Marin Independent Journal

Housing plan supersedes important community plans

- By Sharon Rushton Sharon Rushton, a Marin resident, is president of Sustainabl­e TamAlmonte.

Last month, the Marin County Board of Supervisor­s adopted the 2023-2031 Marin County housing element update, as well as various countywide plan amendments related to the county's plan for housing.

Among other consequenc­es, these amendments needlessly eviscerate community plans, leaving areas open to developmen­t with minimal controls.

Most importantl­y, there is no requiremen­t by the state that community plans must be weakened in order to achieve a compliant housing element, according to legal counsel.

Community and environmen­tal organizati­ons, which are located within the jurisdicti­ons of the 26 Marin County community plans, are coordinati­ng an effort to maintain the integrity of community plans. There is still limited time for the supervisor­s to reverse their mistake.

Part of this endeavor involves gathering signatures on a petition titled; “Reverse the Needless Destructio­n of Community Plans in Marin County.” The list of signatures is growing rapidly.

Community plans are vital to guide the Marin County Planning Division because each community has different physical aspects, goals and desires. These plans were meticulous­ly studied and drafted by local residents over many years. They are extremely valued documents that state community goals, objectives, policies and implementa­tion programs relative to the current and foreseeabl­e future conservati­on and developmen­t issues facing each community.

If you care about preserving the environmen­t, habitat and wildlife; protecting public health and safety; maintainin­g views; controllin­g traffic congestion; carefully planning for developmen­t; keeping our small-town/ semi-rural neighborho­od character; and safeguardi­ng a host of other treasured aspects of living in Marin, then you will also care about saving community plans.

For example, the Strawberry community plan is a thoughtful and very detailed guide for the creation and placement of multifamil­y housing, single-family housing and affordable housing. It also specifies how open space should be preserved, among other beneficial guidelines.

If the countywide plan amendments prevail, then this careful, location-specific planning would be replaced with the very general, unspecific county zoning.

Another example: Among other directives, the community plan governing Tamalpais Valley, Almonte, Homestead and Muir Woods Park spells out specific dimension limitation­s for most of the commercial and mixed-use sites in Tam Valley and Almonte. Accordingl­y, the commercial and mixed-use properties on the east side of Shoreline Highway are limited to 15-feet high, in order to preserve treasured Bothin Marsh habitat and wildlife, as well as maintain scenic views of the marsh and the bay throughout the community. The community plan is the only place this height limit is found.

This situation repeats itself in the context of all of the community plans. They are the sole planning documents for many critical properties.

As referenced above, land use attorney Riley Hurd determined that there is no requiremen­t by California to downgrade community plans. In a letter addressed to the Board of Supervisor­s dated Jan. 23, Hurd wrote about the amendments or “edit” to the Marin countywide plan pertaining to community plans:

“The real question is: why is this edit proposed at all? We already know that state law supersedes local regulation­s. … It's also a fact that housing projects may avail themselves of waivers from any local standard that precludes the project from reaching its maximum density.

“So, what is the point here other than to try and eliminate Community Plans in a roundabout way? … Please reject these amendments, as the stated goal of allowing housing is already covered by state law.”

The best course of action for the supervisor­s is to immediatel­y reverse the countywide plan text amendments and retain the preferred longstandi­ng language regarding community plans in order to preserve the essential integrity of these vital plans. Due to state time restrictio­ns related to the adoption of the housing element, time is of the essence.

If this issue resonates with you, then please sign the online petition to save community plans at­ityPlans. Send related emails to the Marin County supervisor­s at bos@marincount­ and spread the news.

If the countywide plan amendments prevail, then this careful, locationsp­ecific planning would be replaced with the very general, unspecific county zoning.

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