustainable impact on the infrastructure, schools and government, ABAG tells cities they must comply.

Palo Alto Online : Palo Alto fights state mandate for more housing

In what one council member called a fight "for the soul of our city," Palo Alto officials agreed on Monday, Feb. 11, to formally appeal a state mandate calling for the city to plan for more than 2,000 units of new housing over the next decade.

The council voted 8-1, with Larry Klein dissenting, to formally appeal a requirement from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) that the city plan for the addition of 2,179 new housing units between 2014 and 2022. The mandate is part of the agency's Regional Housing Needs Allocation process, which projects how many homes will be needed throughout the region and requires cities to plan accordingly.

Palo Alto, which is often referred to by council members as a "built-out city," has been fighting these mandates for years, arguing that the agency's projections are far too ambitious and the city has no way to accommodate the level of housing it is asked to plan for. While ABAG cannot force the city to comply with its allocation, ignoring the mandate could cost Palo Alto funding for transportation and sustainability projects -- a valuable commodity for an ambitious city with a slew of bike-related projects on its wish list.

The council in September submitted a letter to ABAG asking the agency to revise its housing projections, which Palo Alto's letter called "unrealistic." The letter argued that the agency has overstated regional growth and ignores more conservative projections from the State's Department of Finance. The city also requested that the agency consider Palo Alto's panoply of environmental initiatives when allocating housing (ABAG's allocation process is guided by the Senate Bill 375, a landmark 2008 law that aims to curb emissions of greenhouse gases throughout the state, and aims to place homes close to jobs and public transportation).

"In Palo Alto, the built-out nature of the city and multiple school, service and infrastructure constraints and impacts make these projections unattainable," the city's letter stated.

ABAG didn't buy this argument. In a November response, the Oakland-based regional agency wrote that the factors mentioned by the city "cannot be used to lower a jurisdiction's allocation." On Monday, the council responded to this letter with a formal appeal of the allocation.

While the council unanimously agreed that the city should fight the ABAG mandate, members split on the best way to do it. Some, including Klein and Greg Schmid, urged strong language.

They recommended that the city's appeal letter reiterate earlier arguments about the inadequacy of ABAG's projections and the potential impact of thousands of new housing units on the local school district and infrastructure.

Others, including Mayor Greg Scharff, Councilwoman Gail Price and Councilman Marc Berman, advocated a narrower, more pragmatic approach, one that urges ABAG to reallocate 350 Palo Alto units to Santa Clara County. These 350 units are already accounted for in a "general use permit" that the county approved for Stanford University, which plans to build them on Quarry Road, just west of El Camino Real.

Klein and Schmid both advocated using the broader, stronger arguments and remaining aggressive in opposing ABAG's mandates. Schmid, who had analyzed demographic projections from various sources and composed a memo outlining the city's concerns about ABAG's projections, argued that the letter should challenge the process the agency used to arrive at its numbers, not the number itself.

Klein agreed, calling the housing-allocation process a "self-inflicted wound" by California. If the city abandons the arguments it made in early letters, people would be able to say that Palo Alto gave up on this issue. He called the narrow argument over the 350 units "almost meaningless" given what's at stake.

"I think we're fighting for the soul of our city here," Klein said. "This is the issue I hear most often when I attend public events."
But while Pat Burt joined Klein and Schmid in supporting the broader arguments, the rest of the council opted for the narrower, more pragmatic approach recommended by the planning staff. Berman called the pragmatic argument the city's "best bet" for lowering its allocation.

"Rather than trying to rehash arguments or issues that we had with ABAG that they already stated are not grounds for appeal, let's focus on the one area that is grounds for appeal," Berman said.

"If we fight too many fights in this venue, we'll lose all of them," he added.

Most of his colleagues voiced similar sentiments, with Scharff noting that the council has already made all of its broad concerns known in prior letters and that they would take away from the practical goal of the current one.

"This is a limited appeal to gain something – a reduction of 350 units," Scharff said. "The rest takes away from that and makes Palo Alto seem less focused and less credible, and we're less likely to achieve our goal of reducing the ABAG allocation."

Klein's suggestion to include in the letter broader criticisms of ABAG's process died by a 3-6 vote, with Schmid and Burt joining him. The council then voted 8-1, with Klein dissenting, to focus its letter on the reduction of 350 units.
History provides a stern warning for "leaders" who ignore the will of the people.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

LEARN: The Truth about SB375 and One Bay Area Plan

SB375 and One Bay Area Plan is not a "Miracle Cure" for the Environment, Economy and Social Equity.


Editor's Note: Bob Silvestri, will be the keynote speaker at the 1st Annual Marin Town Hall sponsored by Citizen Marin, March 20, 2013 .

