I've lived in Marin for about 35 years, and I love it. About five months ago I found out about the housing mandates and the new laws, and I just haven't been able to let it go. I did a lot of research and back-and forth posting on NextDoor: ("You Won't Recognize Mill Valley in a Few Years," "Now it's the Golf Course," and "It's Time to Stand Up for Marin.") I've written several letters on the issues, published in the Marin IJ and The San Jose Mercury. By the time I met Susan Kirsch and saw the work she was doing with Catalysts (catalystsca.org) I was ready to take this project, Citizen Marin, into its next iteration.
I have some background in local activism. But lately I've been involved with FireWise Marin, am CERT certified, (Community Emergency Response Team), and I volunteer as Block Contact with The Mill Valley NRG (Neighborhood Response Group), preparing to assist neighbors and first responders in emergencies. Living on Tam, I'm extremely aware of natural hazards and evacuation safety.
I see the out of scale housing mandates and the new laws erasing local control as a threat to Marin, California, and to the lives of all of us living in fire hazard zones without reasonable evacuation routes.
The new laws, contrary to how they are portrayed, will only bring a small amount of low- income housing into Marin, and fill the rest of our buildable space with more profitable, above market rate construction for wealthier renters and buyers. We need more low- income housing and lowering the numbers would make it easier to manifest without also straining to create a huge amount of more expensive housing. We should expect to retain democratically elected local government able to make long term, sustainable plans for the future of our communities, not for the benefit of investment developers.
Responsible, managed growth does not mean jamming huge amounts of housing into high fire danger zones in the midst of a severe, ongoing drought. We certainly shouldn't be bullied by our own state government into cramming housing into hazard areas to fulfill numbers so ridiculously large they are being audited.
I am looking forward to working with the rest Marin to derail these efforts. It's time for balanced, integrated choices in growth in our new realities of climate change.
MY PUBLISHED LETTER TO SJ MERCURY NEWS
3/23 State’s Housing Push Bad for Water Future
Three Mercury headlines in a week warned: “State’s drought likely to worsen,” (Page A1, March 18) “California announces cutbacks in water,” (Page B1, March 19) and “Water saving goals unmet.” (Page A1, March 16)
But at the same time, through drastic new legislation, California has cast drought realities aside to literally force construction of 2.5 million units of housing statewide. Local governments across the state appealed on valid grounds of drought and fire; all were denied relief. This overreaching scheme is a giveaway to investment developers: just over 40% of 441,176 units slated for the Bay Area are designated very low- or low-income, and new state laws SB 9 and SB 10 eliminate CEQA oversight by “streamlining” the permitting process. Noncompliance results in severe penalties: we lose state funding. Reality is ignored in this push to build. The state’s mandates are irresponsible and dangerous.
Amy Kalish, Mill Valley
MY PUBLISHED LETTERS TO MARIN IJ:
State housing numbers disregard wildfire dangers Marin IJ Readers’ Forum for May 3, 2022 – Marin Independent Journal
State housing numbers disregard wildfire dangers I have appreciated all the recent coverage in the IJ about the Regional Housing Needs Assessment levied against Marin communities by the state.
Local control over our safety has been usurped. The housing numbers assigned to Marin are dangerously high, considering our natural hazards. Now the state audit confirms the needs assessment was not accurately or adequately supported (“Marin critics of housing mandates tout auditor’s findings,” April 19).
Gov. Gavin Newsom warns of our new, year-round fire season. But during the “firenadoes” of 2020, he vetoed State Bill 182, the only law to mandate evacuation routes for new developments. Part of the reason, he said, was because it would conflict with the state’s goals of easing its crippling housing shortage. I felt it was as if he was saying it was better to keep building quickly, while letting more communities burn.
The huge housing increase — which will greatly increase Marin’s population — could overload evacuation routes, where one crowded road serving too many residents is the norm. The housing element plans are forced to incorporate hazards if there are no options. Marin’s hybrid plan for unincorporated areas is unavoidably studded with them.
— Amy Kalish, Mill Valley
3/2 Mill Valley faces bigger issue than one building Marin IJ Readers’ Forum for March 2, 2022 – Marin Independent Journal
Mill Valley faces bigger issue than one building The proposed 40-unit Hauke Park high-density development (“Mill Valley affordable housing project moves forward,” Feb. 13) is part of a much larger picture. That project would be a drop in the bucket toward our “fair share housing needs.”
The number of new housing units assigned to Mill Valley is not 40 or even 140. It is 865. The permitting process has been streamlined by law to make this building fast and easy, without the usual review process. Our city manager filed an appropriate appeal based on the Association of Bay Area Governments’ own stated criteria related to infrastructure and safety. The appeal asked for the number to be lowered to 286. It was rejected without comment.
