Last fall, Marin’s 12 jurisdictions faced a monumental political challenge: to build, before May, the framework for a more vibrant and inclusive Marin.
As spring turns to summer, we can look back on the 12 housing elements that our communities passed, and the 12 political fights they sparked. We stand proud for what Marin accomplished.
From the beginning, the Coalition for a Livable Marin (CALM) sought to bring together the pillars of our community to pursue the cause of affordable housing.
Early on, we were joined by the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative, Sustainable Marin, the Marin Interfaith Council, Marin Organizing Committee, and the venerable League of Women Voters of Marin County, among others, to highlight the harm our housing crisis presented to Marin’s standing as a county that pursues social and environmental justice.
Marin’s low-income families and elders are forced to live in cars and storage lockers or are crammed into small apartments. We cannot say we care for “the least of these” yet turn a blind eye to the indignities our neighbors suffer.
We also reached out to the business community, which has long had trouble recruiting talent because of Marin’s high housing costs.
The North Bay Leadership Council spoke strongly that more affordable homes is a double win for business by attracting more talent to move and stay and bringing more customers who live in downtowns.
And we reached out to residents to come and testify.
This wasn’t just about quotas and social justice abstractions. It was about building up neighborhoods and helping real people with real struggles.
In a late-night council meeting in Fairfax, one woman broke down recounting her story.
She was born and raised there. She went to Sir Francis Drake High. But with rents rising much faster than her income, she would soon need to leave the town she had called home her whole life.
If the council did not act, Fairfax would effectively push her out and shut the doors.
She wasn’t alone. Night after night, before exhausted planning commissions, town councils, city councils, and the Board of Supervisors, people told their elected representatives they wanted action.
They were tired of stonewalling and calls to do even less. They wanted more from their governments.
And Marin did do more. Every jurisdiction except Corte Madera found space to do more for affordable housing than the bare minimum required by state law.
Not one council “downzoned” or tried to scrape by with doing nothing. Our leaders took the power of local control and used it to do something for their constituents.
They said Yes, when the easy way was to say No.
The housing elements we have today are the result of years of work, carefully vetted by the communities they were written to serve. Contrary to claims about wild departures from local character, the housing elements fit hand-in-glove with zoning codes and general plans towns have nurtured for decades.
Indeed, it was those who pushed hardest against affordable housing who demanded towns change their zoning codes and general plans.
The 12 housing elements protect the legal framework for affordable homes and second units, but there is much more work to be done to put these into action. CALM and its coalition partners will keep up the heat as politicians and commissioners debate next steps.
The character of Marin is to say yes even when some say no.
As Marinites, we seek solutions where others seek deadlock. We embrace diversity; we do not shun it.
Join us at livablemarin.org to stand up for the vibrant, sustainable, inclusive county that Marin has again proven itself to be.
The Rev. Carol Hovis is the executive director of Marin Interfaith Council. She is a former public member of the IJ editorial board. David Levin is a member of Coalition for a Livable Marin. Former Marin County Supervisor and Novato Mayor Cynthia Murray is CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, a coalition of the North Bay’s largest employers.