The stated goal of Senate Bill 375, which was signed into law in 2008, is “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) 15 percent by 2035.” Its premise is that building high density development with an affordable component, close to public transportation, will decrease GHGs and thereby have a positive effect on global warming.

Bob Silvestri

The rationale is as follows: Section 1(a) of SB375 states: “The transportation sector contributes over 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in California. Automobiles and light trucks alone contribute almost 30 percent. The transportation sector is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases.”

This infers that SB375 will affect 40 percent of all GHG emissions in California. I wondered if that was true.

To implement this law there are two basic requirements. That “prior to adopting a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) shall quantify the reduction in GHG emissions projected to be achieved.” [Section 3 (G)] and “...the MPO shall submit a description of the methodology it intends to use to estimate the GHG emissions reduced by its Sustainable Communities Strategy.” [Section 3 (I) (i)]

So I decided to analyze SB375 on its own terms to discover the truth about all this. What I found is that the factual basis of SB375 is faulty at best or a carefully crafted deception at worst. And that ABAG RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) allocations and SB375 will actually increase GHG emissions in California.

Falsehood #1:

“The transportation sector contributes over 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in California.”

The truth is that the “40 percent” figure is a 2020 projected figure not a real measured number. The actual amount is about 35 percent (Source: CA Air Resources Board: updated Oct. 2010). It seems to me that basing a law on a fabricated guesstimate of GHG emissions to justify the law’s goals is a bit circular, isn’t it?
In any case the real number, 35 percent, is misleading because it includes emissions from airlines, trains and trams, buses, heavy construction equipment, commercial trucking and hauling, shipping, boats, ferries, etc., none of which are affected by or addressed in SB375.

Falsehood #2:

“Automobiles and light trucks alone contribute almost 30 percent.”

The truth is that If you strip out the vehicles above not affected by SB375, you’re left with 23 percent of GHGs actually contributed by automobiles and light trucks. (Source: CA Air Resources Board: updated Oct. 2010)

Falsehood #3:

“The transportation sector is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases.”

The truth is that according to California EPA, energy production is the number one GHG producer in the state at 41 percent. Transportation is second at 35 percent. But even that’s not true because the California Air Resources Board statistics err in saying “livestock and animal breeding” is only 3 percent, because that’s just a measure of total GHG tonnage, not global warming impact. Methane gas (the majority of GHGs from livestock) is 35 times more harmful than CO2 in its global warming impact. So “livestock and breeding “ actually dwarfs energy and transportation combined. But not wanting to split hairs I decided to just use the numbers we have so far.

So what are the facts?

SB375 and RHNA allocations are based on the concept that we all carry our fair or proportional share. So I looked at the actual GHG emissions data and statistics for Marin County.
The total GHGs for Marin are 2.7 million metric tons per year. With 23 percent of that from cars and light trucks, that equals 621,000 metric tons of GHG per year. (Source: Bay Area Air Quality Management District; Feb 2010 Report: Source Inventory of Bay Area Greenhouse Gas Emissions).
But 23 percent is still misleading as it relates to housing because...

Many of our GHG emissions are not affected by SB375 or housing regardless of where we build it.
These kinds of driving include:

  • Deliveries and pickups by car, truck and van
  • Passenger vans and shuttles to private businesses and public facilities
  • Workman and building contractors transportation
  • Gardeners and home services
  • Utility service vehicles: water, power, sewer
  • City Agencies vehicles: police, fire, public works
  • Health and safety vehicles
This accounts for roughly 40 percent of vehicle use in Marin. That leaves 60 percent of 23 percent or 13.8 percent for personal travel. That equates to 372,600 metric tons GHG per year that might be positively affected by SB375.

But 13.8 percent is still misleading because Marin County has no significant public transportation. According to, 65 percent of the personal driving in Marin is driving to work. This is true regardless of where we locate housing because:

  1. We cannot discriminate in rentals or sales of homes based on where people work or what kind of job they have;
  2. No one can predict where they will have to go to find employment. People will go where the job is
  3. People don't make the decisions about where they work and where they live for the same reasons: i.e. You go where the best job opportunity is. You live where it's best for your family or lifestyle.
That leaves 35 percent of 13.8 percent or 4.83 percent for other personal driving, which equates to about 30,000 metric tons of GHGs per year that might be positively affected by SB375.
But 4.83 percent is still misleading because most Marin County driving is not optional. These types of non-optional driving include:
  • Driving to lessons, soccer, schools, friends and social activities.
  • Vacations, driving to the beach or mountains, or a park, etc.
  • Driving to buy large things we cannot carry (paint, hardware, large grocery purchases, plants, clothing, equipment, etc.).
  • People shop price not location (drive to Costco, Target, etc.).
  • People have busy lives and must do multiple things in one trip.
  • Because what you need is not nearby (i.e. You go to the doctor you need, not because he’s next door).
So all in all, only about 10 percent of people, who are not doing any of these things, might be able to change their driving habits due to SB375 / One Bay Area’s scheme for high density housing near the highway. That leaves only 10 percent of 4.83 percent, or 0.48 percent, which equates to 3,000 metric tons of GHGs per year could possibly be saved by SB375. That annual figure is approximately ½ or 1 percent of all of California’s annual GHG output. These are statistically insignificant savings (smaller than 1 percent is considered a rounding error)!

