Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Three Kind of Lies. Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. My testimony challenging the Marinwood Village Economic Impact Report.

Marin County Board of Supervisors

Comments from Stephen Nestel on the Marin Economic Forum’s Report produced by Robert Eyler on the economic impact of the Marinwood Village project as proposed by Bridge Housing.   Spoken on 11/25/2014.

Madam Chairperson:

The Eyler Report uses dissimilar comparisons, overlapping data sets and obscure academic papers to conclude that a tax-free, high density development will have minimal negative impact to Marinwood and the Dixie school district will instead have a boost to the economy because a higher population shops more.   The report ignores statements by Bridge Housing,  Dixie School district and plain old common sense.  There is no free lunch.  The supervisors cannot ignore that significant infrastructure costs and schooling must be paid by the community no matter how you slice the numbers.

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics” once observed Mark Twain.  This report uses all three.   I’d get into that but first I’d like to state as a general principle, this is not an argument against all subsidized housing in Marin or even Marinwood.  In 2012, I wrote to our supervisor and suggest that Bridge Housing Rotary Village in Lucas Valley is an excellent example of the kind of housing that fits in our community at 10-12 units per acre. The Marinwood site has particular challenges because of the toxic waste and benzene contamination and the neighboring cancer hotspot.  The best use for this site,  after clean up is to serve our community in the capacity of a commercial center- to make our community truly walkable and bikeable.

We can agree more residents mean more economic activity but this cannot be analyzed in a vacuum.

Here are some of problems I have with this report:

1         The Eyler report claims that there is widespread concern about property values on the community.  This has never been a primary concern for the community.  Instead, the community is focused on the impacts on the crowded Dixie Schools that are bulging from enrollment and influx of tax free housing that will contribute nothing to the community costs to build schools and infrastructure.  Since we have been given 71% of the housing in the 2012 RHNA and the 2014 RHNA , Marinwood-Lucas Valley is bearing the lion’s share of the costs for all of Marin.

There is no doubt there will be significant economic impacts to the community because the more costs will have to be paid by fewer people.  Tax increases are the inevitable result.

The Eyler report meanders through irrelevant data points and academic research done on very dissimilar communities and concludes that there will be minimal effects.

2.) The report exaggerates the income and property values by offering a median housing cost based on the entire Marinwood-Lucas Valley.  Our census tract is one of the most economically diverse in Marin, from condos near Marinwood plaza that range from condominiums that just recently sold from 175K to mega-mansion,  billionaire estates in the hills.   Any real estate professional can tell you that prices very per block,  not just census tract.   Such statistical bias renders all of the conclusions of the Eyler report false.

The specific demographics in the immediate vicinity of Marinwood Plaza is more similar to 94903 zip code in general with the median household income at $80k and the house values similar to Terra Linda.   It is a neighborhood of two income working families, not the wealthy.

3.)  The report discusses the “costs” to Dixie School district as a specific cost per taxpayer per pupil  (only $243!) vs the reality that Dixie School spends roughly $10,000 per pupil.  There is “no free lunch”.  Those are taxpayer funds and someone needs to pay them.  Clever accounting will not escape this simple fact.

4.) Bridge Housing, vp of development,  Brad Wiblan spoke to a group of residents on October 27, 2012 and testified that it was his experience that 1.8 students per household can be expected from this type of housing.  That is 148 students not the mythical 43 students the Eyler report claims. Even the Dixie School estimates of 100 students are low.

When Bridge housing insists on building 100 units due to it’s “density bonus” there will be 180 students added to the Dixie School system.

At $10,000 per student, that is $1.5 million per year.   Someone needs to pay these costs. Unfortunately, it won’t be the individuals pushing for this agenda , it will be the working families surround the development.

5.) The Eyler report ignores the significant cost and infrastructure challenge from moving the Dixie School Bus Garage.  Such facilities are difficult to find and approve.  Surely the Dixie School District doesn’t think this is an insignificant expense.   This is a serious oversight and renders the report invalid.

 In conclusion, the Eyler report tortures so many statistics that few useful conclusions can be drawn from it.   We can agree that more people bring more money into the community but this must compared to the alternative of bringing tax paying commercial or market rate development.

We have other locations in Marin that can be considered for subsidized housing and agree that it is needed especially senior housing but the full costs and merits must be weighed by the community not special interests.   

Stephen Nestel

P.S. The full testimony was clipped from open time by Chair Kate Sears.   I also remarked that 900 people had signed a petition against the Bridge Housing proposal last year.

P.P.S.  A clip showing Bridge Housing VP, Brad Wiblan testifying that 1.8 students per household can be expected is available at

See the Marinwood Village Economic Impact report HERE

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