Some years ago I prepared a community survey that was delivered door to door
asking for opinions about what stores and services should go into the shopping
center. We got back 350 replies and tallied the results which were made
available at subsequent community meetings. Here’s what Marinwood residents
said they wanted:
A good Market- which we now have
Restaurant – family serving, indoor/outdoor dining, with a bar (2000 sq ft)
Bakery/Coffee shop (1200 sq ft)
Beauty/Barber shop (600 sq ft)
UPS/Mail box/Copy Center (700 sq ft)
Bank/ATM (500 sq ft)
Liquor store (Alex & Gennie) (800 sq ft)
Laundry/Dry Cleaner – drop off & pick up only (500 sq ft)
Deli – now part of the market
Bike Shop (1000 sq ft)
Florist (300 sq ft)
Women’s Upscale Apparel (500 sq ft)
Computer Sales/Service/Repair (500 sq ft)
Professional and/or Medical/Dental Offices
Next to each of these I’ve included our estimate of the amount of space each
business would require. A little arithmetic shows that the 7,800 sq ft of
retail space currently proposed will get us what we have said we want. I think
we would all be very happy with less than this full list.
As an aside, one of the primary problems with the existing center has been that
the spaces are all 2,000 sq ft. This is much more space than most small retail
store owners want or need. Having to pay rent on more space than is needed is
one way to drive away a business owner.
My primary focus through all this work has been to bring most of the above list
of stores and services to our community in an attractive package that we will
all love using and which will become a social center for Marinwood where we may
stop by for coffee, chat with friends, have dinner, hang out, watch sports,
etc. The current proposal will make this happen very nicely. It will be
everything any of us have hoped for.
So What’s The Problem?
What is the price to us to have this part of our community cleaned up and
changed into a major community asset? I have learned through all the years of
working on this project that there are a number of constituencies that must be
made happy before we will get what we want. There are the environmental groups,
affordable housing advocates, the schools, the board of supervisors, the state
of California government, the property owner, the contractor, the people who
will finance the development, etc. These are all very strong outspoken groups
with plenty of political muscle. Nothing happens around this county until all
the vested interests get their share of a compromise. Our community is just one
of the entities with an interest in what happens. So in choosing our reaction
to what is proposed, the need to satisfy other interests must be considered if
we are go get what we want. Demanding what we want and refusing to budge on any
other groups’ interests could be successful in delaying the project or stopping
it entirely, but it will not result in our getting what we want.
Prior Development Efforts
Another aspect of this project is the interests of the property owner. Jerry
Hoytt has had one view of what his property is worth. Potential property buyers
viewed the value somewhat differently. There have been many developers who have
taken a look at redeveloping the shopping center. Most of them backed away
before investing more than a token amount of time considering it. Even prior to
the real estate bust, projects just did not pencil out based on how much Gerry
wanted for the property, construction costs, etc. BRIDGE Housing was actually
the first to seriously consider development. They have the tax advantages
accorded affordable housing projects and perhaps some government money that
made development potentially feasible. They were approached because the county
has a need to satisfy the state’s demands that affordable housing be built.
Whether you like it or not, whether it makes sense or not, the state mandates
that cities, towns and counties plan for growth and for all levels of housing,
including market rate and affordable. We are not going to be able to change
that anytime soon. If we are to have our shopping center project done during
our lifetimes we have to accept that the project will include affordable
housing. The alternative is to yell and scream and delay anything happening for
BRIDGE Housing Backed Out
In 2005 BRIDGE Housing was unable to put together a plan that made sense, and
they backed out. Subsequently there were two more developers that put serious
effort into trying to put a deal together. The first was Tom Monahan of Monahan
Pacific. Tom is a local guy who lives in our valley. His motivation was that
his wife wanted the center redeveloped so she could shop there. Tom’s group
made several positive steps forward in plan design, but he too eventually
backed away. Peter Brandon of Trammel Crow was next at bat. He also lives in
the valley. He was making some progress when the real estate market fell apart.
