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Richard Rubin in 2008. (IJ photo/Robert Tong)

THE CONTROVERSY raging in Strawberry over proposed high-density housing development on property owned by the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary shows no signs of abating.

In fact it may just be heating up.

The reasons for the citizen uprising are understandable and it was predictable.

Clearly, there was a hardening of positions when irate residents were not brought into the public process early enough. Whether that was by design or default is not known. 

However, when a small, informed community is confronted with decisions made from on high without sufficient explanation there is bound to be reaction.

As an unincorporated area lacking any formal political voice in its affairs, that duty falls upon its county representative who in this case is the newly-installed Board of Supervisors President Kate Sears of Sausalito.

Sears, a Harvard-trained lawyer formerly with the state Attorney General's office where she got high marks for her handling of tough cases, was elected without opposition after appointment by the Gov. Jerry Brown to the spot left vacant by the untimely death of Supervisor Charles McGlashan.

Sears was barely seated when the storm clouds over Strawberry were already gathering.
In designating the seminary a Priority Development Area (PDA) in Plan Bay Area's implementation and thus an eligible site for subsidized housing, the degree of unhappiness may not have been anticipated. It should have been.

Similar problems facing her colleague, Supervisor Susan Adams, the target of a recall involving development of Marinwood Plaza, served fair warning this issue would not go away quickly.

A contentious meeting with Strawberry residents in August kindled temperatures even further. Repeated requests for an up-or-down vote by the supervisors to have the Strawberry PDA removed have been rebuffed on grounds that non-compliance with state housing mandates could jeopardize millions of dollars in transportation funding.

Given that, Sears contends that resolution of this issue rests appropriately with the Transportation Authority of Marin, which opponents dispute since it has no authority over PDA designations. They say PDAs are a voluntary determination for each community.
There is some speculation that the seminary, to assure sale of the highly valuable real estate, may be taking advantage of the county's reinterpretation of its decades-old master plan zoning regulations, which called for 2.47 units per acre of subsidized housing on the property.

By invoking so-called Affordable Housing Combined District map overlays, 30 units per acre of high density or "clustered" housing as county planners prefer to call it, are permissible.
The Strawberry Community Plan, ratified by the county in 1982, advocated the lower densities.

In support of its position, opponents cite census-backed statistics which show that only 39 percent of Strawberry's housing stock is owner occupied in contrast with 63 percent for the county.

This goes to the nub of citizen grievances. The theory behind the sustainable communities concept, they argue, is for fair and equitable distribution of the housing mix without imposing excessive burdens on any single community.

Marinwood and Tam Valley were able to opt out and Novato has negotiated a deal with the state for 20-23-units-per-acre densities.

Opponents see this as a blatant attempt to apply different standards to different communities, and if the goal is to promote high density developments next to city-centered transit corridors to best serve urban populations, there is justification for saying this misses the mark.

The seminary has not yet signaled if it will go along with the county's plans. But if this process has been in any way influenced by forces that may not be compatible with Strawberry's legitimate interests in its own destiny, corrective actions are still possible and full transparency is required.

As our neighborhoods evolve and grow, change is inevitable, including our housing needs. County officials can recommend changes. Decisions on how best to implement and manage those changes are a right reserved to each community. Strawberry is no exception.
Richard Rubin of Strawberry writes about political issues and is president of a public affairs management firm. His email is His blog is at