Marin Voice: Former mayors take issue with Sausalito’s land ‘give away’

By Annette Rose and Ron Albert
Guest op-ed column

POSTED:   11/25/2013 06:30:00 PM PST
ON OCT. 22 , the Sausalito City Council voted 4—0, with one abstention, to donate the city’s half interest in a two-acre property on Butte Street to a land trust, if funding from a land trust can be found to purchase the remaining half interest held by a private owner.

The land would be held forever as “open space.”

This was a bad vote on at least four counts: It violates the spirit of full disclosure to the community, the task force that was selected was not representative of the community, it endorses a give-away of valuable land held in public trust and it eliminates without replacement the largest potential multi-family housing site in the city.

On the first count, while there may not have been a legal mandate for notices to be sent to adjacent property owners, housing advocates and newspapers about this pending move, this stealthy process was a clear violation of good governance as well as the spirit of notification laws.

Apparently this deal was some time in the making. Earlier this year, the city quietly created a “Butte Street Task Force” composed solely of neighbors of the property who were upset at the possibility of housing being built on the site.

The Task Force was asked to make a recommendation as what should be done with the property. The only public notices of the existence of this Task Force and its activities were some postings at City Hall. There was no community outreach to the general public regarding this valuable property, which is the largest remaining undeveloped parcel in Sausalito, and which has been zoned for multi-family housing for at least 30 years.

Second, the selection of such a one-sided Task Force violates the ethics and morals of good governance, both in terms of process and membership. The Task Force was comprised solely of neighbors who pressured the council two years ago to oppose the possibility of housing at the site. Anyone with knowledge of the composition of this Task Force could easily have guessed the type of recommendations that it would make to the city.

Third, this give-away was done under the pretext of preserving open space.


Sausalito is blessed with a remarkable amount of open space. We are nearly surrounded by the San Francisco Bay, Richardson’s Bay and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with only a narrow strip of land connecting us to the rest of Marin County.

The city also already has substantial amounts of open space within its city limits. At the very least, the city should be compensated for this valuable community-owned resource. Instead, the council has given away a valuable city property without due process.

And this brings us to the fourth point.

So, why did the city give away a valuable property at the behest of a select group with an obvious special interest, and with the least possible public notice? Simple: the property is zoned for multi-family housing, and the recently adopted Housing Element designated the property as a possible housing site. This is an ideal in-fill site for multi-family housing, with adjacent properties already developed with multi-family housing.

It was a terrible mistake for the council to give away a public resource for the benefit of a small interest group with the absolute minimum of public notices. And it was done for the worst of reasons: to deny housing opportunity for entry level families in Sausalito.

We served as public officials and made our share of mistakes. The real test for public officials is how they respond when an error occurs.

The wrong response is to dig in your heels and try to justify a bad decision. The right response is for the council to acknowledge that this was a flawed process, that the need for affordable housing in Sausalito far surpasses the need for more open space, and to make a commitment to not transfer this property for any purpose other than multi-family housing unless the city creates comparable new locations for multi-family housing in Sausalito.

Annette Rose and Ron Albert are former mayors of Sausalito. Rose also is a former county supervisor.

County of Marin


For Immediate Release
June 19, 2013

Developer Files Application for Marinwood Plaza

If approved, shopping center would be redeveloped as a mixed-use complex.


[click here for link]


Choosing the future we want – Plan Bay Area
May 9, 2013 at Dominican College
Choosing the Future We Want

Recorded September 19, 2012 at the San Rafael Community Center.

A public forum taking a “bird’s eye” view of Marin County and how it might change over the next 40 years. 

Click here to view.


An Opinion Page piece in the Marin IJ by MEHC co-chair Marge Macris:

Marin Voice: Choosing the Future We Want

By Marge Macris

Guest op-ed column
Posted:   09/12/2012 06:10:00 AM PDT

A WIDE RANGE of community groups has come together to mount a public forum looking at how Marin might change over the next 40 years. “Choosing the Future We Want: Environmental, Equity and Climate Solutions for Marin” will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the San Rafael Community Center at 618 B Street.

Everyone is welcome to come out and join the discussion.

A panel will present various perspectives, and Marin Supervisor Kate Sears will moderate. The Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative, Sustainable Marin, Sustainable San Rafael, Marin Conservation League, Marin County League of Women Voters, and Marin TV/Channel 26 are sponsoring the event.

The people of Marin have a proud history of planning and achieving the future we want.