SB375 / One Bay Area Will Increase GHG Emissions

It turns out that SB375 and the One Bay Area Plan will actually produce a dramatic increase in GHG emissions. Let’s do the math.

A typical home produces about 8 tons of GHGs per year. The One Bay Area Preferred Scenario for Marin calls for the construction of 8,150 new homes. That equates to an additional 65,000 metric tons of GHGs per year.

At a development scale of 20 units per acre, about 400 acres of land developed would be required for new housing. But I chose to use 200 acres assuming that half would be on undeveloped sites and half on redeveloped sites.

The annual carbon sequestration value of one acre of typical Marin undeveloped land (grass with a few trees, not forested land) is about 60 GHGs per year.

So if we lose 200 acres of land to development that equals more than 12,000 added GHGs. If we then add the more than 65,000 tons of GHGs from the new homes, then subtract the net savings of (-3,000) from SB375, we get a total added GHG per year of 74,000 metric tons per year (77,000 minus 3,000). (Source: EPA greenhouse gas calculator).

But It Gets Worse

Most “affordable” units built in the future to satisfy RHNA allocations will be done using inclusionary zoning. This is true because the projects are generally not financially feasible without 80 percent of the units being sold or rented at expensive market rates. Inclusionary is at best 20 percent of total units built in a project. Using the RHNA allocations in the latest One Bay Area Preferred Scenario, we would have to build about 3 times the number of total affordable units required to achieve the “affordable” component quota using inclusionary development methods. Doing this will increase the total GHGs produced by SB375 by hundreds of thousands of additional metric tons per year.


The problem is that cars and light trucks produce GHG emissions. So why not just fix the problem instead of destroying our communities, and creating unsustainable growth and unwieldy bureaucracies?

We should force vehicle manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient cars, trucks and other transportation right now. How about levying an MPG tax on every new car or truck sold that doesn’t get at least 35 miles per gallon (the newly proposed 2016 CAFE standard) and a tax credit for the purchase of those that exceed it? That would penalize high pollution vehicles but make low emission vehicles cheaper by comparison for consumers, and reward innovators.

SB375 & One Bay Area

SB 375/One Bay Area is without any statistical or scientific basis. Its “top down” housing mandates and compliance demands are unprecedented in California legal history, and remove significant local control of zoning and planning. SB375/One Bay Area is economically destabilizing and financially irresponsible. Housing without jobs equals “unsustainable” development (think: Vallejo, Modesto and Fresno). It’s environmentally destructive. It contradicts the fundamental the laws of supply and demand, free markets, and how cities grow and survive.

I believe that SB375’s legal ambiguities and contradictions make it open to legal challenge as to the enforceability of some of its more onerous provisions.

What is most troubling is that in the end, after all the costs and burdens that SB375 and One Bay Area will impose on our communities, it will not result in providing what we really want: more high quality jobs and more quality, affordable housing choices to those most in need

Full article: The Truth about SB375 and One Bay Area Plan

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Marin IJ on 2/11/13 Planning Meeting and my response

The Marin IJ covered the Planning Meeting about the Housing that is coming to unincorporated Marin.  It is worth a quick read here  .  For an in depth understanding  of the meeting,  I recommend you review the tape when I publish it later this week.

I felt the Marin IJ story was generally accurate but left out some key facts.   Here was my letter to the journalist Megan Hansen:



Thank you for covering the Housing Element meeting for unincorporated Marin yesterday.  It is great to inform the public about the big change to our community.  Without the your coverage and the MarinIJ,  it would be like a tree falling in the forest with no one around.  No one will hear it. Local journalism protects our democracy . 

Your story while generally accurate, did miss out on a few points.

First, you quoted me  speaking about Grady Ranch.  I spoke for all the housing  in Marinwood Lucas Valley. 

My key points were:

1.)    71% of all affordable housing for Unincorporated Marin is concentrated in just 5.78 square miles in Marinwood- Lucas Valley.  This will grow our community by at least 25%.   We occupy just 0.6 percent of the land mass and only 2% of the population.  Does it make sense to concentrate all this housing in a single community? 

2.)    How can the goal of diversity be achieved when Marin is simply locating all of the “diversity” in high density housing in a single community?

