The housing development that the Ecumenical Association for Housing (EAH) wants to build on almost 20 acres in the middle of little Point Reyes Station is moving inexorably on. The next stage will be a community meeting on May 11 (Tuesday evening) at the Red Barn in Point Reyes Station, during which the League of Women Voters will oversee a written ballot on whether or not EAH should proceed.
The vote itself will be for or against a specific EAH design and number of units for the property (50 units comprised of 26 affordable rentals, ten small cottages, eight live/work units and the remainder in larger single family houses). EAH designers have worked and reworked the layout design, going so far as to suggest specific building details and specifications, in order to satisfy the community.
The end result is that most of the general community believe that the design as shown to them at the April 21st meeting, along with previous discussions on building details, is 1) going to be built by EAH and 2) will be pretty much just as it has been described and pictured over the last several meetings.
The hard reality, however, is that everything other than the 26 affordable rentals will be built by other developers and will change multiple times depending on bottom line considerations of those developers. EAH has always honestly stated that they are not in the business of building anything other than affordable units (in our case, 26 of them). They have always said they intend to sell off the land for the market rate components to market rate developers.
The design is thus simply a basic master plan required to show the county and get the show rolling. Just because it shows ten small cottages clustered in a corner, for example, doesn't mean that they will end up being affordable in any way other than they may be small and thus cheaper. The big question is how a market rate developer will negotiate "adjustments" to the master plan in order to make it sufficiently profitable for himself.
Voters are being asked to decide the issue more on faith in EAH and its unknown market rate developer(s) than on hard facts. Voters are also being asked to have faith that the envisioned community septic system will neither set a precedent in West Marin for inappropriately dense development nor impact water quality in Lagunitas Creek. Questa Engineering, the chosen contractor for the septic system, is the same company now in trouble at French Ranch over a pond failure before the development even got built. This is a crap shoot on Point Reyes Station's future.
If we are being asked to have faith in EAH, it is not a good sign that for months, people have been asking hard questions concerning both environmental issues pertinent to the project, and quality of life issues pertinent to residents and businesspeople of Point Reyes Station itself... with no answers. Almost all of those questions and concerns have been either ignored outright or deferred until a nebulous "later time."
Too many community members are counting on an EIR to ultimately protect them and the environment from damage. It should be remembered that the EIR is controlled in large part by the organization paying for it...EAH. Further, if the community is asking few real questions now, what makes one think they will suddenly become critical thinkers and sophisticated analysts during the EIR process?
If a consensus is not reached in the vote, EAH has stated publicly that it will fold its tent and leave. The implied threat is then that a market rate developer will appear and build the maximum amount of homes for which the land will perc, estimated by Questa Engineering to be less than 24. No one really knows what will occur if EAH departs, except that any developer will still have to deal with the community and an EIR.
It is unlikely, however, that EAH will leave. The strategy from the start of defining the "community" as consisting of people in four zip codes (Point Reyes Station, Inverness, Olema and Marshall) has given project approval a significant edge.
Early project proponents and Supervisor Kinsey knew at the beginning of the process that imposing a large housing project (50 units) on the gentle hill adjacent to the downtown area would greatly impact the people who live in Point Reyes Station itself. The fact that there is a private senior retirement complex to be built on adjacent parcels brought the total units to 86 proposed for a town of only 362 residential units. That 24 percent increase in town size at one time was ripe to be seriously questioned by residents.
The strategic answer was to define the "community" as all the towns around Tomales Bay, including the ranches throughout the area. In that way, someone living five miles away on a ridge in Inverness can vote for affordable housing someplace other than where they themselves live, and feel they have done a good deed.
Further, the number of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who desperately want affordable housing, now and in the future, somewhere in West Marin are a ready made large voting block for the project. The lack of affordable housing throughout West Marin is a real and important problem. It is thus quite natural that those needing such housing see the village character, quality of life issues and environmental concerns of Point Reyes Station residents to be expendable as a sacrifice to "affordable housing." Unfortunately, it is also short sighted. If a community septic does indeed result in opening the door to more inappropriate developments in West Marin OR if the community septic system impacts Lagunitas Creek, will the price and the sacrifice be worth it for 26 rental units?
It is sad that more creative, less impactful ways to provide such housing throughout West Marin have been ignored while opting for a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
The ultimate losers in this equation are the present residents, homeowners and renters, of Point Reyes Station. Their multiple concerns on size, environmental problems and quality of life issues have not been seriously addressed. Increases in traffic and traffic noise are a huge concern, but have been given short shift. Many consider themselves to have been disenfranchised and ignored. Their needs have been sublimated to the financial needs of EAH for no less than 50 units and the housing needs of people all over West Marin.
Nonetheless, the vote pro or con having faith in EAH and the unknown marketrate developers they will work with is about to take place. In anticipation one day several weeks ago, over 110 local residents, representing the full spectrum of views on the issue, signed a statement asking that EAH use the following guidelines for the vote:
No matter how the voting goes, the need for more affordable housing in West Marin will remain. Even if the project is ultimately built, it only means that 26 affordable rentals will be added to the residential mix. There are many more than 26 affordable rentals needed in West Marin. Once built, this proposed project would be the third such in Point Reyes Station. Where is the community drive for affordable units in Inverness, Olema, or Marshall?
Rather than wait for another developer from outside to come in and provide affordable housing, each community in West Marin needs to take a hard look at itself and ask why no affordable housing units are being proposed there. Rather than impose one inappropriately large development in Point Reyes Station, project proponents in Inverness, Olema and Marshall should take action to provide affordable housing units in their own towns. If no such action is taken, the term NIMBY would have garnered a new meaning in West Marin...."not in my backyard, but in yours."