In Part 1 of this op-ed column, I relayed that due to incentives (e.g. transportation funding) for compliance and penalties (e.g. more administrative tasks) for noncompliance, Marin County officials have felt pressured to fulfill the county’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation – RHNA (a quota for housing units that each jurisdiction is supposed to plan for), even though the RHNA is based on unrealistic job and population projections. In so doing, county officials have placed the demands of housing developers over the preservation of Marin’s environment and the protection of Marin residents' health and safety.
I demonstrated that the land uses and development consistent with the Marin Countywide Plan and the Housing Element would result in over 40 significant unavoidable adverse environmental impacts, bringing substantial harm to Marin’s environment and residents.
I further conveyed that for county representatives to simply comply with the RHNA allocations is short sighted. Marin County needs to conduct a much more comprehensive, cumulative and long term cost analysis. The costs related to dealing with the significant adverse environmental impacts caused by overdeveloping our county far outweigh the incentives attached to RHNA compliance or penalties attached to RHNA noncompliance.
Marin County should take back its land use planning and meet the true housing needs of all its constituents, including lower-income households, in a manner that upholds community character and respects the limits of our environment, infrastructure and public services:
- Recognize that there is an ultimate limit to growth and work with Marin cities to reduce the total projected buildout of city and county general plans to a level that is sustainable;
- Create a Task Force to meet Marin County’s housing needs with as little new construction as possible. Work with those in need of housing to achieve resources which are of direct benefit and supportive of healthy and sustainable living conditions. Programs may include a rent voucher program, raising the minimum wage to a living wage; conversion of market rate units to below-market-rate; retaining existing below market rate housing; and lobbying HCD to count all conversion units, assisted living units, second units and inclusionary units toward the RHNA quota;
- Form alliances with similar minded jurisdictions to share ideas, information, legal counsel, financial resources and political clout;
- Create a Task Force to lobby against undesirable State legislation and lobby for new State legislation that promotes local control and strengthens environmental protections;
- Create a Task Force to lower our RHNA allocation to one that is based on authentic job and population growth or, more correctly, decline. Use the County’s legal rights to oppose the unrealistic RHNA numbers: According to Gov. Code,§ 65584.01 and Gov. Code § 65584.2, Unincorporated Marin has the right to appeal its RHNA numbers based on the fact that the allocations do not correspond to the Dept. of Finance’s population projections; B) According to Gov. Code,§ 65589.5(d)(2), a county is not required to construct additional housing developments where it finds that developments “would have a specific, adverse impact upon the public health or safety, and there is no feasible method to satisfactorily mitigate or avoid the specific adverse impact without rendering the development unaffordable to low- and moderate-income households”;
- Create a Marin County Council of Governments (COG) to promote realistic housing quotas and re-designate Marin County as suburban/rural in its housing mandate categories, instead of urban, as it is now designated.
In conclusion, our Marin County representatives need to reset their priorities and place the long-term preservation of Marin County’s environment and the protection of Marin residents' health and safety over and above the shortsighted demands of housing developers and the misguided, unsustainable and urbanizing regulations of the State.
Sharon Rushton lives in the Almonte section of unincorporated Mill Valley and is a member of Sustainable TamAlmonte, "a group of Tam Valley and Almonte residents who are concerned about the preservation of our environment, the protection of residents’ health and safety, and the improvement of the semi-rural area's quality of life."
In Part 1 of this op-ed column, Rushton laid out her case that the Marin County Board of Supervisors has not done enough to balance environmental considerations against the need to fulfill state mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation.