Even those who oppose overbuilding Marin acknowledge that there's a need for housing for those blue collar folks working in our expensive county.
Diversity in income, lifestyle and ethnicity is a hallmark of the ideal American small town. The quest is to provide reasonably priced housing while not simultaneously destroying the semi-rural suburban character that makes Marin desirable.
Forming community consensus requires compromise in which competing interests surrender firmly held notions.
Those complaining about demands from regional alphabet agencies for evermore development must accept some limited growth. That's despite its inevitable negative impact on traffic and scarce water resources.
To reach an accord, housing activists, including Marin's county supervisors and Marin Community Foundation-funded advocacy groups, must abandon their dream of high-density development built along Highway 101 and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train.
A compromise starts with more second units in existing residential neighborhoods. Attached "in-law apartments" are ideal to supply affordable integrated housing. They provide reasonable rents, diversity, income to homeowners and jobs for small-scale contractors, all without destroying cherished existing neighborhoods.
How to do it: abolish permit fees required for second units and then give property owners a break.
Regional agencies sometimes don't recognize second units as officially "affordable" when it comes to housing mandates. That's bureaucratic nonsense. Changing that absurd regulation should be job one for Mike McGuire, the North Bay's energetic new state senator.The county has a $5 million housing fund. Instead of subsidizing building blockbuster apartments, think outside the box and devote half to aiding second units. A $5,000 tax abatement per property alone could encourage 500 new "workforce" apartments.
In Novato, Habitat for Humanity's 10-unit Mount Burdell Place is a template for creating small-scale housing consistent with existing neighborhoods. It's a model of how well-designed and low-rent homes properly fit in.
West Marin is home to many mostly Hispanic agricultural workers. Many live in substandard housing. Marinites are justly proud of our sustainable agriculture industry. The county should devote more if its $5 million housing reserve toward providing decent homes for hard-working ag families.
Most Marin small towns will benefit by building affordable apartments above downtown retail shops.
Here's where compromise is facilitated by restraint.
The classic mistake was the consultant-driven Mill Valley Miller Avenue Precise Plan fiasco. The city went for developers' gold with three- and four-story buildings mimicking Concord. Big mistake. Overwhelming community opposition scuttled the scheme. The result would have been different if the city had retained the current two-story scale.
There's room for large-scale apartments in downtown San Rafael. Again, it's about appropriate scale. Unlike much of Marin, downtown San Rafael has a history of multi-unit development. Housing near SMART and 101 isn't inherently wrong. Just don't expect huge transit ridership as a result.
Add to these components expanded funding of Section 8 rent vouchers and the parameters of a properly-scaled housing pact emerges.
Like any compromise, this one has winners and losers.
Winners include homeowners whose neighborhood's character is preserved plus extra income for those who opt for second units. Not to be forgotten are new second-unit residents delighted to live and work in Marin.
Add to that small-time contractors who build second units and small-scale mixed use apartments, the entire farming community plus those who treasure small-town Marin.
Losers are big-time developers and allied unions whose business model depends on high-density development. Then there are bureaucrats who put their reputation behind high-density models and transportation utopians who detest small-scale mostly auto-dependent suburbs.
A broadly accepted compromise that provides benefits without political Armageddon is attainable. It all depends on one reality: remove any part and the compromise collapses.
Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley writes on local politics on Sundays and Wednesdays. Email him atspotswood@comcast.net.