3.)     Isn’t the rest of Marin NIMBY when they shove most of the housing into a small, powerless community?


Contrary to your inference that most speakers were against  affordable housing,  most expressed support  and willingness to accept a fair proportion but were concerned about the impact to the schools and social services and the inevitable tax burden to pay for the huge population increase.  Please review the tape. 

Lastly,  I understand that the Marin IJ has received a lot of readership over the George Lucas Grady Ranch vs LVHOA by portraying them as NIMBYs.  The real reason that LucasFilms withdrew was due to State, and Federal regulators, the upcoming Disney deal.  No reasonable person thinks that a neighborhood asking for a stop light and other minor mitigations  would have stop multibillionaire George Lucas. Nels Johnson covered this a month after the original story broke.

It is important that the Marin IJ cover this story fairly.  Community members have received death threats.  (One of which was actually published on the Marin IJ website.  How would you like someone to threaten to burn down your home?) It is causing unnecessary division in the community and the anger is based on a falsehood.

Keep up the coverage. This is an unfolding drama that is not likely to end soon.  Feel free to contact me.



Stephen Nestel Our Community, Our future


Monday, February 11, 2013

Dispatch from Menlo Park: Fighting High Density Housing


  by Francesca Segre | January 29, 2013 — 11:04 AM

Menlo Park residents are gathering Tuesday night to figure out where to build almost 2000 units of mixed-income housing - a good chunk of that will be for low-income families and seniors.

Menlo Park and 18 other Bay Area cities have fallen behind on a state mandate to zone for new housing, called the Housing Element.  The delay is due party to funding issues and the city choosing to support other priorities, according to the city planner, but it's also complicated by fights over where to put the homes.

At a gas station in Menlo Park, commuters fill up for the drive home. One of them, Jeremiah Cohen, used to live in Menlo Park, but now he's in Foster City with his parents.

“I would like to move back to Menlo Park,” Cohen says, “But the housing is way too expensive, especially for younger adults like myself.  It’s too much to afford.  Something needs to be done about it.”

Now, something is being done, thanks to three housing advocacy groups, their strategically timed lawsuit, and Facebook.

The advocates filed a lawsuit claiming that for the past 20 years the city of Menlo Park did not plan for the community’s housing needs and failed to comply with the state’s housing mandate.

Jennifer Martinez runs Peninsula Interfaith Action -one of the community groups involved in the suit.

“in over 20 years,” Martinez says, “the city has only built a little over 300 units of housing, most of which has been market rate.  It’s not accommodating for the variety of needs in the city and income levels that people might have.”

Only 8 per cent of people who work in Menlo Park actually live in the city, where a 2-bedroom apartment rents for roughly $3,000 a month.

The advocacy groups filed suit against Menlo Park in May of last year knowing Facebook had just moved its headquarters to the city and was planning to expand its campus. 

The groups knew if the city went into housing litigation, the courts would likely prevent Menlo Park from issuing commercial development permits - permits that Facebook was counting on.

The outcome? Menlo Park quickly settled.

Housing advocate Jennifer Martinez says the timing of the suit was important: “There are very few mechanisms outside of suit that force a city to comply with the state regulations on housing elements.  Unfortunately if a city isn’t inclined to do so, only the threat of losing a company like Facebook would compel them to.”

As part of the settlement, the city promised to update its Housing Element of the General Plan by March of this year - making up for much of the 20 year backlog in zoning.

People in Menlo Park are now fighting over where to put almost 2,000 new homes with at least 600 of them meant for low income residents.

Justin Murphy is the city planner heading up the effort to wedge some of these units throughout the city, including neighborhoods with expensive single-family homes.

“The main issue,” Murphy says, “is finding appropriate sites for higher density residential and existing residents. Property owners have expressed concerns over the years about what impacts may come to the school district, water services, and transportation associated with that change in zoning.”

Menlo Park resident, and member of the planning commission, Vincent Bressler says it’s pitting neighborhoods against each other: “It’s just easier for people in individual areas of town to fight one another and say ‘you take it, no I don’t want it. I don’t want it.’ It’s kind of nasty.”

In the community workshop Tuesday night, residents will consider 14 separate proposed housing sites.  The city will then make a “short list” based on feedback.

Bressler says more vocal communities have a better chance of keeping high-density housing out.

“It’s a squeaky wheel syndrome, that’s for sure,” Bressler says.  “Definitely the more politically disenfranchised areas of the city are more likely to be hit by this.”

Planner Justin Murphy says the city has no choice: “The important thing that we try to emphasize is that we’re all in this together - we’re trying to figure out the best thing for Menlo Park. Trying to figure out how to make decisions that are strategic, that accomplish state law, and preserve the quality of life in town.”

Meanwhile, Murphy says he’s fielding calls from developers -- already eager to dig in.