Sausalito’s dynamic industrial working waterfront, defined as the home to a thriving maritime sector, industrial innovators, impressive tax revenues and hundreds of artists, is under attack, thanks to a “perfect storm” of events.
• New state housing mandates require Sausalito to site and build 724 housing units in a tiny town of less than 2 square miles with few safe building sites and high risk of fires, flooding, landslides, sea level rise and bay-fill on the waterfront.
• Pressure from powerful land developers to rezone properties they’ve held as speculative ventures will allow them to reap windfall profits (as spelled out in the city code) along with state-mandated density and height bonuses.
• Growing economic pressure on a city budget that struggles with current and future deficits has left the town short-staffed and overly dependent on consultants.
A slim majority of City Council members seem to prioritize developer interests over that of the residents. They have taken actions that will doom Sausalito’s working waterfront to the same fate as so many others throughout the country.
The working waterfront is a haven for industrial entrepreneurs, educational programs, apprenticeships, hundreds of artists, good blue-collar jobs and shipyards that service everything from small boats, yachts and floating homes, ferries, fire boats and commercial fishing boats from as far away as Eureka.
This historic working waterfront area was the site of the World War II shipyards that contributed over 90 ships to the war effort. Fortunately, it’s not too late to save the soul of Sausalito.
In response to the state housing mandates, the city’s housing element advisory committee proposed that the working waterfront be surrounded with housing sites.
This area is a terrible choice for locating housing. Not only does it expose proposed residents to dust, smells, 24/7 activity and noise, it is an area vulnerable to sea level rise, liquefaction and subsidence. Toxins from the former Naval shipyard are legendary and widespread.
Sausalito’s working waterfront is the financial “golden goose.” This industrial and maritime area diversifies Sausalito’s economy away from tourism and continued to function at full capacity during the pandemic. It generates 75% of the business license tax revenue in Sausalito and about 45% overall of the city’s property and sales tax revenue.
It is critical to keep this income source productive. If this thriving area is eroded, the financial burden of additional services required by the potential new 1,500 residents will shift to taxpayers. Property taxes will not make up this shortfall. Sausalito receives only 11% of the real estate taxes paid.
Developers and their supporters want to build hundreds of units of housing and commercial uses on the historic working waterfront.
Despite repeated warnings from residents and business owners, the advisory committee voted to surround the working waterfront with incompatible housing sites.
This foolish and tragic recommendation places housing immediately adjacent to the working waterfront, a move that will certainly cause conflict and litigation eventually pushing out the industrial waterfront and dooming the area to gentrification. Have we not learned the lessons of these conflicts and litigation from development projects along Alameda’s Marina, as well as San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point and Treasure Island?
Sausalito experts are providing sensible alternatives. Groups like Sensible Housing Sausalito have proposed ways to meet the city’s housing quota in a sustainable manner, beginning with city-owned parcels that provide the best options for affordable and senior housing.
The committee’s consultant advised the city that some property owners have expressed interest in building auxiliary dwelling units (aka ADUs) in backyards and junior ADUs inside the building footprint. Either would be affordable with city incentives.
Increasing the number of live-a-boards in marinas and adding new nonprofit houseboat marinas is another smart and budget-friendly housing option.
Sausalito can thrive and meet our housing goals without destroying our special working waterfront and arts district. Putting housing where it is safe and makes sense for citizens – instead of where a few developers want to make the most profit – will put us on the right track toward a more equitable and sustainable Sausalito.
Sandra Bushmaker is a former Sausalito City Council member and mayor. She is a retired attorney.