St Vincent’s is a rare opportunity

Marin Independent Journal

Marin Voice June 20, 2001


CONGRATJLATIONS to the Independent Journal for the wonderful series on the housing crisis in Marin. Residents here need all the information you provided to understand that the lack of housing for our workforce is the principle reason for the present traffic mess and will be the cause of a huge loss of quality of life and diminishing property values in the near future.

Some of the subsequent letters to the editor from the usual “not-in-my-backyard” contingent provided an interesting contrast to your well-researched and factual reporting.

First came Don Dickenson, decrying that the proposed development of the St.Vincent’s/Silviera property will include only 20 percent affordable work- force housing.

In fact, the plan about to be presented by Shapell Industries, the development company selected by St.Vincent’s/CYO, will propose about 30 percent workforce housing with the possibility that this percentage could rise through attractive, well-planned, high-density housing developed in a partnership with a nonprofit organization.

Mr. Dickenson also complains about the inclusion of commercial and office space to be included in the community. Without these inclusions, residents would have to leave the property to shop, work etc., negating the very idea of a pedestrian friendly, self-contained village.

The inclusion of a minimum amount of commercial space offers some on- site jobs, in addition to the school, and helps finance the restoration of the historic buildings and preservation of open areas. The pedestrian-oriented neighborhood being planned will include van service and easy biking to the jobs in the immediate area, including the Civic Center, Kaiser hospital, Terra Linda High and adjacent office and retail.

Finally, Mr. Dickenson, who attended many of the St.Vincent’s/Silveira Task Force sessions, falsely states that the task force planned “filling East Marin baylands with traffic-generating urban development.”

He knows that less than 15 percent of the land will be developed and that the task force meticulously avoided all wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas, and also carefully planned for the maintenance of the environmental and historical assets of the property.

About a week later came a letter from Gil Deane of San Anselmo, alluding to the San Rafael City Council voting to “ruin this fabulous agricultural land He ends by saying: “There are some ways that the shortage of housing can be alleviated.” But typically, he gives no suggestions as to how and where.

The shortage of affordable workforce housing is enormous. Marin’s state quota for the coming five years is 3,585 units. Every well-conceived and well-designed project needs to be fast- tracked through the system. It is important for Mr. Deane and others to remember that these properties were zoned for development since the 1973 county plan set aside West Marin for protection and planned the majority of housing and jobs along 101. A legal attack on the agricultural zoning in the Central Mann corridor was turned back only because of this trade-off.

St. Vincent’s is near 10,000 jobs. Agriculture ha been problematic on a site this size and close to development. Highway 101, the cost of water, very high taxes and other realities have made it anything but “fabulous agricultural land.”

The only way to ensure that your favorite teacher, nurse, doctor, chef, policeman, gardener, salesperson, firefighter, paramedic, etc. continue to be close enough to help you in your coming time of need is to allow them some quality of life too, which allows them to live where they work and not have to commute long periods of time. The good ones don’t have to — they can get a job anywhere and enjoy a nice community life where they live and work.

When they are gone, our vaunted quality of life will be seriously diminished, as will our property values. If you think this is an exaggeration, consider this: 50 percent of the teachers in Marin schools will retire in the next five years. Their replacements, whose salaries will be in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, will be faced with median home prices of $700,000 or $2,000 or more per month rents.

All that we are talking about is allowing people who work here during the day be able to continue being apart of the community overnight.

Joe Walsh of Lagunitas is a former co-publisher of the Classified Gazette and was a member of the St. Vincent’s /Silveira Task Force.


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