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Take Note, Novato: Pleasanton Paid Out $4 Million to Fight Housing Quotas

Legal fees and lawsuits crippled the city coffers in Pleasanton as it fought for control of future housing plans. Could the same have happened in Novato?

One camp in Novato's ongoing affordable housing debate favored flat-out ignoring of mandates from the state that forced the city to zone for future housing developments.

The Do Nothing plan — intentional noncompliance with guidelines set by state and regional agencies — gained some favor with Novato residents fighting against high-density complexes that they said would be havens for crime and reduce surrounding property values.

But look what happened in Pleasanton. Before the City Council down there approved the housing element portion of the city's general plan update this week, legal bills had totaled $3.9 million as it repeatedly lost lawsuits filed by affordable housing coalitions. Check out this story in the Pleasanton Weekly.

Novato is moving forward with its housing element, sending a draft version to the state office of Housing and Community Development for review. Residents spent about two years hammering city employees and the Association of Bay Area Governments about the lack of local control over what is done with property within the city limits. Quotas be damned, they said, often at high volume.

But the Pleasanton lesson is profound. What's your viewpoint on compliance with the state and regional authorities about housing plans? Is it worth challenging with gusto or is it a risk no longer worth taking? Add a comment below.

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Lloyd October 20, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Brant please lets compare apples and apples. Correct me if I am wrong but didn't Pleasanton refuse to accommodate it rhna allocations by limiting the amount of homes that could be granted through restrictive zoning. Novato's housing element completely meets the RHNA imposed numbers. A lawsuit sabre rattling by Ms Cresilius and her development pawns are empty threats. Novato is meeting not only its obligation now but has exceeded in previous elements the number of AH units actually built. This is altogether different then the Pleasanton situation. Someone with a legal background needs to take a long hard look (and maybe advise the City Council and Attorney) Perhaps the only threat is to the pocketbooks of development interests that want to act as carpetbaggers. It appears Ms. Cresilius definition of consensus on the AH working group really was more like capitulation or else. If, as stated she supports 20 units per acre for Novato then other than some tweaking to certain counted numbers where is this threat of lawsuit coming from? I urge the City Council to continue to stand by its residents and not bend to baseless threats and coercion. Our City has no obligation to name any other sites as long as the ones designated fulfill our commitments. It is time to take a long hard look who is doing the threatening and what they really stand for. Interesting how they avoid any AH need for our wealthier enclaves to the south. Wonder why?
Lloyd October 20, 2012 at 03:51 PM
p.s. I have said this b4 and I'll say it again. The City should hire a real advocate (attorney) for our rights and be prepared to not only challenge these threats but turn the tables and counter-sue when it is shown these lawsuits target lower income cities like Novato in Marin and are discriminatory in nature, and baseless in reality to the real goals of actual AH provision. There are some things worth fighting for such as the rights and well being of our entire town. Self-certify our element, provide fiscal relief for the creation of second units that serve our existing residents along with providing affordable work force housing, continue to build senior developments for our aging parents and others. Novato can and does all this so lets not be shamed for doing the right thing all along by greedy, for profit, tax avoidance developers.
Dave Robertson October 22, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Yes, good point. Basically "we don't give in to terrorists!" Pleasanton had the guts to fight for their rights. Second units are of minimal help, and present lots of problems to deal with. Affordable work force housing is not as easy as it sounds as it can be turned into low-income no work force housing with a few eraser strokes on the building plans. Housing for seniors is essential. We should now force people out of the place they have lived for years just because they have gone onto a fixed-income. But senior housing can be more easily designated as senior housing and it will attract honest developers with good attitudes.
Dave Robertson October 22, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Tina: I do not know many people who commute - then again, I do not know that many people in Novato. I do know that lots of people commute from Santa Rosa to the City ... so Novato isn't that big a trek for most. I'm afraid this is the way of the 21st century. I moved here because a nice home was "affordable" at the time. SR and south were expensive and not so nice. If I had to do it over, I would choose some other area. This area has changed a lot - especially in the last 10 years. Cookie cutter neighborhoods approved by our desperate city council to get warm bodies here in the hope that they can rebuild a useful downtown. The low income housing would really turn me off now. Senior housing is fine, but why move to a place that is actively trying to marginalize existing property values with rezoning tricks and others to build extensive housing for other low-income people? I would be most turned off by a city and city council that was too weak or not bright enough to see how they are destroying a city. Who wants to buy a ticket to the titanic after the fact?
Tina McMillan October 22, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Dave: Having lived here and raised two children here I have an attachment to the community. Novato has always had to contribute to the AH quotas but in recent years due to the declining economy, the fact that we are not a basic aid school district, the overdevelopment of AH at Hamilton, and the push following Schwartzenegers implementation of SB375, to build housing without a tax base and that does not reflect the needs of the community, we all need to become active participants in city government if we want to save our communities. I never thought I would spend my evenings reading housing elements and double checking the city council agendas for MTC, ABAG and One Bay Area funded projects but that is what takes up my time. In Novato, if you have skin in the game you need to participate in local government to help your community. What we build, how its funded and where its located are extremely important decisions that I am not willing to leave to Marin Community Foundation, AH developers or AH proponents like SUNN. Since the passage of SB375 we have taken a stand that is essentially socially engineered communities that turn suburban and rural towns into mini urban hubs. This whole idea that putting people closer together cures the carbon footprint and leads to a utopian society is hogwash! I support the reduction in fees for second units to help families help ailing parents and adult children who are living at home. It is not about quotas but people.

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