In 1972, the county published “Can the Last Place Last?” That report laid the foundation for the Marin Countywide Plan, adopted by the Board of Supervisors the following year. The plan established the principle that environmental constraints, not the market alone, would limit and shape development in Marin.

Before then, adopted plans showed subdivisions throughout the agricultural land of central Marin, along the shores of Tomales Bay and along our ridgelines. Two freeways would cut through to West Marin. The amount of development and the increase in commuters would require 18 lanes at the Golden Gate Bridge.

The proposed Marincello project called for thousands of apartment units in the Marin Headlands.

The cities and the county worked together on the plan that set forth a new vision.

Agriculture, not subdivisions, would be the main use in West and Central Marin. The county would support the expansion of national parks along the coast.

Development would concentrate around the existing communities of East Marin. Ridge-lines, creeks and shorelines would be protected.

The three corridors designated in the plan, Coastal Recreation, Inland Rural and City-Centered, have remained the basic framework for land use decisions.

In 2007, the most recent revision of the Countywide Plan added the Baylands Corridor to protect diked historic tidelands and adjacent habitats along San Pablo Bay.

Some of the plan’s policies have not been accomplished. Housing prices continue to be too high to accommodate much of Marin’s workforce. Intra-county public transportation has not been adequately improved. But the environmental vision of the plan, strongly supported by the people who prepared it, was accomplished through careful regulations and open space acquisition.

The next 40 years present a new set of challenges: climate change, sea level rise, an inadequate supply of housing to meet the needs of the workforce and an aging population. State laws now require that local general plans be revised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in part by reducing vehicle miles traveled and to increase opportunities for affordable housing.

Choosing the Future We Want will address these challenges, and allow a free exchange of ideas by the public.

Speakers will be:

• Bob Brown, former San Rafael community development director, on communities that reduce carbon pollution and curb climate change.

• Betty Pagett of the League of Women Voters of Marin County, on communities that deliver housing choices that meet equity, economic and environmental needs.

• Nona Dennis, former president of the Marin Conservation League, on communities that respect environmental constraints and conserve natural resources.

• John King, urban design critic, San Francisco Chronicle, on how to create vital, livable communities that express architectural richness of place.

Come and participate in helping Marin County once again choose the future we want.

For further information, call (415) 381-6667 or e-mail

Marge Macris is a former Marin County planning director and is the co-chair of the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative.


Marin Voice: Affordable housing need is obvious

By Ron Albert
Marin Independent Journal, November 27, 2011
Guest Op-ed Column

THE MARIN Environmental Housing Collaborative is a countywide partnership that includes affordable housing, environmental, neighborhood, and social justice advocates.

The Environmental Housing Collaborative works collaboratively to promote public support for projects that advance affordable housing, environmental integrity and social justice.

During the past year, the Environmental Housing Collaborative has collaborated with North San Rafael residents in the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train station area planning process, co-sponsored a community forum on the housing element process and endorsed a fact-based, respectful housing dialogue in Novato.

The Environmental Housing Collaborative recognizes the vital importance of affordable housing to our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Marin needs more housing options for people with a range of incomes, including some of those who now commute long distances each day to work in our stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools and offices.

Land-use policies are key to environmental protection.

Affordable housing is also an asset to our communities.

The ability to walk to services and amenities brings vitality to neighborhoods. Businesses benefit from being able to hire local employees, who in turn spend locally, generating tax revenues to sustain public services.

The state-mandated housing element process is far from perfect. State legislative changes are necessary to allow for more flexibility to fulfill Regional Housing Needs Allocations for Marin cities and towns.

Some Marin cities and towns may bow to local political pressures and attempt to resist state requirements, and some may choose to invest time and money to encourage amendments to housing element law.

However, communities should not put more affordable housing options on hold while they pursue such efforts with the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the California Legislature.

The unmet need for deed-restricted, truly affordable housing is obvious.

We see this need in teacher turnover rates in the Novato Unified School District; in our seniors who cannot afford to stay in their home communities; and in the number of formerly homeless individuals in transitional housing who cannot find affordable permanent housing.

We delay compliance with housing element law at our own peril because by not complying we turn our backs on our responsibility to begin to reverse global warming trends and to support our local economy.

At the same time, the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative is mindful of the environmental issues of specific sites, and supports sites that are outside of wetlands, wetland buffers and stream conservation areas, and are located near transit, jobs and retail.

The Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative supports efforts in each of our 12 jurisdictions to find sites feasible for small multi-unit, environmentally friendly residential developments and to rezone those sites, if necessary, to accommodate those developments.

