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City Hall Takes New Tack in ABAG Dispute

Citing U.S. Census data, city officials scoff at housing mandates, arguing that the city is already accommodating population growth within its existing housing inventory.

Hoping to further reduce the city of Mill Valley’s share of state-mandated new housing development over the next three decades, city officials are making what they hope is a new and convincing argument.

Citing U.S. Census data mined with the help of Marin Economic Forum CEO Robert Eyler, city officials sent off a letter last week to the Association of Bay Area Governments in an effort to convince the regional agency to lower the number of new housing allocated to Mill Valley between now and 2040.

“We’re pushing as hard as we can in the hopes that we’ll minimize what has to be built, especially since it’s really not necessary,” Mayor Garry Lion said. “What we are experiencing is significant population growth but without the need for new housing.”

The lack of necessity, city officials argue, comes from an influx of young families that have increased the number of people per household for the first time since 1960. In its letter to ABAG, city officials argue that population growth is being accommodated within existing housing.

“ABAG’s projections make the assumption that housing will be necessary to accommodate the new population growth in direct proportion, with the same number of people per house,” Lion said. “That’s a sweeping assumption and it doesn’t match with the data.”

As further evidence, city officials cite the influx of young families to Mill Valley in recent years, a trend which has sent the Mill Valley School District’s enrollment booming by more than 800 students over the past six years and by nearly 200 students from just last year alone. The district’s preliminary enrollment for 2012-2013 is 3,158, more than 50 students more than they projected just a few months ago.

“If this phenomenon continues for the next 10 years, we’re going to need a whole new school and I have no idea where that would even go,” Lion said.

Coupled with an excess of housing inventory – state Department of Finance data indicates that there are currently 454 vacant homes in Mill Valley (report attached) - and the fact that 15 percent of Mill Valley residents are over 65 years old and living alone, city officials say that trend will continue as the local real estate market improves.

“(Our) population growth is being caused by on-going turnover in our existing housing from long-term, post-family residents to an influx of new, growing families, so Mill Valley's growth is coming via larger households,” the city argues in its letter.

The city’s letter is its latest effort to lobby ABAG to lower the amount of new housing allocated to Mill Valley. There are two related and parallel processes going on at ABAG related to housing allocations that stem from SB 375, a state law that seeks to tie transportation corridors to land-use planning as a way to cut greenhouse gases. ABAG is the regional agency charged with allocating the state housing mandates to counties, towns and cities.

The first, the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, covers 2014-2022. In a draft report earlier this year, the agency allocated 292 new households to Mill Valley, and dropped that number to 129 in a July report (attached at right).

The longer-term housing allocation is via the Sustainable Communities Strategy, which stretches through 2040. For that period, the earlier report allocated 750 new households to Mill Valley, while that was reduced to 450 in July, a number city officials was still too high.

Lion said the city’s Sept. 11 letter was specifically in response to a deadline for the RHNA numbers, which ABAG is expected to adopt later this month. The allocations will inform the city's update of its Housing Element as part of its ongoing update of its General Plan, which was last refreshed in 1989.

The letter also repeats earlier arguments made by city officials relating Mill Valley's geographic constraints like steep hills and floodplains, as well as the theory that ABAG’s job projections for the city don’t reflect historic employment trends or the high amount of home-based businesses in town.