As the recession arrived there was no possibility of making something work. As
a result of the bad economy Trammell Crow even shut down their San Francisco
office and left the Bay Area. With each developer, the plan became more refined
and the community provided input through small and large community meetings,
which further guided us to where we are today.
The Recession is Ending, but Problems Persist
So now we are climbing out of the recession, but the arithmetic still looks
weak. Having put together several feasibility spreadsheets for the project over
the years I’m pretty sure that a completed redevelopment built now would be
worth less that the cost to build it. That leaves zero motivation for a for
profit developer to step in. Now BRIDGE Housing has come back into the picture,
and there has been a change. Hoytt Enterprises is going to retain ownership of
the Market building and related parking. This is important. Grocery Stores pay
very little rent. They serve as the anchor for a center, but pay rent less than
half of what other tenants pay. Removing the market building and its parking
from what the developer has to buy makes the project more attractive. It also
serves to divide the property making it almost impossible to develop the
property in any other way than what is proposed.
BRIDGE Housing’s Advantages
In addition the county continues to be under pressure to build affordable
housing, and because they retain ownership of the projects they build BRIDGE is
in a unique position that makes going forward a possibility. They also have the
money to finance the construction. This means they can take advantage of
today’s relatively low construction costs that are the result of people in the
trades needing work. Combined with whatever government money they may get and
the tax relief they will enjoy they can afford to build what we want and
construct the affordable housing that other constituencies want to see built.
So the arithmetic can work for them now, but the math still will not work for
constructing market rate housing.
So BRIDGE is pretty much the only game left. If they walk away, there will not
be anyone else stepping in to redevelop the property for a very long time, and
we will be left with nighttime drug dealing, vandalism and perhaps another
failed grocery store.
So how bad would it be to have BRIDGE Housing build their affordable housing?
I’ve heard three categories of objections: 1) the project will look bad, 2) The
people living in affordable housing will be bad for our community and 3) the
tax breaks given affordable housing projects will create a burden for existing
residents and the schools. Let me give you my thoughts on each of these.
The Projects Appearance
The current design plan for the retail portion of the project at the north end
has evolved over the past seven years. When BRIDGE Housing came back to the
project they reviewed all the work that had been done before by various committees,
Tom Monahan’s group and Trammell Crow and refined the design even further.
Please spend some time studying the rendering that the BRIDGE people have been
showing of the intersection of Marinwood Avenue and Miller Creek Road. You can
find it at marinwoodvillage.com
very attractive. Imagine stopping at the bakery for coffee, getting a haircut,
shopping at the farmers market, watching a game in the restaurant bar with
friends. What we have now in the current design works really well. It will be
the most attractive small shopping center anywhere in the North Bay. It will be
a place that is enjoyable to visit. Marinwood residents will want to hang out
there. It will be better than what we could have hoped for. Rather than the
garbage dump it is now, the redevelopment will turn a pig’s ear into a silk
purse. We will have a delightful entrance into our community from the freeway
that we can all be proud of.
The center of the project will be the market. We already know what it looks
like. It’s fine.
The south end of the project will be the housing. We don’t yet know what that
will look like. There are some proposed designs that look attractive, but I
don’t believe the final appearance has been locked in place. That’s a detail
that will be worked out during the public meetings and approvals process. The
appearance of the residential portion is all dependent upon the “skin” put on
the buildings. There are lots of options, and choosing one or the other is not
a big cost factor one way or the other. But regardless once built few of us
will be paying much attention to the residential portion of the project. Our
attention will be on the north end where the retail will be located and where
we will be spending our time, and that part will look great as well as
providing us with the retail services we want and the shopping critical mass
necessary to keep the market financially successful well into the future.
Who will be the Affordable Housing Tenants?
So what about the people living in affordable housing? How undesirable will
they be as neighbors? There are several ways to approach weighing this issue.