Former Sausalito Mayor Ron Albert is chair of the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative.


Open Space and Affordable Housing Advocates Working Together

Imagine: Marin Philanthropist Magazine, Spring 2010 (a publication of the Marin Community Foundation)
Environmentalists and advocates for affordable housing aren’t the predictable adversaries they once were. That’s the assessment of a growing number of people who come from those two camps—to the extent that the lines between them are
being blurred by a shared vision commonly known as smart growth…As described by its proponents, the notion of smart growth addresses the protection, and creation, of open space—thus reducing suburban sprawl—while concentrating development in the downtown areas of cities and towns in order to create more compact, transit-oriented, walkable communities. Key components
include mixed-use development—including, schools, retail space, and offices—parks, and, importantly, a range of housing options, including affordable housing. entire article (pdf).

Homes and Retail:  Win-Win for North Redwood Blvd

Report prepared by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and Housing California
on behalf of Novato Housing Coalition, Sustainable Novato, Greenbelt Alliance, Grassroots Leadership Network, Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative.

How North Redwood Boulevard evolves over the next 10–20 years will have a significant impact on Novato’s economic, environmental and fiscal health. Done right, development along North Redwood Boulevard can help the city achieve three of its core goals — strengthening the local economy, ensuring the success of SMART and creating a sustainable tax base — while maintaining the hometown charm valued by Novato residents and visitors. The key is ensuring that development along North Redwood Boulevard includes a strategic mix of housing and retail. entire article (pdf).

Zoning would allow housing, retail on North Redwood

Novato Advance, 03/31/10. Tim Omzaru.
A compromise is in the offing over what kind of development the city of Novato should allow on North Redwood Boulevard between Olive and Atherton avenues. The proposed deal is this: First, make sure enough property is set aside for a mall about one-third the size of Vintage Oaks that would produce sales tax revenue for the city. Second, allow up to 150 units of housing. That’s the gist of what was suggested recently by the Novato Chamber of Commerce. By making the proposal, the chamber is stepping back from its historical support for purely commercial development on that section of North Redwood – and housing advocates seem OK with the proposed compromise. “As Joe Biden would say, I’m cautiously optimistic that we can agree,” said Katie Crecelius of the Novato Housing Coalition, which has been advocating for housing on North Redwood along with another group, Sustainable Novato… entire article (pdf)

Groups taking the “no” out of Novato through compromise

Novato Advance, 03/31/10. Editorial Staff
Deciding how the city should allow development to take place on North Redwood Boulevard between Olive and Atherton avenues looked like it might turn into a policy stand off. In one corner, you had the Novato Chamber of Commerce… [whose] initial position was that the city should push for retail development on North Redwood, since it’s “the last large commercially developable area in Novato,” and retail there would generate much-needed sales tax revenue. On the other side were the Novato Housing Coalition and Sustainable Novato, two groups that sought housing downtown. The chamber softened its possition after a public forum it held on Feb. 10 in the Novato City Hall [facilitated, in part, by MEHC]. The forum attracted a crowd, including all five City Councilwomen… panelists at the forum were no-nonsense business people… [who] leaned toward allowing some housing, saying it would help liven up downtown… entire article (pdf)

Housing also creates customers downtown

Marin IJ, 12/14/09. Letter by Marla Fields, Katie Crecelius and Whitney Merchant
With a reopened City Hall, an attractive Grant Avenue and plans to transform Redwood Boulevard, downtown Novato is on its way to becoming a destination. All that is missing are enough shoppers to keep the retail inbusiness – and the city can provide them with a vote for homes on Redwood Boulevard. Novato’s General PlanUpdate Steering Committee will meet Dec. 16 to discuss whether or not to recommend housing for North Redwood Boulevard in the area between Olive Avenue and San Marin Drive. Some have been advocating for justretail in this area, with the hope that sales tax revenue will fill city coffers. But what if the shops fail? The best wayto keep the new stores in business is to welcome new residents. There’s another reason to include homes in the plan for Redwood. If only retail is built, we miss an opportunity tocreate homes for people of all income levels. The median single family home in Marin requires an income of $250,000 per year, which leaves out too many of us: teachers, retail clerks, childcare providers and public safety employees… entire article (pdf)


Plan for Northgate makes sense–don’t forget housing

Marin IJ, 04/28/2008. Editorials, Staff Report.
Plans to turn Northgate mall into a more vibrant indoor-outdoor gathering place have received the green light from San Rafael. That is a good thing. … We also are encouraged that the developer agreed to start a “comprehensive” housing study within five years. This redevelopment agreement was pushed for by housing advocates; the initial plan had called for such a study within 10 years. … The Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative worked hard to keep housing on the front burner and to move up the schedule for the study. entire article (pdf).