That enormous number sets us up to fail. If we don’t comply, the costs are high. According to the recently published editorial by the IJ (“If not Hauke Park for Mill Valley affordable housing, then where?” Feb. 20), loss of local control over city planning, zoning, the permitting process and California Environmental Quality Act protections will be sacrificed. There will be a loss of our identity as a city.
California Voice: Community involvement is key to solving housing crisis Mill Valley is densely built out, with obvious limitations. Our streets are narrow and windy because they were built for horses, in the era before cars. We are largely in a “wildland urban interface” area and we live with frequent “red flag warnings” for catastrophic fire.
If an evacuation is necessary, we have only two ways out of town; both are two-lane choke points. Those of us living higher up Mount Tamalpais already face significant, life-threatening obstacles to evacuation because of density. ABAG ignored this and other significant hazards when it mandated what amounts to a 20% population increase. Note that the Hauke Park site would eliminate heavily used parking adjacent to heavily used athletic fields. Using the land this way would also constrain future expansion of our essential emergency services buildings. — Amy Kalish, Mill Valley
The following article appeared in the NYT Business section 6/5/22.
It mischaracterizes much of Susan's work, but I am including it here:
The article spurred thousands of comments, and got some conversations started, but the view of the author was to reduce everything down to NIMBY vs YIMBY antagonism which is a gross oversimplification of the actual challenges we are all facing.
This is my letter to the NYT regarding the article::
By focusing on the YIMBY vs. NIMBY narrative, the article misses the point about why those condominiums are a bad idea.
The parcel isn’t at a dead-end. It fronts onto the busiest street in Mill Valley, two clogged, narrow lanes adjacent to the intersection that leads to the freeway. It is one of only two evacuation exits in case of fire.
Our small town of 14,000 is classified mostly FEMA flood zone, WUI (woodland-urban-interface) or high/severe fire danger. It starts at a marsh, has some flats, then continues up the side of Mt. Tamalpais. Our infrastructure was developed in the 1890s with extremely windy, narrow roads built for horses.
In case of fire, as the 14,000 residents in the flats fill the exits, the additional 11,000 of us in the upper elevations need to squeeze out of our feeder streets into the narrow, two-lane road down the hill, would back-up in minutes. We’d have two choices of exits to head for: the “condo” intersection, or an even worse choice; to a Y junction, then over a narrow bridge to a freeway exit subject to extreme tidal flooding.
So it is against this backdrop that the state cast aside our local zoning, and demands (under severe penalties) construction of our “fair share” housing for an additional 1800 residents. Our city, like others with similar hazards, filed legitimate appeals for reduced numbers. They were ALL summarily dismissed. Safety was not considered at all.
What is like to live in a hazard zone like this, where wind-blown embers can spread fire for miles in any direction? We install ALERT apps on our phones. We practice evacuation drills and cut vegetation back from our homes. We keep go-bags, filled with essentials to grab on the way out. EVACUATED tags are ready to hang on the doorknob if we leave, so the fire department knows the house is empty and can move on.
In September of 2020, the flurry of housing legislation continued while hundreds of lightening-strike fires from August burned across the state, that’s when Governor Newsom vetoed SB 182, legislation put forward to require prior action (improved evacuation access, vegetation management, etc.) before permitting for development would be allowed in high fire zones.
The reason for the veto? It would slow down the housing. From his veto statement: “Wildfire resilience must become a more consistent part of land use and development decisions. However, it must be done while meeting our housing needs.”
Housing is sorely needed, and there are areas that can absorb it without increasing risk. But if you live in one that can’t, the state is deaf to your concerns, and has nothing but penalties to offer until you come into compliance.
Fire doesn’t care if you’re a NIMBY or a YIMBY. If your “backyard” is flammable, you shouldn’t be forced to cram more housing into it.
--- Amy Kalish
First, a big THANK YOU to Amy Kalish for picking up the pieces of Citizen Marin, which have been lying dormant since 2016. Amy is revitalizing Citizen Marin and restoring its force for citizen engagement and impact. I am deeply grateful and encourage anyone who was previously associated with Citizen Marin to check out the new website and get involved in Citizen Marin activities.
Citizen Marin emerged in early 2011 after Marin Independent Journal columnist Dick Spotswood published an article entitled, "Housing foes need Marin, statewide strategy." (11/7/2010). Spotswood wrote, "Novato's Citizens for Balanced Housing and Friends of Mill Valley serve as models for neighborhood activists throughout the Golden State."
That was just the prompt Novato resident Leslie Peterson Schwarze and I needed to meet for coffee and sketch out on the back of a napkin the beginnings of Citizen Marin. Over the next five years, Citizen Marin emerged as a think tank to educate residents about the jargon of housing--ABAG, MTC, RHNA, HCD, EIR, CEQA, and TODs, among others--and how the sausage is made in Sacramento.
