Tag Archives: marin NIMBYs

Collected wisdoms on why Marin housing is so expensive:

…… because the opposition to any more housing is so well entrenched politically – as aides, on committees, trained through self-proclaimed environmental groups….

……. because there is little concern for costs that the well executed political actions of housing opponents force upon developers and thence onto those hoping to buy…..

For example, from the Marin IJ of June 11, 2001:

… After Kress’ (Marin Supervisor) departure, the group began talking strategy for the fight ahead.

Sitting in the chair occupied by his boss just a few minutes earlier, Kress’ assistant, Rick Fraites, offered advice to the group. He served on the steering committee for the Citizens to Save Bahia, the group that last month successfully blocked expansion of the Bahia subdivision project in Novato.

“Anything you can conjure up to get the developer to look at and spend money, throw it out there,” Fraites said. “That’s my advice, having just gone through this with Bahia.”

“That’s one of the reasons housing is so expensive in Marin County,” Schwartz said about Fraites’ comment. “If frivolous studies are asked for by the community and included in the environmental impact report, the cost of those studies get reflected in the cost of each home.”

Of Fraites’ comment, Leland added, “That’s probably good advice if your objective is to stop it. The classic paradigm in Marin County is an antagonistic one and we are going to do our best to make it a collaborative one, to work with the residents there.”

Source Marin IJ of June 11, 2001. For the whole story on a Santa Venetia development fight against 28 houses on 30 acres, click Development fight in Santa Venetia.

From Marin IJ Page C1 of August 26, 2001, “Center could hold key to ferry parking woes.”  In this section a paragraph reads:

Earlier this month, GGBD (Golden Gate Bridge District) officials said they had to delay plans to restripe and reconfigure the existing 1,370-space parking lot because the sole bid for the job was almost double the amount budgeted.  Ghilotti Brothers Inc. of San Rafael bid $1 million for the work, which officials had estimated would cost $520,000.

Beneath the more obvious points of this Larkspur Ferry area story that parking is dreadful because we failed to deliver a train and nearby workforce housing is this important point.  Contractors such as Ghilotti do not strenuously compete for Marin jobs because they have closed shop here.  Ghilotti has to bid high on these jobs since he must pay his employees either enough to buy homes in Marin or to commute long distances from where Marin provides its workforce housing – i.e. from Sonoma and the East Bay.  We are losing moderately priced workers since we force them to live elsewhere.   f

More collected wisdoms to be added….

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.


‘Smart’ planning needed in Marin                        

Marin Voice, Marin Independent Journal

Published May 15, 2001 (unedited version)


Recently strategy/economic consultant Stephen Roulac spoke on Marin’s Economic Future to a Marin Community Development hosted public gathering.  He concluded that Marin’s # 1 priority must be bringing back rail. Then the IJ editorialized about the need not to forget the train as a means to address Marin’s land use instigated traffic mess. Then the Chronicle published a Texas Transportation Institute study listing San Francisco-Qakland commute as the 2nd worst in the nation and stated, “cities will have to judiciously invest in new roads, public transit, affordable housing along transit corridors…”

Several years ago local government commissioned a Calthorpe Associates Study that concluded Marin and Sonoma needed and can justify a train. Fifteen years ago Peter Calthorpe and I did local radio shows trying to educate people on the benefits of building European style communities along the large parcels adjacent to the existing rail line.  These villages would more effectively address affordable housing, traffic, resource conservation, and open space then would downzoning developments into auto-dependent suburban sprawl communities.  Peter gave up on Marin.  He moved his home and office to Berkeley where he designs projects through out the nation for developers and cities concerned about using the earth’s limited resources efficiently.

For decades, environmentalists world-wide have pushed for increased train and mass transit use to address air quality, resource conservation, and cargo and travel costs.

Back in Marin a handful of people continue controlling groups with environmental nametags who oppose the train, fight housing projects for decades and downzone them into mega-costly suburban sprawl, building resource devouring, auto-dependent exclusive enclaves.

Where did Marin lose its definition of enviromentalism?  It lost it when working people allowed the county’s policy decisions to be dominated by a handful of people with myopic environmental views. Consequently, too often Marin has a NIMBYized (Not In My Backyard) definition for environmentalism.  Marin lost a true environmental perspective when elected officials a decade ago would say to me, “Oh, but I can’t support pedestrian pockets along the rail line, my constituents won’t vote for it.”

