A core group of Marin’s staunchest density opponents is strategizing ways to challenge state housing mandates.
Catalysts for Local Control, founded by Mill Valley resident Susan Kirsch, held a teleconference meeting attended by about 36 people on Thursday. The statewide organization’s stated mission is to promote “affordable housing while preserving single-family zoning, the environment and reliable infrastructure.”
Featured speakers included Sharon Rushton of Mill Valley, chairperson of Sustainable TamAlmonte; Frank Egger, the seven–time mayor of Fairfax known for his battles with developers; and Stephen Nestel, a community activist from Marinwood.
Kirsch said that Marin City Community Services District chairman Damian Morgan was set to speak but was unable to attend.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways of pushing back against an edict from the Association of Bay Area Governments requiring Marin County and its municipalities to create 14,405 new residences between 2023 and 2031.
“This is more than the current number of homes in Mill Valley and Sausalito combined,” Rushton said.
During the previous cycle from 2015 to 2023, Marin jurisdictions were assigned a 2,298 residences.
Every eight years, the state Department of Housing and Community Development projects how much new housing will be needed in the Bay Area to accommodate expected population and job growth.
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) then decides how many of those homes to assign to each county and municipality in the region. Local jurisdictions are required to adjust zoning laws to make the creation of that amount of housing possible.
Under SB 35, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, any municipality or county that fails to build the amount of housing assigned to it by the Association of Bay Area Governments is subject to a streamlined approval process for new housing projects, which removes virtually all local control.
Another new state law, Senate Bill 9, gives property owners the right to build duplexes, and in some cases four homes, in most single-family-home neighborhoods.
New state housing laws are already playing out in Marin. A five-story, 74-apartment complex in Marin City was approved under a streamlined process in 2020. At last count, the developer of the project, AMG & Associates LLC of Encino, was working on eight projects that qualify for SB 35 protections.
“California housing policy has been supporting Wall Street investor wealth but not mainstream wage earners,” Kirsch said. “It is harming our neighborhoods and communities and the American Dream.”
Kirsch cited a study by the Palo Alto-based Embarcadero Institute as evidence that the ABAG housing assignments are inflated. The study contends that this cycle’s estimated need for new housing, calculated using a new approach mandated by yet another new state law, Senate Bill 828, mistakenly double counted the actual need.
Groups such as California YIMBY and YIMBY Law dispute this argument, asserting that the Embarcadero Institute’s problem with the numbers is a political one, not a technical one.
Regardless, Kirsch said one of the actions that members of the public should take if they believe the housing assignments are unreasonable is to contact Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, or state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and demand an audit of the housing need estimate.
Rushton said, “These unrealistic housing allocations are setting jurisdictions up to fail. Marin’s crisis in housing is not in quantity but in affordability.”
Ruston asked meeting attendees for their help in gathering signatures to get the Our Neighborhood Voices Initiative on the ballot. The proposed ballot measure would neutralize state housing laws such as SB 9 by mandating that city and county land-use and zoning laws override all conflicting state laws, except in certain special circumstances.
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which is the equivalent of ABAG in Southern California, voted 32 to 12 to endorse the measure. SCAG’s jurisdiction spans six counties — Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura — and 191 cities.
Rushton said she is also putting together a local petition to urge local government representatives to actively resist the housing mandates.
For example, she wants them to oppose the Marin Community Development Agency’s decision to identify 15% to 30% more housing sites than the 3,569 it has been assigned for the unincorporated area, as a buffer in case other sites don’t pan out.
Egger emphasized the risk inherent in building in many areas of Marin due to the risk of wildland fires and sea-level rise.
“Everyone wants to blame Pacific Gas and Electric for all the fires, but local agencies are approving development in ‘wildland urban interface’ areas,” Egger said. “If they are forcing these units to be built in WUI zones, what is going to happen when they burn up and when we burn up? We need to put the elected officials and agencies on notice for the liability.”
Nestle, however, said, “The time for persuasion of the decision makers is pretty much over. We citizens need to seize the day and force our local and state officials to reconsider what they’re doing. I hate to say it. I’m the passionate one. I would be like the truckers in Canada.”