Tag Archives: NIMBY

Marin, why not think ‘regional’?

Marin, why not think ‘regional’?

Dwayne Hunn  Marin Voice

Published Marin IJ February 15, 1995

Everyone’s knocking government.  From Rush Limbarf and Orphan Newt’s cat calls to Gaebler and Osborne’s Reinventing Government advice — everyone’s ripping or reinventing it.   But you know, some public sector ideas are worth a private sector pick up.

In the early 90’s Sacramento and the Bay Area were abuzz with “regionalism.” Transportation, housing, pollution, employment and local revenue needs required a more relevant, comprehensive approach.   By the 90’s Minnesota’s Regional Fiscal Disparities Act had decades of experience addressing 9 counties ‘regional’   needs through sharing a small percentage of sales taxes from each county.  Why not does creative stuff like that in California?

That vision/goal brought together some high-powered Bay Area leaders. Unfortunately, in their pursuit they didn’t hear the warnings that their power profile and media pitch wouldn’t sell parochial locals on the vision. Too many local politicians saw ‘regionalism’ weakening their authority, and its benefits too difficult to convey to constituents.  Given the choice of spreading more common   good   through regionally confronting problems or re-electing themselves. Through simplistic NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) – oriented needs analysis, these politicians opted for the well-worn, yellow political brick.

Unfortunately, the supposedly smarter entrepreneurs also didn’t, and still don’t, see the benefits and inevitability of regionalism.

Take Marin, for example. Whether developers propose projects, which include affordable housing, office complex, light industry or pedestrian pockets, Nimbys turn out in droves   crying: Traffic! Neighborhood Character! Cut Trees! Open Space!  Property Values!  The Environment!……….A Bombay Slum Is Falling From The Sky!

Result?  Each developer succumbs to putting up fewer, more expensive homes or spaces.  The middle class, whom all politicians support, commutes longer for an affordable home, workspace, childcare, or community atmosphere.

In Marin this happens to every noteworthy development. Hamilton Air Force Base could’ve been a large, rail oriented, affordable pedestrian pocket instead of an expensive suburban sprawl community.  Bel Marin Keys could have provided a significant number of affordable homes through innovative financing.   St. Vincent/Silveira could’ve been another affordable rail and pedestrian oriented community whose development could provide Catholic money to keep kids out of trouble and orphanages. (It is still in the  “thousand cuts” stage, as the so-called environmentalists fight to boost Marin’s meager 88% protected space, and lessen reasons for a railway.)

Only benefits would accrue if the major landowners in any region sat down together and said, “How can we cooperatively structure each of our plans so that our land, effort and profit will address the region’s pressing economic and social needs?   How can we educate the public and politicians so that they will understand the benefits?  Can we do this as a united front, so we don’t suffer a thousand slashes from environ­mental guerrillas?”

If they did that as smartly as they are supposed to be, middle America might find time to break out of their freeway chains, bring their latch key kids to project approval meetings, and break the strangle hood ‘naysayers’ have in throttling progressive developments.

Result?   The private sector would have profitably answered huge, pending public needs.    There would be less government maligning.   A fresh public-private chapter would be opened in America’s New Covenant.

The Renaissance Faire space, planned as a pricey housing mecca with a golf course mural shining through its windows, after cutting its project in half, still got slashed and burned.  All developers should learn from Robin the Regional Hood.  Robin gatherer a regional band of the weary addressed their needs and became loved leader of an improved hood.

Dwayne Hunn, a freelance writer, has consulted on affordable housing, land development and transportation issues.

(Uncut version. Boxed text includes text not included in published IJ edition.)

  East San Rafael’s needs

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.