Responding, “Well, gee, isn’t one of your responsibilities as a public official to educate the community on what might be in their long term best interests,” didn’t help.  Well, today we suffer the consequences of that short sightedness in California’s oldest median aged county with gridlock, high labor costs, outrageously priced housing and crowded rentals for our hard working, imported workers.

What’s part of the answer?  Involvement by people yearning for more housing who, unfortunately, are stuck wasting hours in gridlock while working a couple jobs and trying to raise a family.  Also needed is leadership, guts, and common sense foresight from elected officials as well as planners and media makers on land use issues.

How government officials force developers to use the land determines how the people who eventually live on it must get around.  St Vincent’s Silveira is Marin’s largest remaining developable piece of land, and it has a rail line running through it that can connect to Sonoma, Sacramento and Tahoe.  Environmentally conscious, far sighted, regionally concerned leadership would make sure that land was used to design a large, oriented to the train, mixed-use development.

What do policy makers continue to hear from the leadership of many of Marin’s s self described environmental groups on St. Vincent’s Silveira?  1) No development.  2) No train stop.  In fact, some of Marin’s misnamed environmentalists got the Marin Supervisors to put a Memorandum of Understanding into the two year St. Vincent Silveira Task Force Study to expressly remove the historical train stop from the site’s existing tracks.

Of course, governmental leaders can take these Task Force suggestions and make them better.  For the long-term benefit of the region – and by reverberation – the world, Marin should change the Task Force’s narrow parameters and help developers do smart land uses on the few big sites remaining.  Smart land uses helps true environmentalists get away from auto-dependently polluting our sky’s lovely birds and the people who share the same air.

Dwayne Hunn  provides solar  photovoltaic net-metering systems for homeowners and businesses and rides his bike to the rail road tracks to throw stones at the weeds covering the ties over which trains used to glide.


Marin power/a closer look

Marinscope newspapers.  Newspointer

October 13-19,  1993

Meandering , Dwayne Hunn

Marin’s Economic Conference talked about what affordable housing producers have bemoaned for over a decade. In countless council and planning commission presentations, housing advocates campaigned to bring jobs and affordable housing closer together to benefit economics as well as families.

Housing professionals from North Bay Ecumenical Housing, where I once worked, and the Ecumenical Association for Housing attracted little support relative to the need. Warnings that forcing latch key families into longer distance commutes would come back to harm the region were ignored. Why ignored? Because Marin’s power brokers:

1) Believe Marin is too rich and beautiful to suffer even from a national tidal wave of sick economics;

2) Have successfully convinced Marin that they are the White Knights protecting Marin from the omnipresent Darth Vader developers and businesses.

You know those Devious Vader characters — like one developer, who through an equity sharing trust fund wanted to make over half the 2500 units at his proposed Hamilton development affordable for ownership to people earning under $40,000; like the Buck Center on Aging which wants to build a research center dealing with aging ills; or just profit hungry developers who wanted to build 40 relatively affordable units on 20 acres of land but are told by Marin city councils that only six mega-expensive estates will be allowed.

Marin’s power brokers have done a superb job. It helps that the handful of them attach environmental sounding titles to their names. Titles that through much of the nation have done good things for the environment. Consequently, the good vibes created by those environmentalists working outside of Marin benefits Marin’s NIMBYIZED environmentalists.

Marin voters who are unable or unwilling to learn of true local needs believe that whatever Marin’s environmental power brokers have to say is good and right. Those who have tried to aid Marin’s housing and business needs have been ignored for years in front of permit approving agencies. To them Sacramento’s Marin moniker rings true, “the Capitol of NIMBYISM.”

Too many business and developers don’t realize where power lies. Today’s frontiers of growth do not hinge on conquering a physical frontier, resources, courage, skill on technology. Today’s frontiers are perceptual.

When I comment to the guy in the YMCA’s steam room about the IJ’s “Economic forum” headline that, “I don’t have to go to know what was discussed at the forum — expensive housing, long commutes — and the environmental community ignores their pleas.”

“Lucky for us, or we’d be like Oakland…” he responds.

There it is. Perception. A stellar PR selling job. Is he uninformed, unwilling to learn or baked as a rock hard NIMBY? How can you be like Oakland when 88% of the land is in open space agricultural reserve or parks? When only 3% of the land, mostly in the County’s developmental corridor along the railroad track east of the 101, remains for development? How can you become like Oakland?