Besides educating, Citizen Marin promoted actions. We staged protests about WinCup, wrote letters, hosted our own Town Halls, and organized marches and protests. On July 18, 2013, we organized a busload of elected officials and community leaders to travel to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) headquarters in Oakland to oppose the adoption of Plan Bay Area: Strategy for A Sustainable Region."
Citizen Marin encouraged informed citizenship, running for office, starting new groups, special projects, participating in local or county-wide issues, and supporting each others' efforts to protect and preserve the safety and well-being of our communities. The threats loom over us today with even greater menace.
That's why the re-emergence of Citizen Marin is so important. I'll continue my support for Citizen Marin. I'll also continue my work at the state level with Catalysts for Local Control (www.catalystsca.org). Together we'll amplify the voices of the community, the regular citizens who want a safe place to call home, a parking space, ease to get out of the driveway and gain access to the freeway, and confidence the infrastructure provides fire and flood protection, adequate water and energy, and truth and transparency in the decision-making process.
Marin Voice: Following audit, changes must be made to state housing needs allocation
By SUSAN KIRSCH | April 29, 2022 at 12:04 p.m.
California’s most respected watchdog, the state auditing department, recently examined the Department of Housing and Community Development because of questions raised about how the Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers were calculated. In the March report, auditors said “HCD does not ensure that its needs assessments are accurate and adequately supported.” That’s a big deal. In other words, the housing department’s top-down mandates for the next eight-year housing element cycle are unreliable, likely invalid and should therefore be unenforceable. The foundation of the RHNA methodology is as unstable as building housing on sand. Left unchallenged, the shoddy work at the housing department foreshadows shoddy housing practices that reflect the state’s embarrassing failure to meet the need for housing that is affordable for very low and low-income residents, while density drives up home and rent prices and homelessness grows.
The housing department’s questionable methods were noted in 2020 when the Embarcadero Institute’s lead researcher, Gab Layton, sounded the alarm about “double counting” of unit needs, which created inflated, unrealistic and unreachable numbers. Some local officials say the state is holding a gun to their heads with inflated RHNA numbers. They need to demonstrate a good-faith effort to meet the state’s unfounded demands. If they don’t, their jurisdictions risk hefty fines, lost funding, litigation or state takeover. But the public and non-governmental agencies can and must boldly challenge the legislative mandates that don’t pass the auditor’s sniff test. It’s not the time to lament that there’s nothing we can do. We must demand our legislators support the auditor’s recommendations. What are the recommendations? The auditor’s report gives the housing department a timeline between June 2022 and February 2023 to review their data, establish formal review procedures, review the comparison regions and conduct an analysis of healthy vacancy rates. The Department of Finance must review its population projections based on 2020 census data and review its assumptions about household formation rates. Jurisdictions across the state are lining up to explore legal options, including challenges to State Bill 9 and the audit. There is power in numbers. Encourage your city attorney to contact Pam Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, email members of the Assembly and Senate housing committees and your local reps. Copy it to the Marin Board of Supervisors and your city council, as well as traditional and social media outlets.
Remind legislators of the California Administrative Procedure Act. It allows the public to participate in the adoption of state regulations to ensure that the regulations are clear, necessary, and legally valid. The basic message to legislators is to fix the RHNA problem. They must stop barreling ahead with new legislation based on allocations as if the audit is no big deal. In 2022, there are dozens of new bills, building on the shifting sands of unreliable RHNA numbers. Additionally, legislators should make the following demands of the housing department: • Show the work. Bring together representatives from all committees, departments, leagues, institutes and the public for a facilitated discussion. • If a review discloses double-counting, then acknowledge overcounting and correct the mistakes. Housing is often called “a crisis,” but the bigger crisis is not correcting mistakes. • Secure a state commitment to fund and build 100% very low- and low-income subsidized housing. Let the market take care of market-rate demands. • Create regulation to protect against speculating investors who make cash offers that consolidate single-family homes into Wall Street portfolios, reduce homeownership, increase corporate rentals and destabilize communities. • Adjust the eighth RHNA cycle and collaborate with jurisdictions on new housing allocations. The California Alliance of Elected Officials gets the credit for initiating the audit. “Unless HCD and the Department of Finance complete this work and correct their mistakes, there is no justification for punishing cities for failing to meet erroneous RHNA goals,” said alliance founder and Pleasanton Councilmember Julie Testa. “The Legislature should suspend implementation of RHNA until the public is satisfied these problems have been resolved.” Take a bold stand. It’s a big deal. Our future depends on it. Susan Kirsch, of Mill Valley, is founder of Catalysts for Local Control. Online at CatalystsCA.org.