October 17 2013

Social Equity Or NIMBYism? Marin County’s Battle With Affordable Housing

This map was produced as part of the Human Development Project's "Snapshot of Marin" report

Marin County is home to thousands of acres of open space; national, state and regional parks; and one of the most staggering equity disparities in the country. According to the American Human Development Project, the median income for the wealthiest community in Marin County, Tiburon, is $80,000; the lowest is Canal at $21,000. The Canal area, a primarily Latino neighborhood, falls short in health and education as well, and is rated at 3.91 on the Human Development Index (HDI). What’s even more stifling is that many affluent ‘Marinites’ refuse to acknowledge this segregation, and are more concerned with protecting the character of their neighborhoods from the construction of affordable housing projects – a statement that other county residents interpret as racist and classist.

Oma Village is a planned affordable housing community in Novato, California.

The Marinites in question posit that urban planners are forcing the development of high-density affordable housing projects and transit systems in their neighborhoods. This NIMBYist (Not In My Backyard) attitude stems from the adoption of Plan Bay Area, a twenty-five-year non-regulatory regional plan for the San Francisco Bay. Plans like these have been State-mandated for California’s eighteen metropolitan areas in order to solve problems pertaining to:

Although Plan Bay Area is required under state law, its purpose is to guide development not force it; the plan explicitly states that “local land use authority is retained by the region’s cities and counties [and] will continue to determine where future development occurs.”

Plan Bay Area

Despite this provision, ultra right-wing community groups continue to believe that Plan Bay Area is the extension of a global agenda to rob Americans of their freedom. Groups such as Citizen Marin and their outside agitator counterpart, the East Bay Tea Party, aggressively disrupt Town Hall meetings and verbally assault pro-affordable housing officials. They claim to be fighting against the destruction of the American Dream by regional governments; but judging by the predominately Caucasian ethnicity in communities such as the aforementioned Tiburon area, this view ends up appearing as a simple euphemism for elitism and bigotry.

How does NIMBYism affect the upward mobility of economically marginalized citizens?

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

Nick Danty

Nick Danty is a graduate of the Geography and Planning Department at California State University, Chico and currently works at the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) in Santa Rosa. Nick has been involved in several programs at RCPA, but is most proud of the 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Count Project, for which he served as the project manager and outreach coordinator. A Northern California native who calls his single-family detached dwelling home, Nick is not a stranger to the ills of suburban sprawl and the toll it takes on human and physical environments. Nick’s travels to Europe and throughout North America have shown him preventing and retrofitting sprawl is possible through intelligent neighborhood design, beautiful architecture, mitigation banking, innovative transit systems and visionary urban and rural plans. He is very excited about writing for The Grid, and plans on discussing projects and programs happening at his agency related to transportation planning, climate adaptation, livability, urban land development, and environmental conservation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 17th, 2013 at 9:38 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics, Housing, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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11 Responses to “Social Equity Or NIMBYism? Marin County’s Battle With Affordable Housing”

  1. Gina Kiani Says:

    So glad to see this topic covered for the North Bay and add to the marginalized low-income voices there!
    It’s good to see Plan Bay Area in action and interesting to see who and where comes out against it….
    I always thought of the Bay area as SO progressive and above the NIMBY attitude that may have began as well intentioned neighborhood protectionist groups but has grown into a NIMBYism inequality promotion, halting well-needed affordable housing from going up all over the state!
    Great coverage of a great topic Nick!!

  2. Nick Danty Says:

    Thanks Gina! You’re right, unfortunately the wealthy communities throughout the Bay Area do harbor that NIMBY attitude when it comes to housing and planning, including even San Francisco where’d you think these ideas would be championed. Poverty in the North Bay can often be very overlooked, so it’s important to raise awareness about affordable housing and economic marginalization issues.
    I want to know what will happen if the city or county governments decide to act on any of Plan Bay Area’s recommendations, which is when we’ll really get to see it in action.

