Marin Independent Journal Sunday, June 12, 1988
By Dwayne Hunn
During many of the meetings on that San Rafael general plan, we heard various citizens talk about reducing density in their neighborhoods. Maintaining their neighborhood’s character is one of the reasons often given for allowing less density in the future.
This attitude has spawned strong discussion among East San Rafael residents. The discussion goes something like this: Other neighborhoods have for a long time had political representation on the City Council and Planning Commission. East San Rafael has not. This area hears the other neighborhoods demand less density, less diversity more exclusivity. In East San Rafael, that plea sounds like NIMBY — not in my back yard.
While NIMBY echoes around the city, the city’s fundamental needs remain:
- More affordable housing to offer more opportunity to balance the jobs-housing imbalance and reduce traffic.
- More tax revenues.
Where then must the city look to supply the fundamental (not the parochial or often selfish) desires of individual neighborhoods and needs of the larger community? The city’s political structure forces it to look to two neighborhood.: St. Vincent’s-Silveira and East San Rafael.
Many East San Rafael community leaders look at infill lots in more exclusive neighborhoods and believe more affordable units should be built in those areas. That doesn’t happen because of the NIMBY attitude, the political structure and the belief that maintaining neighborhood character is some kind of constitutional guarantee plugged into the general plan.
So in more exclusive neighborhoods, fewer homes are built on larger lots to guarantee that what exists today appreciates astronomically in value tomorrow.
It would take tremendous political courage to do what is best for the larger city and county community and put more affordable housing in the more exclusive neighborhoods. The present Political structure does not make that seem likely. So when these frustrated East San Rafael discussions move to the reality phase, what does that neighborhood want?
Does East San Rafael want other areas to pay a fairness assessment and send the money east to help subsidize the affordable housing the other neighborhoods will not allow?, Yes, East San Rafael would see a program that buys and up-grades existing units for affordable ownership and/or rental as fair and equitable. Can such a program be implemented? Yes, if the political will exists to wrestle with a neighborhood political powder keg.
If East San Rafael is going to bear the brunt of the city’s tax-generating enterprises and much of its future housing—affordable and otherwise—then the city should implement programs that reflect some fairness and equity. Implement is an important word here.
Socially conscious words written in a general plan are not enough. The city should enact programs that will give East San Rafael additional resources to carry the extra burden placed on this neighborhood to carry density, diversity and tax-generating activities that others have successfully locked out of their neighborhood.
Citizens from more exclusive neighborhoods have complained about not baying their trees cut enough. From less politically wired East San Rafael have come the anguished cries of residents
Saying they want drugs and crimes cut. East Rafael does not understand the cost effectiveness of removing a limb that blocks the sunshine when it is pitted against a budgetary line item that can remove a drug pusher who will take the light from a little child’s life.
Bringing more affordable housing and even more affordable ownership to low-income families in East San Rafael will help deter crime, keep the streets cleaner, raise smart, healthy kids and bring pride to the city.
Dwayne Hunn of MW Valley is a assistant executive director of Novato Ecumenical Housing and a Canal Community Alliance Board Member.
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