LDS Church and West Side Baptist Conduct Interfaith Prayer Service

Courtesy of Marin County

After accepting more information about long-term housing plans for unincorporated areas of Marin County, the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) submits a list of properties to a consulting firm to begin an environmental analysis to identify the best locations for future housing.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors held a joint session with two agenda items with the Marin County Planning Commission on April 12, one focused on programs and policies related to upgrading. mandatory one day countywide plan and one specifically on parcels of land where new housing could be created. This is all part of the updated housing component of the county plan for the years 2023-2030. The State of California requires each municipality to update its housing element every eight years.

The program and policy session focused on preserving existing housing, including short-term rental properties and secondary suites, or ADUs. Another goal cited was to take action to remedy long-term vacant accommodation and to maximize the use of all accommodation for long-term residents rather than temporary holidaymakers. In rural and coastal West Marin, a popular vacation spot, approximately 10% of all properties are used as short-term rentals, eliminating their possible use as much-needed living spaces for the local workforce.

The housing component update, to be completed by January 2023, will explore ways to achieve the goals of expanding housing options and addressing the need for more affordable housing. Marin County is one of the most expensive counties in the country to live.

The second session on specific habitation sites resulted in a list that will be subject to environmental review. As it works to comply with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), planners worked with residents and elected officials to identify plots in the five supervisory districts that could be used as housing. The county has been tasked with planning at least 3,569 new units in unincorporated areas during the eight-year cycle that begins in 2023.

Two larger properties on the list have been designated as regional housing sites that could handle a relatively high number of RHNA units and reduce the total number of properties that could be converted into housing:

  • the undeveloped area just north of the Novato city limits on the west side of Highway 101 near Mount Burdell, loosely referred to as the Buck Center property, and;
  • the undeveloped plains east of the 101 and the Marinwood neighborhood called the St. Vincent property.

Otherwise, the county is focused on filling — vacant properties adjacent to developed properties — rather than creating homes on parcels that have never been developed. Site selection close to existing developments, business districts and transportation hubs aligns with long-standing goals of accommodating gradual population growth.

Land owned by schools, places of worship, businesses, nonprofits, private landlords and the county government is open for review as part of the county update. RHNA units must be distributed across all income categories, from extremely low to above-moderate.

The environmental review, due to take place this spring and summer, will examine how any housing development could affect nearby traffic, schools, quality of life and be vulnerable to environmental hazards. A joint session of the board and planning commission is tentatively set for June 14 for a public review of the programs and policies portion of the housing component update. In August, a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be made public and open to comments.

CDA staff have mentioned in previous meetings that challenging the RHNA mandate and planning for little or no growth in housing choices will result in less local control in project reviews and more streamlined project approvals. The consequences of failing to meet housing requirements could be severe. If a jurisdiction does not meet its housing goals, it becomes ineligible for state funding to meet local transportation needs and may be subject to statewide rationalization rules, which allow housing development with a limited public review process. The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has a new division that is designed to enforce accountability with plans to meet housing needs.

Questions and comments can be emailed to staff and phone inquiries can be made at (415) 473-6269. Regular updates are available on the Housing and Security Items Update webpage.

Jerry B. Hatch