Today perception scores victories. It’s not how well you can hit a line drive or build a business or create a user friendly, ecologically sound, affordable mixed used development. The skill and building is the easy part. Getting the chance to play the right bail game is the tough part.

A suggestion to businesses and developers. Realize the game is, unfortunately, early and long term politics and marketing. Give a quality product that addresses real environmental, family and economic needs. Join forces regionally to supply those answers.

For example, let me resurrect a regional answer I worked on years ago to little avail..  I tried to convince ten large land-holders along the Marin-Sonoma rail line to jointly draw up plans for what they would like to do with their land. Their planning limits would be to address regional needs with their combined regional developments.

Sonoma wants a train and less freeway. Sonoma wants Marin to provide more of it’s own affordable housing needs. Sonoma and Marin want to reduce 101’s traffic. Marin businesses need large office buildings which their office workers can easily reach. Some communities are hurting for sales tax revenues and a regional tax sharing plan would alleviate the trend toward over commercialization. So work together and draw up a master plan to address those regional needs. Don’t waste time, money and energy skirmishing with the power brokers one-on-one, community by community– without a unified grand vision. Landowners hold the most basic answer to many human and environmental needs–the dirt.

Don’t wait for the government to stumble through decades of devising a regional plan– do it better by yourself. With a plan that offers a host of beneficial answers, you can start winning the perception battle. The perception battle determines the economic and environmental winners.



Everyone wants transit?

Mill Valley Herald, June 29–July 5, 1992
By Dwayne Hunn

In April John Eells, Transportation Planner for Marin from 1985-1992, spoke at a Mill Valley Library public meeting on the difficulties of bringing a rail transit system to the North Bay. If you are a true environmentalist, tired of congested 101 or think a party train back and forth to Yosemite would be more fun than lashing chains to tires, his remarks may be informative.

“For years there was little or no involvement by Marin environmentalists in the 101 Corridor planning effort,”Eells said. After the plan for Transit Tax was completed, they came out against the Transit Tax….Marin is the only California county with a sales tax for trains that has ever lost!

“The Marin Conservation League may be the only environmental organization in the world against transit because they believe it is growth-induced…

“Sonoma’s elected officials only wanted to widen the freeway even though their public opinion surveys showed the public was 4 to 1 in favor of trains. The elected officials kept saying the public was wrong. The result was a compromise. Light rail in Marin and cheaper commuter diesel rail in Sonoma. Unfortunately one week after the light/rail commuter rail compromise was adopted by the 101 Corridor Action Committee, the elected officials in Sonoma abandoned the train all together…

“What happened in Marin?” an audience member fresh to Marin politics asked.

“The Marin Light Rail got tagged by the Marin environmentalists as the ‘Little train to nowhere.’ Yet the majority of the cars on the freeway between Novato and San Rafael are going to San Rafael. The environmentalists were very successful in creating a tremendous fear that the train would turn Marin into Hong Kong or Tokyo. The train would overwhelm all, negate all local land use plans, and destroy all common sense.

“What this tells us is that reality can be irrelevant. Perception is what counts. If by being hysterical, you can dominate the campaign by fear— you can win.”

“What kind of grassroots work was done for the train?”

“Not enough. The business community and transit advocates were outgunned. The environmentalists, or Nimbys, depending on your perspective, know how to run a campaign. The anti-train slogans stuck. Surveys showed that voters clearly remembered their slogans.

“What many define as environmental — like slowing global warming or preventing the ozone hole from spreading — is of little concern to Marin’s environmental movement. Marin’s environmentalists are focused primarily on stopping local growth.”

“Could workshops to educate the community on the need for transit work?”

“I am not optimistic about this, because the Marin Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Conservation League can deliver the votes against transit solutions, painting them as growth inducing.”

“So how do we get environmentally beneficial rail in the North Bay?”

“Unfortunately, Marin may be a preview of California’s future. Marin’s growth hysteria will probably spread to other parts of the state. Developers and proponents of rail plans must be prepared to handle growth, so it is not detrimental to those who are already here. The battle has become a conflict between the haves and the have-nots. Growth per se is not causing the deterioration in the quality of life as much as the inability of the infrastructure to keep up…

“The 50’s and 60 s were the heyday of infrastructure development. We built the world’s finest highway system. Now it is crumbling all at the same time. A full 95% of the gas taxes Californians are paying is being used for highway maintenance, and the system is still falling apart… Our highway system is broke. It would take 1,000 years of today’s revenues to build what we have today.

