The Coastal Post - March, 1999

Questions About Pt. Reyes Affordable Housing Unanswered

By Jeanette Pontacq

The "affordable" housing project proposed for Point Reyes Station by the Ecumenical Association for Housing (EAH) and Supervisor Steve Kinsey is moving inexorably on. More correctly, EAH is still working through their strategic process of public meetings to solicit an ultimate consensus from the community for the project. The desired consensus, however, is proving more and more elusive, if not illusory.

To refresh memories, the project was originally announced by EAH as a 50-unit "affordable" housing development for West Marin to be sited in Point Reyes Station. The initial majority reaction within town to such a large development was shock at the size, especially when it was realized that the 50 units would be adjacent to a proposed 36-unit senior housing development proposed independently by a group in Inverness. For a small town of only 362 residences, that added up to a potential 24% increase overnight.

The number 50 was soon strategically deleted from the proposal, with both EAH and Supervisor Kinsey telling the community that no specific number of units was being proposed. Instead, people were told that there would be a series of public meetings that would let the community itself decide not only the number of units that were acceptable, but even the design and site placement. The idea that the community itself could decide the number of units is disingenuous. After all, EAH has a unit number below which it cannot go and still have a financially viable development.

What has been blatantly kept out of these public meetings by EAH's meeting facilitator, David Early, is any real discussion of public concerns and issues about the project as a land issue. By having the development labeled "affordable housing" in an area that sorely needs more, residents who would normally stringently question a developer on land use issues are dangerously silenced.

Common sense demands that one cannot site a project or design it or even decide how many units will be involved until certain basic issues are settled within a community. Until those basic issues are seriously addressed and agreed upon by the larger community, any consensus ultimately announced by EAH will be manufactured and false.

Every environment has a carrying capacity which is limited by the resources available, particularly air, water and space. At any given time, the carrying capacity of any region is also limited by the man-made facilities available, such as schools, sewers and water distribution systems. Any development proposed for West Marin must be seen within the carrying capacity. Until this particular development is judged by those standards, no real community conversation can take place on the suitability and sustainability of the project for Point Reyes Station.

The serious land use and environmental issues concerning this proposed development need to be discussed and investigated BEFORE the developer takes the next step and commits to build. Waiting for an EIR to address the obvious problems is folly and will result in the town's expensive long-range mitigation on many fronts.

An example is the fact that the proposed development is on a hill that slopes down to Lagunitas Creek, where the wells are located for the town's fresh water. What happens on that parcel will end up in the creek. Common sense. There is no septic system that could be proposed that I would trust to be 100% perfect and never impact the creek. And who pays for mitigation five years from now when the creek is judged impacted? And what about runoff into the town itself, when the town has no storm drains. First it floods the town periodically, then it ends up in Lagunitas Creek.

This is just one concern that has not been addressed. Here are some others to think about....

1. The problem of a precedent for further development all over West Marin inherent in a

community septic system for both the senior housing and the proposed "affordable

housing."

2. Questionable continuous fresh water supply during drought years for such large growth.

3. Lack of storm drains within Point Reyes Station to accept runoff from a building site above.

4. Questions concerning the real affordability for the proposed "affordable housing. "Second, that

units will stay affordable in perpetuity. Example/problem already existent in present

affordable housing project in town where one owner has moved and rents his unit at market rate.

5. Lack of infrastructure within the area to support large or even medium-size low-income housing developments. A rule of thumb in placing such projects is that a sufficient support infrastructure be existent. Example/no public transportation exists.

6. Impact on the integrity of Tomales Bay's water quality by heavy population increases along waterways (Lagunitas Creek). Example/ See French Ranch problem with negative impact on coho salmon and water quality.

7. Impact on town ambiance and feeling, which has been judged to be very important to all process participants.

8. That EAH will refuse to build a development sized properly to the town (average mentioned by

residents is under 20), insisting on a larger number to make it financially viable for EAH.

9. That EAH will sell off parts of the property in question to market rate housing and commercial development in order to finance the affordable units, thus covering the entire property with buildings and adding even more growth to the town.

10. The widely perceived ghettoization of low-income housing project residents within Point Reyes Station, rather than dispersed throughout West Marin villages.

11. The potential stress on West Marin School in Point Reyes Station by more enrollees, when there is already a problem with quality highlighted by the large number of families that opt to send their children to other schools, many over the hill.

12. The lack of job opportunities at decent wages in the area

13. Concern over the fact that Point Reyes Station residents, who have the largest stake in protecting their immediate environment, have been disenfranchised and disempowered by the county allowing residents of other villages to have the majority say on what happens

on this issue.

14. Increases on traffic/circulation/parking problems within Point Reyes Station, especially on Mesa Road and Highway One intersections. Problems already exist and would be exacerbated.

15. Strong concern over using Questa Engineering as the septic "expert." Questa's competence is now being questioned due to failures at French Ranch that have potentially impacted the nearby stream and the coho salmon.

The EAH proposal for a housing project in Point Reyes Station is an urban solution to a rural problem. What fits in East Marin does not necessarily fit in West Marin. This is a turning point for the town. There is another way to provide affordable housing for those who need it here without accepting a housing development in the middle of town. If the same effort and enthusiasm being expended on this project was instead expended on getting the county to set up a special regulation for West Marin to foster affordable second units throughout the area, we would avoid both the ghettoization of the low-income residents and the environmental problems inherent in the proposed project. To continue down the road with this urban solution will come back to haunt the town. That's a guarantee.

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