For second time, locals hear limits of Coast Guard development

07/18/2018

Residents had a second chance to voice their hopes and concerns regarding the future of affordable housing at the Coast Guard property during a county meeting last Thursday. The evening, which drew nearly 200 people to West Marin School, was an opportunity to address a widely disgruntled response to a similar session in May. Comments at both gatherings centered around a desire to give locals first dibs on the property’s 36 homes. Yet county officials sitting on a four-person panel last Thursday maintained that fair housing laws block such a path.

Liz Darby, the county’s social equity policy coordinator, kicked off the night with some history on racial inequity in Marin, contextualizing the fair housing and civil rights laws that prohibit the county from giving preferential treatment to locals.

She was joined on the panel by the executive director of the Bolinas Community Land Trust, Arianne Dar; Leelee Thomas, the county’s housing planning manager; and Stephine Lovette, a program specialist with the Community Development Agency. The panel gave presentations on the state of the property and then fielded questions from the audience.

The Coast Guard still owns the 32-acre property adjacent to downtown Point Reyes Station. In accordance with 2016 legislation crafted by Congressman Jared Huffman, then-Supervisor Steve Kinsey and the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, the Coast Guard will sell the facility to the county—likely in 2019 or 2020, depending on the pace of negotiations. This year, the county will select a developer to manage and potentially own it. 

Nationwide, minorities did not have the same opportunities to rent or to purchase homes until the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Ms. Darby said. In Marin, many blacks migrated from the South during World War II to work at the Marinship Corporation—an emergency shipyard established to prepare warships—and stayed in what became Marin City. There the country’s first integrated federal housing project offered some refuge from the housing discrimination felt in neighboring cities.

Actively furthering fair housing, Ms. Darby said, “means taking meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access.” Fair housing laws are civil rights laws, she explained. The 1968 law prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing in housing-related transactions based on race, religion, marital status, color, sex, family status, national origin or disability.

Marin’s demographics are such that any preference for locals would violate this law, among others, Ms. Darby said. Point Reyes Station is 86 percent white, compared to the county’s white population at 72 percent and the Bay Area’s 53 percent.

Still, a number of people who attended the meeting continued to advocate for a preference for locals, citing the pressing need for housing for local workers, especially those in agriculture.

Though there are possible set-asides for farmworkers and people coming out of homelessness depending on the sources of funding for the development, preferences of any other kind are not possible, Ms. Darby emphasized.

“What about a preference that addresses the fact that some minority groups have already been displaced due to rising prices—one that tries to correct an inequity?” one woman asked.

Ms. Darby’s answer was firmly no. “There has to be a process that’s legal and transparent,” she said. “This is what fair housing is all about—opportunities. For people with a certain income level, we just need to provide the opportunities.”  

Ms. Dar described how the Bolinas Community Land Trust has conducted affirmative marketing plans, which the county will conduct for the Coast Guard property. These involve finding the people that are least likely to apply for the housing and marketing it to them. Within a 50-mile radius, the land trust advertises to health centers, community centers and daycares, she said, “places where populations would see our postings and see we have housing here.”

Yet Ms. Dar also sought to assuage some fears about not prioritizing locals.

“Out of the 72 families on our waiting list currently, there are maybe two families who are not in Bolinas already, and one lived there previously,” she said. “I think it’s unlikely that we are going to be flooded by people who are coming in to take housing—the people who want to come here would want to know they had a job. And they are going to be a part of your community; they aren’t replacing our community.”

Residents also had a variety of questions about timeline and process.

“Do you know what the income qualifications will be? The cost of the units? Will it be rental only, or will there be a potential to own? And are there plans to open the lottery now, so potential renters can plan to stay in the area?” Kim Hett, who rents a home with her family in Inverness, asked.

Ms. Thomas, the county’s housing planning manager, said income qualifications are yet to be determined. Still, the homes are earmarked for affordable housing, which is accessible to those making 80 percent or less of the median income for a family of four, which in Marin County is $118,000 per year. 

Contingent on funding sources, likely there would be a certain percentage of the housing designated specifically for lower percentages as well.

Ms. Thomas said the cost of the units was not yet known, and that there likely would not be the possibility of ownership. Residents interested in housing will have to wait until later in the process.

Likely later this summer, the county will release a request for proposals that describes the project’s needs and asks for proposed solutions from qualified developers.

Though the Board of Supervisors has the final decision, a recommendation will come from an advisory panel with county staff, financing experts, housing staff from neighboring cities and members of a community advisory group established last summer. That panel includes appointed representatives from the North Marin Water District, the Dance Palace Community Center, Shoreline Unified School District, West Marin Community Services, the West Marin Collaborative and other organizations and local businesses. 

One man at Thursday’s meeting asked how to help the Community Land Trust of West Marin win the bid for proposals.

“We’re hearing from you now,” Ms. Thomas said.

Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, whose remarks opened and closed the night, encouraged people to join, and donate to, local housing organizations to help them compete. 

Among the criteria for a developer is experience in major renovations, working in rural and agricultural communities, fundraising—including tax credits—and developing and managing affordable housing, Ms. Lovette said.

Once the county selects a developer, it expects to close the deal with the Coast Guard in 2019 or 2020, after which it must complete an environmental review and amend the Local Coastal Program and Countywide Plan to allow the existing housing and other uses envisioned by the community, as the current zoning is open area and allows only limited residential and agricultural use. It must also develop a septic system and renovate the property, after which the county can begin an affirmative marketing plan.

Audience members expressed frustration at the lengthy timeline.

Ms. Thomas said the county was also frustrated, especially given the dire need for housing in West Marin. Staffing holes within the Coast Guard have slowed negotiations, she explained.

“I thought we would close on this long before now,” she said. “I’m very aware of the urgent need, and I would love it if we could just paint the homes and have people move in, but unfortunately there are a lot of reasons why we can’t do that.”

 

An audio recording of the meeting is available at www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/housing/affordable-housing/coast-....