March 2019

Mary Kay Sweeney, Ex. Dir., Homeward Bound (HB) of Marin, began bringing us up to date by noting its partnership with St. Patrick’s Par-ish in Larkspur that transformed a former convent into King St. Senior Housing for 12 low-income seniors last December.

Her main concern is the homeless problem. It has worsened because of a growing, aging population that has been living on the streets more and more as rents continue to rise rapidly.

To cope with this problem, HB is focusing on its Mill St. Center, a 55-bed emergency shelter that has been in San Rafael for 30 years. It’s now in a flood zone (1.5 blocks from the Canal), but, because HB owns the property, it’s planning to rebuild the Center to house 60 beds for seniors to fill a growing gap in dealing with substance issues and providing mental health services. The focus is on permanent, not transitional, housing. There will be 24-hour staffing as usual. It is the missing link in providing homeless services. It is getting good cooperation from the city; although it’s three stories, the city is in favor. Funding of $8 million is already available from a variety of sources, local and state. It won’t go through the Design Review process but straight to the Planning Commission.

HB continues to be successful in training people in its food-provision program. Employment often results in jobs only one month later! HB gives out 40,000 bus tickets annually.


March 2017

San Rafael: In March we heard Paul Jensen, Community Development Director, San Rafael, discuss the city’s General Plan 2040 and its Preliminary Work Program.  This plan was more community-based than in the past, including the guidance of a  “Steering Committee” and a “Task Force” to provide more detailed input in specific topic areas.   Issues such as traffic and land development were in the forefront not surprisingly.  New issues resulted in the following: 

  • The Housing Element was amended to include a detailed housing site inventory to meet the city’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

  • A Neighborhood Element was introduced that incorporated all of the previously-prepared and adopted neighborhood plans into the General Plan.

  • A Governance Element was introduced to address and promote community outreach and involvement.

  • An Economic Vitality Element was introduced to address local business growth and economy

He said that one housing issue was that private developers were not stepping up to build units on city sites that have been approved for years.  They were more concerned with amending the city’s General Plan.  He also said that there was more emphasis on including caretaker housing in senior complexes. Regarding transportation, he said the city was updating its bicycle and downtown parking plans. It also was working to make parking more available to the public during the day because private parking lots were underused. We’ve been active in supporting affordable housing projects.   

There is a new project at Hamilton—a HUD parcel for the homeless that will focus on increasing homeless and workforce housing into permanent housing. Sena-tor Mike McGuire is a major supporter. The HB staff will have room for more kitchens and event space.

Asked about homeless people living in cars, Mary Kay said the County must get serious about this issue. She added HB is looking at a vacant site on South Eliseo as good spot. (I live in an apartment down the street

from that site, and I agree it’s a good location, close to Marin General and surrounded by medical facilities.)

At our April 9 meeting, we were introduced to the Co-Housing (coho) movement, a national group that is de-veloping its first Marin project at Hamilton Field in No-vato, “C Street Village”. Its professional partners, Judy Slater and John Caye, who joined forces in the coho movement in the eastern U.S and gradually moved west setting up new projects, now have homes in No-vato.

They explained the six tenets of coho projects: co-developed; extensive common facilities; designed to facilitate community interactions; resident managed; no hierarchy consensus in decision-making; sharing

(but not communes). The original coho focus was on families with children under 16, but now families of 40 -year-olds are also a focus.

Judy and John held a public meeting Dec. 20 to lay out their plans for Novato: 40 two-story, privately-owned homes clustered around a central green space with gardens and play areas; a Common House (the heart of the community) with rooms for community gatherings, spaces for kids to play, a space to prepare meals, do laundry, spend quiet time with friends, and celebra-tions; energy efficient homes and the desire to share resources like vehicles, equipment and tools to mini-mize waste and lighten environmental impacts.

