Marin County and its 11 municipalities will be required to adjust their zoning to allow much more housing, particularly for low-income residents, if policies in the works at the Association of Bay Area Governments are adopted.

The association, a regional planning agency governed by representatives from the Bay Area’s nine counties and 101 cities and towns, approved a final blueprint last month for Plan Bay Area 2050.

Updated every four years, Plan Bay Area integrates transportation, land use and housing to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the California Air Resources Board. In an effort to address concerns about racial equity, the latest iteration of the plan also identifies “high resource areas” near public transit where it recommends that increased housing development should be promoted.

Areas within Novato, San Anselmo, Corte Madera and unincorporated parts of Marin fall into this category. Discussion regarding possible policies to implement this strategy have not begun.

““We’re not at that point yet,” said Matt Maloney, director of regional planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “We will likely be taking that up next year.”

In the meantime, however, ABAG’s housing methodology committee approved a plan last week for deciding how many homes counties and municipalities should be required to plan for from 2023 to 2031.

Every eight years, the state Department of Housing and Community Development projects how much new housing will needed in the Bay Area to accommodate expected population and job growth. ABAG then decides how many of those homes to assign to each county and municipality in the Bay Area. Local jurisdictions are required to adjust their zoning laws to help make the creation of that amount of housing possible.

The methodology approved by the committee last week is aligned with the high resource area strategy contained in the Plan Bay Area 2050 blueprint. It would assign more of the very low- and low-income homes to counties and municipalities containing higher concentrations of “high opportunity areas.”

“Those are essentially the high resource areas,” Maloney said.  “It’s synonymous with that term.”

“That includes most of Marin,” said Novato Councilwoman Pat Eklund, one of the few ABAG board members to vote against the methodology.

According to an ABAG staff report, the “high opportunity area” methodology approach seeks to “affirmatively further fair housing by increasing access to opportunity and replacing segregated living patterns.”

A committee convened by the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee developed the map of high resource/opportunity areas in use. The designated areas contain amenities associated with childhood development and economic mobility such as low poverty rates and high educational attainment, employment rates, home values and school test scores.

Marin’s share of the housing assignments amounts to only 1%. Under the new methodology, however, that share would triple to 3%, while Alameda County’s share would be reduced from 23% to 19%, and Contra Costa County’s share would drop from 11% to 10%.

Eklund said the impact of the percentage increase is magnified because the assignment total is more than doubling. In the current 2015-2023 cycle, the nine Bay Area counties had to plan for 187,990 residences. In the 2023-31 cycle, they will have to adjust their policies to accommodate 441,176 residences.

If the allocation procedure approved last week is adopted by the ABAG executive board later this month, Marin could see the number of residences assigned to them increase from 2,298 in the 2015-2023 cycle to 14,210 in the 2023-31 cycle.

For example, Belvedere would be required to plan for 160 new residences, half of which would have to be affordable for people with low-income status. In the current cycle, Belvedere had to plan for 16 residences.

Eklund said she disagrees with the ABAG committee’s decision to include the number of existing households in a jurisdiction, together with the number of households expected to be added over the next several decades, when projecting the need for new housing.

“To be straightforward, the legal requirements for housing elements have changed a lot since the last cycle,” said Daniel Saver, MTC’s assistant director for housing and local planning. “It is going to be much harder for local jurisdictions to adopt compliant housing elements this time around.”

Failure to do so, however, could prove costly. Assembly Bill 101, which became effective at the end of July 2019, authorizes the state attorney general to sue jurisdictions and fines ranging from $10,000 to $600,000 per month.

Supervisor Damon Connolly, Marin County’s representative on MTC, wrote in an email that he is concerned about the methodology and will work with local ABAG representatives to “push back and raise areas of concern.”

“For example, the 22x increase in the allocation for unincorporated Marin is startling,” Connolly wrote. “The methodology appears to emphasize ‘high resource areas’ without regard to proximity to jobs or high quality transit or other constraints.”

Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who represents Marin County on the ABAG board, wrote in an email that the county needs to make sure that “unincorporated areas without infrastructure and good transit do not get over allocated, forcing density to outside city boundaries and more suburban areas.”

“This will be a challenge,” Rodoni added, “as most of the Bay Area is currently embracing the methodology for these allocations and many of our local opinions are in the minority.”

Saver said the path that ABAG is following is dictated by state law. For example, he said the 441,176 assignment total came from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Saver said the big increase in the number of units assigned is due to state Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 828, passed in 2018. The law allows the state to take into account existing housing needs as well as projected future need when determining the number of housing assignments.

In 2016, management consultant McKinsey and Co. projected that California needed to create 3.5 million more homes by the middle of the next decade.

Saver said the incorporation of “high resource/opportunity areas” into Plan Bay Area’s equation is required because of Assembly Bill 686, which mandated that counties and cities implement the Obama-era policy of “affirmatively furthering fair housing.”

For decades, housing in the United States was segregated by race. The Federal Housing Administration financed the building of suburban subdivisions during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, but lent the money to builders on the condition that they not sell any of the new houses to African-Americans.

Saver said the state law remains in effect despite the fact that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the direction of Trump appointee Ben Carson, scrapped the policy at the federal level earlier this summer.

Saver said the state has allocated millions of dollars to help local jurisdictions comply with the loftier planning goals.

“We certainly hope that all of our local jurisdictions are able to adopt compliant housing elements, and we’re going to put resources into helping them get there,” he said. “It will be a big lift.”