“Some talk about using Federal money to extend BART to the North Bay. Unfortunately, the entire federal rail budget would not be enough to get BART from San Francisco to Sausalito.”

“What has the Marin experience taught you?”

“Local politics is more difficult than I expected. To reach a political consensus is tremendously difficult. In school you can develop ‘overlays to locate constraints and analyze the overlays to determine where you can build. But in real life there are tremendous controversies and nebulous solutions.

“I’ve been in the public sector for 15 years, and its ability to deliver has declined dramatically. I want to make something beneficial happen in my lifetime.. If that means working with private visionaries, that’s what I’ll do.”

Visionary Leaders needed

Marin Independent Journal Tuesday, May 19, 1987

By Dwayne Hunn

      Forty years ago, the United States was so productive that America felt compelled to rebuild most of Europe and Asia so that nations there could recover from war and be profitable enough to buy our goods. Today, our trade deficit, rather than our productivity, sets world records. Once our educational system stood out for the world to emulate. We proudly proclaimed bow ready our youth were to face the world’s challenges. Today, we look to copy not only other nations’ production techniques, but also how they teach and mold their young. The proud inflection of the “Can-do nations!” now leaves many with the hollow sound of the “Can-do-nation?”

For many of us living and working at the local level, these national and international issues seem too large to handle. Many who read and think about these issues may be upset that America has been slipping, but if we don’t feel our local efforts have an impact on national and international issues, we only cringe and go on with life.

We seem to have forgotten the roots of America’s democratic and economic structure. We have forgotten that local politics is the source of America’s strength and long-term resiliency.

Just consider the long-term effect of an actual Marin local government decision, as it is played out numerous times throughout one of the richest counties of America.

A Novato developer wants to build a significant number of affordable housing units so that a better jobs/housing balance can help reduce freeway gridlock. The developer is blocked because the neighbors oppose the density, or question the fumes from parking cars in the neighborhood, or distrust the “low income” people who will reside there. The neighbors win. Does their victory serve Marin and Sonoma? Does it bring America closer to energy self-sufficiency? Does it allow commuters to use their wasted commute time for skill-building, educational enrichment, or more quality time with their families?

Each time one of those projects fails or is delayed interminably, all of £he following happen:

  • The extended commute to Sonoma, Napa, etc., increases the pollutants in the air our children must breathe.
  • America’s reliance on expensive imported fuels increases as does the national debt we pass on to the young.
  • The percentage of household income that goes to housing and transit climbs while the money and time available for skill, education and family time declines proportionally.

Marin has one of the higher percentages of single-parent households in the nation. Thirteen percent of Novato’s households are run by single parents whose median income is $15,676. These households desperately need affordable housing in Marin. Are local officials aware of how their decisions on issues like parks, child care centers and affordable housing have an impact on these important parents and children? Are they aware of how their decisions form the foundation of a strong America, whose core is a secure family, or a shaky America, whose footing teeters over a troubled family?

In an increasingly competitive world, enlightened leadership requires much more than concern about one’s neighborhood or high-sounding speeches about what ‘America’s’ world role should be. Visionary local officials must make decisions that reflect concern about the long-term strength of this nation. Patriotic local leaders must weigh each of their decisions in terms of how they help prepare those of lower and middle incomes in Marin to compete among the 5 billion who now inhabit the increasingly interdependent nations of Planet Earth.

It is more difficult for local leaders to avoid the immediate consequences of their decision than it is for those cushioned by the miles to Washington, D.C. Therefore, it is often easier for local leaders to follow the desires of vocal advocates of self interest. Too many local leaders fail to recognize that a constituency larger than neighborhood groups ends their leadership, namely —the children of tomorrow, single parents, the American family structure, and all of us negatively affected by our nation’s declining competitive capacity and increasing trade deficit.

Leadership isn’t easy. It is difficult to lead because in order to lead without too much pain the education of those led’ must move in step. Christ exemplified the pain of leadership out of sync with- the masses. Churchill learned how tortuous trying to educate others to lead can be, as he tried to mobilize his lethargic peers to action.

Far-sighted leadership for the common good is difficult. For America to grow strong, however, more courage an& vision and less parochial and petty rationalization must go into local decision making.

Dwayne Hunn, a former Peace Corps volunteer, has a Ph.D. in Public Finance & Administration and has taught at the college level in Southern California.