This focus on forming a “community” is occurring as the mood in Marin is shifting toward alternates to sin-gle-family, non-generational housing and a growing interest in “custom” neighborhoods and cost con-sciousness. Judy described coho as another program to provide much-needed housing for those who don’t have the wealth to pay for housing in Marin. As a re-sult, the city of Novato defined the coho project as “affordable.” She said that, while this isn’t an afforda-ble project similar to the EAH housing model, the range of home costs involved in managing the proper-ty decreases over time. The Novato project’s core groups raised $600,000, found expert advisors, and picked the Hamilton site. Judy said they hope to finish design review in June and then go to the Novato City Council for approval. They aim to complete the pro-ject in late 2021. Our Novato Cohort will be following the project.

Fairfax: TLUH member and Fairfax resident Doug Moore has been our advocacy representative in the ongoing effort to win approval for the Fairfax Victory Village affordable senior housing project. Hearings will continue into May. Most encouraging is that supporters are quite active in the community and outnumbering opponents at the hearings.  

Domincan Housing: Longtime League member Patty Garbarino, President, Marin Sanitary Service, Gala cosponsor, and a Dominican neighbor,  read the League’s letter of sup-port at the hearing of the San Rafael Planning Commission on March 14 on the Dominican Sisters’ housing plan for two homeless mothers and their four young children.   San Rafael City Hall was packed with supporters, and the commission unanimously approved the housing plan. 

Bay Area League Day: A group of us attended the Bay Area League Day on Jan. 28 in San Jose.   From local and state officials we learned practical advice on lobbying local officials and framing our message to them.  There was also discussion about collaborating with other groups and educating the public about such things as “affordable housing myths”--but we already have been doing that in Marin.

Judy Binsacca, TLUH  

On Feb. 6, 2017 LWVMC members attended Bay Area League Day in Oakland, which focused on the affordable housing and resident-displacement challenges facing the Bay Area. One issue that has immediate resonance in Marin focused on the social equity involved in funding choices. SMART’s focus on getting the train to Larkspur Landing up and running is raising concern over the major, lengthy disruption to Marin Transit’s bus service at San Rafael’s Bettini Transit Center, which is used by 9000 people daily, many from low-income communities. Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney at Public Advocates Inc., stressed that in funding transportation, social equity is overlooked. What is needed is more transit for workers who must use buses instead of the continued focus on transport solutions (freeways, trains) for those who are better off financially. 

At our February TLUH meeting, Kim Thompson, Executive Director, CLAM (Community Land Trust Assn. of West Marin), explained that a land trust is a community’s answer to dealing with land use issues, especially affordable housing, in order to create permanent stewardship of the land and its inhabitants. Its active board of 150-200 long-time residents has pursued bridge loans, private donors and widespread community support. 

Kim is excited about the growing involvement of local community organizations: the Pt. Reyes Village Assn., San Geronimo Valley Affordable Housing Assn., Bolinas Community Land Trust, Bolinas Utility District and Main Street Moms. The hurdles CLAM faces include vacation rentals and a median home price of $1.1 million that have “hollowed out” the West Marin community. As a result, businesses are closing as workers can’t find housing and the number of regular customers has fallen. Ranchers are having problems keeping workers. 

CLAM also has to deal with the Coastal Commission and the Local Coastal Plan. One bright spot is the ongoing efforts of negotiations between the county and the U.S. Coast Guard over preserving the 36 affordable units at the USCG residential facility near downtown Pt. Reyes at a reasonable assessed value. 

In support of affordable housing efforts to benefit the entire county, CLAM is now working with CALM (Coalition for a Livable Marin) MEHC (Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative), Marin Organizing Committee, Marin Inter-faith Council, Sustainable Marin, and, of course, LWVMC. 

At our March meeting we met Barbara Clifton Zarate, a Marin Community Foundation Program Director who now has the affordable housing portfolio formerly held by Marc Rand. A Marin native, Barbara has an extensive background in working with communities of need in Marin. She enumerated the current MCF investments: home-lessness and the adopt-a-family program; assisting Legal Aid of Marin with eviction cases; the emergency shelter and transitional housing programs: REST (Rotating Emer-gency Shelter program), Homeward Bound, Lily Pad, Whistlestop; property acquisition and preservation grants and loans; and community development. In late spring the MCF board will present updates on the major issues contained in its Strategic Plan. 

Judy Binsacca, TLUH