First is to visit other BRIDGE Housing projects. The closest one is Rotary
Village – the 80 +/- unit retirement home project that BRIDGE Housing build in
conjunction with the Terra Linda Rotary Club many years ago. You probably know
where it is on the country farm property. Walk up there and take a look around.
You’ll probably agree that it is a very nice place and very well maintained.
But to see more of what BRIDGE has built check out their website – bridgehousing.com
. You’ll find lots of
addresses of projects around Marin and the Bay Area that you may visit. BRIDGE
people have expressed a willingness to arrange tours of their properties. You
will find them all well kept with no evidence of anything negative. They are
Another perspective on the quality of tenants is to review the process that
BRIDGE uses to select their residents and manage their properties. First, their
properties all have live-in on site managers. All the residential units in the
shopping center project will be rental units. Prospective tenants must pass
criminal and credit checks, in home visits and agree to follow the rules.
Tenants who fail to follow the rules are evicted. This point probably needs
more development than I’ll cover here, but understand that the concerns
Marinwood residents are expressing are no different than those that have been
expressed in other communities before BRIDGE projects have been approved.
BRIDGE has been successful because they have earned an excellent reputation,
and a good portion of that good reputation is due to their exacting standards
and first class property management. Their website and the marinwoodvillage.com
website have much
more information on this subject. Check them out.
You often hear said that we need affordable housing for our police officers and
fire fighters. I think that is a bunch of malarkey. Police and firemen earn
more than average incomes and will not qualify for affordable housing. The
primary classes of residents will be seniors and people working in service
jobs. Think of the cashiers at the market, the hair dressers, store employees,
many self employed people just getting started, single moms with children, in
home support service workers who take care of our seniors and disabled in their
homes , childcare providers and single teachers at the lower end of the pay
scale. Bridge has a list of occupations held by people living in their
residences. I’m anticipating many of the tenants will be seniors now living in
Marinwood who are house rich, but income poor. They may well qualify to live in
affordable housing and once relieved of the cost of maintaining their home will
gain some measure of economic freedom. These aren’t strangers coming in from
afar with their strange ways. These are people who are already here living
among us. How horrible will it be to have them occupy apartments on Marinwood
My last point about the prospective tenants is to recommend checking out the
income requirements and the rents that will be charged. Bums and no-good-nicks
do not earn the incomes required to live in these units. We’re not talking
about destitute people. We are talking about people who have incomes in the
lower half of people already living here. A family of four with a breadwinner
earning $65,000 a year would qualify. Again, there is more information about
this at marinwoodvillage.com
What About Taxes? How Much Will the Affordable Housing Property Tax Exemption
Let’s move on to the tax issues and the consequences to the schools and other
public services and our own tax bills. I think there are some legitimate
concerns here. The tax advantages granted affordable housing developments
definitely will result in less tax revenues than would be provided by a market
rate development. So let’s take a measure of how costly the tax changes would
be for us. First let’s look at revenues. If you go to the Marinwoodvillage.com
website and look
under FAQ’s, item number 16 discusses the tax situation. In the last paragraph
there is an orange colored hypertext word “here”. Checking on that word will
bring up a spreadsheet showing the anticipated tax revenues from the
development. The total is $199,000 a year. Only about $10,000 of this will go
directly to the schools. $100,000 will come from sales taxes, and we do not
know how the county will spend that money. The balance will go to special
districts like fire, paramedics and sanitary. This spreadsheet calculation does
not include the sales tax revenues that come from the new market. Some of what
is sold in the market is subject to sales taxes, and the current tax generated
is about $6,000 a month. Although the market already exists it is part of the
whole redevelopment, and those tax revenues should be included in our thinking
about the entire plan especially since there is a question of whether the
market can survive if the additional retail stores do not arrive within a
reasonable amount of time. The additional stores will add the critical mass
required for a successful shopping center, and without those stores the market
will have a difficult time. Jeanne and her family moved their market to
Marinwood with the understanding that the north portion of the property would
be developed with additional retail. They’ve made a big investment in our
community. Now it’s our turn to bring in the rest of the retail stores to make
the shopping center work.