The Mill Valley City Council is set to discuss the latest letter to ABAG and the larger issue of housing allocations at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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Elizabeth Moody September 17, 2012 at 02:21 PM
There may not be much room for growth, but density variations along Miller Avenue might supply much needed housing for our 88% of workers who commute in for Mill Valley jobs. For sustainability, we must plan for this growth. Also with 93% of homes costing over $500,000 and median home value at $1 million, housing expansion can bring more equity.
Bob Silvestri September 17, 2012 at 03:41 PM
More on local planning: The Best Laid Plans: A Brief History of Planning http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-i-a-brief-history-of-planning The Best Laid Plans: Part II: 21st Century Planning http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-ii-21st-century-planning The Best Laid Plans: Part III - Affordable Housing http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-iii-affordable-housing The Best Laid Plans - Part IV: Public Policy, Community Voice & Social Equity http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-iv-public-policy-community-voice-social-equity The Big Con http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-big-schmooze-or-how-an1868-iowa-state-court-ruling-led-to-unfunded-pro-development-housing-mandates-in-marin
Rico September 17, 2012 at 05:04 PM
I think M.V. City Hall put out a very realistic and sensible report in this article. The only place left in M.V. to develop high density housing is lower Miller Ave. which is in a flood plain. Most of the low lands in M.V. were developed before elevation was a concern, and now new building must be lifted up about 6 feet higher than allowed in the past, or not be approved at all. The fact that there are so many home based businesses make the economy healthy, reduces vehicle traffic, is more healthy for all residents and our environment. That is the problem with this high density Train Oriented Apartment Development proposals. The don't accommodate home based businesses, but they do the opposite and perpetuate long commutes and people not being independent. The one size fits all bay area doesn't work here in M.V., and it is great to see that our City leaders are speaking up about it, rather than be "railroaded" into grudging conformance by ABAG development interests.
Michael Lubenow September 17, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Booming school enrollment and an influx of young families moving into $1 Million homes are covered by what we have already? Sounds to me like city hall is telling all these kids to have a great time growing up here but get the hell out when you graduate from high school and don't come back until you can afford your own house, or your parents kick it and you can move into theirs...
RD September 17, 2012 at 06:50 PM
As older folks sell their homes on our street, young families with kids move in. So houses go from 1 or 2 people, to 4 or 5 people. No wonder population and density is growing. The city is being smart.
David Edmondson September 17, 2012 at 07:59 PM
This is a bit of a problem, actually. It's great that people are using the housing already there as family homes, but it does put a strain on services when the city trades a childless couple for a family of four or five. Though the tax revenue might be roughly the same, expenditures increase, meaning each family is a net loss (at least, financially) for the city. Allowing small units - one-bedrooms or studios - along lower E Blithedale and Miller Ave would allow the city to keep those downsizing couples and attract childless singles and couples that want a small place in small town.
Stephen Nestel September 17, 2012 at 08:04 PM
I hate to say it, but the housing quotas are not being built for housing demand in Marin, they are being built for housing development. The developer makes the money when they secure financing and building the units with our tax money. If it truly were about the housing, then smarter initiatives like converting existing housing and second units would be featured prominently. The totally discount the current housing market and only mention adding second units in passing. The ABAG quotas to urbanize Marin is about money and power.
Bob Ratto September 17, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Stephen That is exactly what this is about. It is an explicit attempt to control the free market. Giving tax breaks to "non-profits" gives them a phenomenol advantage, as do the Low Income Housing Tax Credits. If it were truly needs based, the discussion would be entirely different.
Bob Ratto September 17, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Dave When houses are sold, they are re-assessed. If somebody had been in there house for a long time, their basis is low, and their taxes are low. When the house sells, it has a new basis, and if we are talking about a substantial passage of time between sales, there may be sizable increases in tax revenues.
Bob September 17, 2012 at 11:13 PM
I applaud Mill Valleys effort to push back at ABAG. But Mill Valley is going on the assumption that ABAG even cares. All ABAG cares about is allocation of the numbers of units they have, to the cities / county. If They reduce the numbers to Mill Valley then another city will have to pick up those additional units. It is time for all the cities in Marin to join efforts and tell the state to take their SB 375 and shove it. And Mill Valley you think you might have to build another school? Remember that most low income housing projects get tax breaks to where they don't pay for services such as schools, fire, police, sewer, roads, etc. So, Mill Valley you better start saving money to build that school because you are on your own when it comes to funding it. Also a question that I have not been able to get an answer, how much low income housing is being occupied by illegal immigrants? If immigration was enforced maybe we would have an abundance of housing instead of being forced to build more??
Scott September 17, 2012 at 11:41 PM
The assumption that "tax revenue might be roughly the same" is incorrect, as Bob points out. When long time residents' houses turn over, assessments go up, a lot. This suggests new families are net profitable for the city. How does your analysis change in light of this?
Rico September 18, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Bob, The MVSD does not need to build another school because they have Marin Terrace, Homestead and Alto schools that they lease out to private schools. The business agent of the MVSD does not expect most people to know about the schools that they leased out, but some of us who still live here attended those schools, and we have fond memories of them. And the facts are well laid out by this report, Mill Valley does not need this new age type of high density development and has nowhere to put it. And about subsidized apartment housing in Mill Valley, there is not much of it. The biggest project is Shelter Hill apartments with 75 units. It is now run by the Ecumenical Housing of Marin. The majority of the residents at Shelter Hill are extensions of families from Marin City, and there are many people from Asia and central America living there. I would bet that 99 percent of them are legal U.S. citizens. But you are right about the developers of redevelopment projects in the past that were exempt from paying taxes for services. That is why it is a very good thing that they have been "canned" here in California. I also applaud Mill Valley officials for pushing back ABAG, that sets a good example and may influence the other cities and towns in Marin to do the same. If we have to lead the fight, so be it, we don't have to cow tow to what ABAG dreams, throw the bums out !
David Edmondson September 18, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Right you are! Bad oversight on my part - it's another reason to avoid nonprofit developers if at all possible. Have property tax assessments increased along with the number of children?
Rico September 18, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Elizabeth, The most recent new apartment building (the Tamalpais Commons) on Miller Ave. is a classic example of high density mixed use development that you think will provide housing for our 88 percent of workers that commute into M.V. to work here. The 1800 sq. ft. apartments rent for $4000 per month at the Tamalpais Commons. How is a non-union clerk at Whole Foods earning $11.50 per hour with no benefits going to afford $4000 per month rent ? They only take home around $1000 per month after taxes. Most of the people who work at those new age-low wage jobs in Mill Valley will continue to commute down 101 from the north bay (Novato), from the east bay and from Sonoma county. What kind equity do you get out of this kind of "housing expansion" ? And how do you consider these high density apartment projects as being sustainable ? I think we must stop this kind of growth for many reasons, but actually I think it has stopped itself on its own. Even if you have a ton of money to develop more apartment buildings, the economy and the people will not approve of your projects here in M.V.

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