The proposed Marin County Housing Element has produced a great deal of discussion lately. Unfortunately, it's been "dumbed down" to being a "for" or "against" argument. This kind of "straw man debate" distracts from the real issues, does a disservice to the community and does nothing to address our affordable housing challenges.

We're also told that those who disagree with the element are only "against" things and have no solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. But sometimes one has to stop bad solutions in order to make room so better solutions can prosper.

Public criticism of the element is a good thing. But the devil, as they say, is in the details and that is what this discussion is and should be about.

Community Venture Partners, a nonprofit I recently founded, has taken an increasingly active role in monitoring local government and supporting a more responsive public process. Toward that end we've made comments on the element and how the county has been conducting its hearings. These comments serve simple objectives: to bring about better governance and decision-making, to ensure that our county's public process is based on accurate information and adheres to the law, and to promote greater transparency and accountability.

If sometimes accomplishing that requires legal action, so be it.

We fully acknowledge and understand the county's responsibilities to adopt a housing plan that makes a reasonable and good faith effort to address the state's growth projections and affordable housing quota for Marin. While many of us may feel the entire system of state quotas is nonsensical, that's an issue we need to deal with separately and one that we're going to have to take higher up the ladder to be effective about.

But at the local level, what we object to is a public process that is increasingly driven by state and regional agencies stepping outside of their legal authority to compel local municipalities to meet artificial and legally questionable requirements.

We object to public hearings that make a mockery of public input and consistently arrive at predetermined conclusions. We object to a plan that exceeds the county's legal obligations by over 400 percent, while ignoring its infrastructure and public service impacts.

And we object to decision-making based on incomplete and often inaccurate information, which is repeated over and over at public hearings, even though the county has been advised otherwise.

So when Supervisor Katie Rice sends out a newsletter stating that "proposals for development of any parcel are required to conform to local code, community plans," etc., when state housing-density bonus law specifically overrides all of those, we feel a need to correct that.

And when Planning Commissioner Wade Holland tells his colleagues that it's "too late" to change the number of sites or units based on public comment (when Ms. Rice has just assured us in her newsletter that it's a long process with plenty of time to comment), we feel a need to protest that.

I'm sorry if democracy is "messy," but the law applies to us all. And that is a very good thing. This is the spirit in which we bring our arguments and criticisms.

In fact, I believe it's our fundamental civic responsibility to question the actions and decisions of our government and elected representatives on any matters at any time, regardless of whether the views expressed are "left" or "right," Democrat or Republican, or popular or unpopular or politically correct to discuss.

And in the meantime, some of us will continue working diligently on more socially equitable and economically and environmentally sustainable solutions that must come next.

Bob Silvestri of Mill Valley is president of Community Venture Partners.