So if we count all the annual tax revenues likely to come from the finished
redevelopment the total is estimated to be somewhere around $270,000 a year.
The Cost to Local Schools
Based on their experience with many of their other projects the BRIDGE people
anticipate that the residential portion will bring about 70 school age children
about evenly divided between Dixie students and Terra Linda High School
students. Some detractors have been telling everyone that each child will add
$10,000 in cost to the school districts. I suppose they arrive at this figure
by dividing the school budgets by the number of students. That would be
accurate arithmetic, but it is misleading. For example if you add one more
student you do not need to hire any new people and you certainly don’t need any
more schools. If you were to add 35 more children to the Dixie district you may
or may not have to add an additional teacher. You certainly would not have to
add any additional administrators, librarians or maintenance people. Depending
on the student mix there may be a need to move in another portable classroom.
So the marginal cost of adding the additional students is considerably less
than $10,000 per student. I don’t know what that figure might be, and I’m not
sure anyone else does now.
But certainly there will be some additional cost to educating the 70 or so
children who will be added to the Dixie and Terra Linda HS enrollments. Let’s
say just for blue sky thinking purposes that the number is $5,000 annually per
student. I suspect that’s way too much, but we’re just supposing here. Seventy
students at $5,000 each would be an annual cost of $350,000. $10,000 would come
in direct tax revenue from the redevelopment leaving $340,000 to come from
somewhere else. Marinwood alone has 1,700 homes. Lucas Valley has about another
500 homes. Terra Linda probably has another 2,500 homes. So maybe there are 4,700
homes in the two school districts. $340,000 divided by 4,700 homes is $73 a
year per home – income tax deductible. So the net cost per home after taxes
would be in the neighborhood of less than $5 a month. Frankly all of us would
save more than $5 a month in gas by not having to drive to Ignacio or Terry
Linda to shop.
However replacing the current ugly entrance to our community with attractive
community serving shopping and services will make Marinwood a more attractive
community and therefore increase home values which would increase the tax base
and the amount of taxes designated for our schools which might make a tax
Weighing the Benefits of the Redevelopment Against the Cost
So,yes. Due to the tax advantages granted affordable housing developments there
may be a cost to each of us to have the entrance to our community cleaned up
and our local shopping returned. I think the cost will be too small to worry
about when compared to the benefits each of us will enjoy and whatever cost
does remain will be offset by our gas savings.
BRIDGE Housing will pay developer fees which are one time dollars to assist
with capital improvements to our schools. These fees will be about $200,000 and
will go a long way toward bringing in a new portable classroom if one is
And there is another factor. Susan Adams has said that she is working with the
schools, the county administrator and the Marin Community Foundation to address
some of the funding issues. Her children went to Dixie, and she continues to
support maintaining the high quality of our local public education. We’ll have
to wait and see if anything develops there.
But also keep in mind as mentioned earlier that we will be getting additional
tax revenues from the redevelopment that won’t be going to the schools. They’ll
be going toward fire protection (but we won’t have to hire any additional
firemen or have additional costs for a fire house), they’ll be going toward the
Las Gallinas sanitary district (but the developer pays for the additional sewer
lines and the existing system will be able to absorb the additional sewage),
etc. We may well be dollars ahead, so what we could lose out of one tax pocket
we may gain going into another tax pocket.
Will We Need A New Fire Engine?
And speaking of fire protection the comment has been made that our fire
department would have to purchase a new truck to adequately protect the three
story residential buildings. Our fire chief, Tom Roach, says absolutely not.
He’s comfortable with what we have to fight any fire the new development might
have at some point in the future. I think Tom knows more about this subject
than the people who say we’ll need to buy a new fire truck.