Marin Voice: Engaging the public helps housing decisions
By Ed Yates
Guest op-ed column published in the Marin Independent Journal on November 4, 2013
Posted: 11/04/2013 07:50:00 PM PST
I HAVE BEEN STRUCK by the passion regarding the affordable housing and land-use issues now facing Marin County communities.
As a deputy county counsel who was lead legal advisor for Regional Housing Needs Assessment decisions in Santa Barbara County, I was in the thick of similar debates over affordable housing just a few years ago.
In Santa Barbara, like Marin, the north part of the county had traditionally been more supportive of growth than the affluent south.
But things change, including people's views of increased density and low income housing growth. Many residents of the north part of Santa Barbara County had "had enough," and wanted the entire county to share more equally in placement of such growth.
This debate over where housing growth goes is an old one and is reflected in state law and in fact, in all of American land use planning and law, as the concept of municipalities' "fair share" responsibilities for affordable housing.
California's Legislature has been more active in the fair share/low income housing arena than most states by directing, incentivizing and even punishing cities and counties regarding local housing element, transportation funding and air quality regulations.
Thus, many of the housing issues that are being debated today in Marin, like those in Santa Barbara, are related to state mandates and formulas, including government code provisions that provide developers with density-bonus rights regarding low-income housing construction.
But municipalities also have to move very carefully regarding concentrating land use and housing to meet their housing numbers.
Cities and counties must be aware that neighbors get more bites of the housing location apple because recent case law confirms that cities must contemplate a resolution of any inconsistency between RHNA projects and general plans.
California is growing and while Marin is slated for less growth than other regions, Marin communities will have to decide the best way to accommodate this growth.
What I found in the past was that better communication by municipalities regarding housing law mandates resulted in less rancorous, more focused debate. Outreach by agencies about which state laws and regulations are more stringent allows residents and project planners to focus on those areas where city councils or boards of supervisors do have policy discretion.
This allows agencies and community members to narrow the scope of the debate and reduce the time and resources needed to achieve consensus on how our communities are shaped.