Monday, February 12, 2018

Marin Voice: Marin County can do better with its housing plan

Marin Voice: Marin County can do better with its housing plan
By Sharon Rushton
Guest op-ed column

POSTED:   12/04/2013 06:27:50 PM PST

Sharon Rushton of Mill Valley is Chairperson of Sustainable TamAlmonte, a group of Tamalpais Valley and Almonte leaders and active residents

ONE OF THE CORE VALUES that most Marin residents share is a love and respect for nature, which has been demonstrated by a long history of environmental conservation.

However, since the adoption of the 2007 Marin Countywide Plan, Marin County's leadership has been taking Marin in a different direction.

The most significant finding of the plan's Environmental Impact Report was that "land uses and development consistent with the 2007 Countywide Plan would result in 42 significant unavoidable adverse environmental impacts." These impacts include, but are not limited to, traffic congestion, flooding, impending sea level rise, air and noise pollution, endangering habitat and a potential water deficit.

The Marin Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to reduce these unfortunate impacts, but instead, approved the plan with a "Statement of Overriding Considerations," essentially stating that providing housing was more important than protecting the environment and public health and safety from the harm that such residential development could cause.

Supervisors recently adopted the 2012 Housing Element, a plan to meet state housing quotas. According to that plan's EIR, implementation would result in many of the adverse impacts disclosed in the countywide plan. Indeed, the plan's inventory, which identifies sites that are supposedly suitable for new housing (particularly affordable housing), includes sites located in Marin's most hazardous areas, thus fostering environmental injustice by encouraging Marin's most vulnerable residents to live where they must fend against the county's highest health and safety risks.

Furthermore, proposed housing element programs reduce local control, public input, transparency and environmental protection by fast-tracking permit review and furthering streamlined environmental review of high-density affordable housing.

Other housing element programs also treat affordable housing differently than market-rate housing, giving affordable housing exceptions — exemptions to density limits, development standards and safety regulations.

Such exceptions are a boon to housing developers but pave the way for lower income households to live in conditions substandard to those of higher income households.

Moreover, high-density development has greater environmental impacts and is incompatible with the character of most Marin neighborhoods.

Why are county planners ignoring environmental constraints and pushing for more housing?

County officials have felt pressured to fulfill the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation quota due to incentives, such as transportation funding, and penalties, such as accelerated housing element cycles, possible legal action by a third party and possible carrying over of requirements from this housing element cycle to the next cycle for non compliance.

Yet, to simply comply with the allocation is shortsighted.

First of all, the allocation is based on unrealistic jobs and population projections and conflicts with the state Department of Finance's and Marin County's forecasts.

Secondly, Marin needs to conduct a much more comprehensive, cumulative and long-term cost analysis. The costs related to dealing with the adverse environmental impacts caused by overdeveloping our county far outweigh the incentives attached to compliance or penalties attached to noncompliance.

Consider the staggering costs associated with lack of water, cleaning up pollution, increased damages and injuries due to worse traffic and placing housing in high seismic activity zones; increased illness due to exposing residents to toxic air contaminants; constructing and maintaining dikes to protect buildings from sea level rise; building new schools, etc.

County supervisors should take back Marin's land-use planning and meet the true housing needs of all Marin's constituents, including lower-income households, in a manner that upholds community character, respects the limits of our environment, infrastructure, and public services, and protects public health and safety.

Sharon Rushton of Mill Valley is chairwoman of Sustainable TamAlmonte, a group of Tam Valley and Almonte residents concerned about the preservation of the area's semi-rural quality of life.

Sharon Rushton
Sustainable TamAlmonte

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