Mall quiet on the housing front

Pacific Sun, 04/11/08. Peter Seidman.
Housing advocates have been trying to persuade the city that Northgate is a poster child for affordable workforce housing. Approving a development deal without an affordable housing component would throw away a critical opportunity for badly needed housing stock. … Macris and other advocates point to the positives: “It’s got services and transportation access. It’s a site that when you look at it, it cries out for mixed use, including affordable housing. It’s this sea of asphalt surrounding a sort of 1950s-style mall.” … The Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative is dedicated to working with groups that previously have butted heads. The collaborative approach to affordable housing is reminiscent of a similar tactic embraced by some environmental groups: that working with business interests can sometimes yield better results than trying to block those interests. That kind of give and take has marked the push for an affordable housing component at Northgate. entire article (pdf)

Northgate due for a makeover

Pacific Sun, 12/24/07. Peter Seidman.
The San Rafael Design Review Board started this week to look at plans for a major renovation of the Mall at Northgate. … But the plans do not include any housing, a key component many housing advocates had hoped would be included in a renovation plan. … While expressing an understanding of the city’s desire to support the Macerich renovation, Macris also says housing and environmental groups “have for a long time said how Northgate is perfect example of how we can use our land more efficiently to provide housing. This is the kind of place you want to have it, not in green fields like St. Vincent’s.” MEHC and Macerich have scheduled a meeting in January to discuss the issues. … “Despite all the problems and challenges connected with adding a component for housing at Northgate,” says Macris, “and I recognize that they are major, if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity, I don’t know what other chance we will have for something so obvious that ought to be done.” entire article (pdf)

Housing vital at Northgate

Marin IJ, 11/07/07. Letter by Marjorie Macris and Patsy White, Co-Chairs, Marin Evironmental Housing Collaborative.
The development of Northgate presents a unique opportunity to incorporate the benefits of mixed-use development. As the largest of the four regional shopping centers in Marin, The Mall at Northgate could become a vital model of retail and housing near each other, enabling residents to walk to jobs and retail stores, thus decreasing car trips and reducing the environmental footprint. … We are pleased to note some anticipated features, such as rollaway glass walls, the old oak tree as plaza centerpiece and a promenade for walkers and joggers. However, the site offers greater potential for a visionary re-use. … By adding housing to Northgate, we can make progress on Marin’s affordable housing goals without increasing the developed area. Including housing that is affordable and designed with the environment foremost in the mind would be truly visionary. entire article (pdf)

Why We Work for Higher Density

Marin collaborative brings housing and environment together

Sierra Club Yodeler, Sept/Oct 2007. Katie Crecelius, founding member of Marin Evironmental Housing Collaborative.
In the Bay Area, especially in my home county of Marin, higher density residential developments can be controversial. Numerous battles have occurred over proposed multi-unit residential developments near Caltrain and BART stations, bus routes, and freeway onramps. Two buzzwords – “traffic” and “density” – dominate discourse. Why should public officials risk their political lives to vote for higher-density residential and mixed-use residential/retail developments? [Among the many reasons:]

  • The Bay Area economy needs thoughtful, controlled, “smart” development. Stopping real-estate development would stifle our economy, upon which we depend for jobs and for tax income to pay for parks, police, schools, roads, etc.
  • To support thoughtful development while protecting Bay Area open-space buffers and greenbelts, elected officials need to allow higher densities in infill areas.
  • To reduce vehicle miles traveled, the Bay Area needs housing located near job centers. This housing needs to be affordable for households of all income ranges.

One Bay Area effort to support infill, higher-density multi-unit residential development is the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative. MEHC builds public support for environmentally friendly affordable housing through dialogue and collaboration among environmental and housing advocates. entire article (pdf)



Walk this Way, Urge Sustainable Development
(San Francisco Chronicle, 08/30/09)
by Assembly member Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Ethan Elkind, a Climate Change Research Fellow at the UC Berkeley and UCLA Schools of Law.

Square Table Brings Well-Rounded Housing Recommendations
(pdf of article in Marin Conservation League Newsletter, Jan/Feb 2010) by Nona Dennis, president of MCL


At Home in Novato

(4 min, production of Novato Housing Coalition)