One of the core values that most Marin residents share is a love and respect for nature, which has been demonstrated by a long history of environmental conservation. However, since the adoption of the 2007 Marin Countywide Plan, the county’s leadership has been taking Marin in a different direction.
The most significant finding of the CWP’s Environmental Impact Report was that "land uses and development consistent with the 2007 Countywide Plan would result in 42 significant unavoidable adverse environmental impacts." These impacts include, but are not limited to, traffic congestion, flooding, impending sea level rise, air & noise pollution, endangering habitat and a potential water deficit.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to reduce these unfortunate impacts, but instead approved the CWP with a “Statement of Overriding Considerations,” essentially stating that providing housing was more important than protecting the environment and public health and safety from the harm that such residential development could cause.
In late 2012, the Board of Supervisors adopted a Countywide Plan Amendment, regarding Policy CD-1.3, which diminishes a major protection for sensitive areas and allows more, higher-density housing to potentially be built in the Baylands’ Corridor, the Ridge and Upland Greenbelts and on sites with sensitive habitat.
Marin County Officials are now reviewing the 2012 Draft Marin County Housing Element, which allows even MORE build-out and adverse environmental impacts than the Countywide Plan.
Worse still, proposed County Housing Element programs and Development Code amendments go beyond what is required by the state and reduce local control and public input by fast-tracking permit review and streamlining environmental review of high density housing.
Why are Marin County Planners ignoring environmental constraints and pushing for more housing?
There is pressure from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to fulfill the state mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), a quota for housing units that each jurisdiction is supposed to plan for. If the County’s Housing Element fails to meet its allocation, the following could occur:
- Unincorporated Marin may not be eligible for regional One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) road improvement funding ($10 million countywide).
- Unincorporated Marin’s Housing Element cycle may be accelerated.
- The County could be subject to legal action by a third party.
- The number of units designated for this Housing Element cycle may be carried over to the next housing cycle.
Yet, to simply comply with the RHNA allocation is short sighted. First of all, the allocation is based on unrealistic job and population projections. The California Department of Finance’s population report shows that between 2015 and 2025, Marin will experience a loss of population, not an increase.
Secondly, 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 OBAG grant or additional administration costs. Consider the staggering costs associated with lack of water; cleaning up polluted waterways & habitats; increased damages and injuries due to worsened traffic and placing housing in high seismic activity zones; increased illness due to exposing residents to toxic air contaminants; constructing and maintaining dikes to protect buildings from sea level rise; building new schools, etc.
Marin County should take back its land use planning and meet the true housing needs of all Marin’s constituents, including lower-income households, in a manner that upholds community character and respects the limits of our environment, infrastructure, and public services.
Specific recommendations on how this can be accomplished will be discussed in my follow up piece entitled: PART II – Marin County Plans – Solutions for Saving Marin’s Environment. That will run on Wednesday on Patch.
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."