On August 1st Susan Adams asked the author for questions to be submitted around high density housing concerns that she stated would be responded to by herself or the county planner. That day I submitted a list of 9 questions. 2 weeks later I sent a reminder which received no response. As of time of writing (August 21st) no response has been received.
Here are the questions that were submitted and the reasoning behind asking them:
1) What evidence exists that if you build high density housing near transit that this will cause an increase in per capita transit usage (buses or trains), and an increase in transit miles traveled over autos ?
Reasoning: Evidence exists that implementing a program of high density housing near transit, such as proposed by Plan Bay Area and it’s associated implementation of “Priority Development Areas” or PDAs does not work. In Portland a 21 year long, ,multi-billion dollar program failed to move the needle on transit usage.
2) Is placement and concentrations currently planned housing (e.g.high densities near transit) planned in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ? If so what is the evidence of causality ?
Reasoning: If one genuinely wanted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions why would one add substantially more housing? This will attract new residents and increase congestion and emissions. The problem is Plan Bay Area is trying to serve two masters – reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing social equity – and is likely to fail at both. Only by adding substantially more housing can a perceived imbalance in diversity be addressed.
3) What evidence exists that if you build more low income and affordable housing it will reduce in-commuting and congestion?
Reasoning: It has been asserted by high density housing near transit advocates that by building such new housing the 60% of Marin’s workers who in-commute will move into Marin. However there is no evidence of this. There is considerable evidence to the contrary in a 1991 paper from UC Transportation Center Berkeley by Guiliano. This paper found the following contradictions:
i) It is not clear that living close to work is a high priority for most people.
Studies of residential location choice indicate that many factors beyond housing price and characteristics are involved in where people choose to live. These include neighborhood quality, availability of parks and other amenities, quality of schools, racial and ethnic mix, micro-climate characteristics, etc. (18-20). Thus, even if balance between worker and housing attributes could be demonstrated, it does not follow that workers would in fact choose to live in the local area.
ii) Compared to housing costs, commuting costs are small
Because housing costs generally decline with distance from major employment centers, additional commuting costs can be traded off for cheaper housing. Thus, many households choose to live in outlying areas, consume more housing, and commute further to work. Notable here is the strong preference among U.S. households for single-family housing. These two points suggest that it is difficult to predict where workers might live. because their willingness to incur longer commutes vastly increases the number and variety of housing choices available to them.
iii) There are a growing number of multiple-worker households.
Locational decisions for these households are even more compIex, and living near one household member’s job may mean living far from another’s. Jobs-housing policy must rely on the regulation of structures, such as provision of housing units at specific affordability levels, or provision of commercial or industrial square footage, yet there are no assurances regarding the use of these structures over time.
Finally, this line of thinking would suggest that San Francisco and Oakland need to substantially increase their housing to eliminate the (far greater) in commuting to these locations.
4) Does the application process for affordable and low income housing give preference (if so how) to :
i) People who already live in Marin ii) People who have jobs in Marin but who currently live outside Marin iii) Teachers, fireman, police and employees performing vital public services for Marin iv) People needed to make up any real or perceived imbalance in diversity
Reasoning: Unless these aspects are taken into consideration then the housing that is built may simply result in people who may currently live and work in adjacent counties moving to the new housing in Marin. Marin is surrounded by Contra Costa, San Francisco and Sonoma counties with populations easily eclipsing that of Marin. So unless the above are given heavy weighting then the newly created housing is more likely to extend commutes and increase greenhouse gas emissions.
5) What evidence is there that placing housing within ¼ mile or ½ mile healthy for the residents ?
There is considerable evidence that this is unhealthy – leading to increased rates of asthma, autism, cardio-vascular diseases and cancer. This is backed up by a number of leading studies, including:
6) What would be required to achieve RHNA housing targets without resorting to high density housing (>20 units per acre) ?
Reasoning: Currently it is unclear if there is any buy-in to the numbers of housing units being required to be planned by ABAG through their Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). Corte Madera ended up allowing 5 story high density housing to be built, only to find that the high number they were given was a mistake that was subsequently reduced.
It is the author’s believe that the housing units needed locally can easily be accommodated via low density units, by reusing existing disused or under utilized buildings and through second units.
7) How many market rate, affordable, low income housing units would need to be built to : – restore any perceived imbalance in diversity – make Marin affordable enough that anyone who wants to live here could do so
Reasoning: The concern here is that no clear targets have been set to achieve stated goals. There is just a sentiment to keep building as there isn’t enough. To actually address these goals might actually require a prohibitive amount of new units. This is not known.
If the goal is to address a perceived imbalance in diversity then it must be considered that there is no guarantee that new residents would include a substantial number of minorities. Race potentially cannot be taken into account as a selection factor. Consequently to achieve any given goal might take an exorbitant amount of new housing. But we have no clear idea of whre the “finish line” is – we’re being asked to sign a blank check of allowing building to occur until this imaginary line is crossed.
8) What is the impact on taxes, schools, fire local services of adding 100 new low income or affordable housing units ? How much additional funding would be required to mitigate the impact ?
Reasoning: PDAs and Plan Bay Area were enacted ahead of capturing any clear understanding of the impact on the local community in terms of taxes or services. For instance if Marinwood and Lucas Valley accept their projected number of units it is anticipated that an additional $4.9m annual taxes would need to be raised. None of this is known.
Isn’t it standard practice to understand the impact of a decision before making that decision, and to inform people of that impact so that they’re bought into any change? Again a blank check seems to have been given out on the behalf of taxpayers.
9) How many additional housing units can the water supply accommodate according to officials responsible for water?
Reasoning: I am still investigating this but I have been informed that the water districts have clearly stated that no more water hookups can be added. It is clearly irresponsible to be planning hundreds or thousands of additional housing units without planning to supply the housing with water. The implications are:
- Marin is subject to more frequent and longer droughts
- We have to accept a desalination plant that causes high greenhouse gas emissions as it has to pump water through filters at very high pressure. This is notwithstanding the fact that this would require the construction of a major imposing structure along Marin’s pristine shoreline.
Susan Adams, along with other county supervisors, seem either incapable or unwilling to answer rationale, common sense questions. There may be valid answers to these questions but the fact that these are not forthcoming does not send good signals.