  3. Libby Rodriguez Says:

    I am an urban planning consultant. I think the best way to ‘do’ affordable housing is actually to sprinkle affordable units into more expensive single family neighborhoods or apartment complexes, rather than having them in one big block.

    This allows the lower income people to really become part of the neighborhood. And, it keeps from concentrating any of the pathos that are sometimes associated with poverty.

  4. Gina Kiani Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Libby!!
    From a background in Conservation and Resource studies with an emphasis in Sustainability, the basis of my most core beliefs is in diversity….
    And I think that applies just as much to society as it does to natural resources!

  5. Nick Danty Says:

    I like the idea of ‘sprinkling’ affordable units in affluent areas to ameliorate current stigmas. That’s what’s so great about planning! When it’s done properly and is focused on improving quality of life, equality and diversity can flourish.

  6. richard patrick Says:

    Your subject is just fascinating for me. I was a poor advantaged minority when I came (legally) to California. I worked my tail off for 50 years to get out of shitty high density areas into Marin, with good schools, compatible neighbors, low crime, almost no graffiti, etc etc.

    All accomplished without the help of self appointed social engineers like yourselves. It’s called merit…you earn your way up, you should not mooch off others…OR you might end up as President, with zero achievements in life, and zero ability to even run a pop stand.

    You people need to get a real job and grow up.

  7. Nick Danty Says:

    Who is John Gault? Your comment is much appreciated Richard, but please keep your posts mature and without offensive language. We’re all adults here. Responding to your last comment “get a real job and grow up,” what is your definition of “real job?” The people who serve you food, pave your roads, drive you to the hospitals, patrol your streets, take care of your kids for at least 40 hours a week might be offended by you not calling those jobs real. They would probably love to move up within the hierarchy of their employer to the point where the could pay to live in Marin, but that doesn’t happen overnight no matter how long you work somewhere. You yourself said it took 50 years. Also, do you believe it’s ok that certain communities throughout the Bay Area have inadequate schools, incompatible neighborhoods, high crime, and tons of graffiti? That if you want a decent quality of life for yourself and your family you have make 90k a year and wait 50 years? I will tell you that working class families in these areas do not deserve a sub-par environment, and work with just as much purpose in their life as yourself. But you should know that this regional “social-engineering” is not a mandatory measure, so no affordable housing development will be planned without approval from the Marin County government, Not to mention that Marin is absorbing the least amount of growth that is expected in Plan Bay Area, which is mostly occurring near downtown. So don’t worry about losing your large lot home to other legal immigrants.

  8. Michael Smith Says:

    We moved to Marin two years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia which is consistently rated one of the most livable cities in the world. We chose Marin because we thought it had the combination of beauty and open minded liberalism that we were used to and comfortable with. Well, we were so wrong.

    Marin is being taken over by what is basically a Tea Party mindset masked behind a pseudo facade of environmental liberalism. The veneer is thin. I can’t read any paper or blog about Marin where either the article or the comment section isn’t riddled with Tea Party jargon, buzz phrases and other rhetoric. It’s very scary. What I’ve found is pretty classic. It really isn’t Marin’s wealthiest that are leading this nimbyism. Most of Marin’s old time money came from a progressive mindset born in the 60′s and is still adhered to. There just a bunch of ex-hippies done good. What is bring this frightening conservatism into Marin is what we call in Marin “the wannabes”. They are the type of people who believe that they have clawed their way into the right zip code and now they must be someone special because of it.

    What we are seeing is something that has often been seen in history where a group of people hold disdain for the socio-economic class that is right below them. It’s like the mirror they thought they escaped is biting at their heels. Nobody has the disdain for anyone or any group of people unless they are seeing some reflection they don’t like about themselves in them. It’s really pretty sad to see and we’ve even thought of leaving Marin if this faction of folks continue their aggressive attempts to force Marin politics to the dark side. It’s very much akin to the kind of folks that have been recruited into the Tea Party, Citizens United, etc. They are middle class people at best who seem to worship the rich. Maybe because they believe their salvation lies in becoming rich too. I don’t know. It’s crazy but they are turning Marin from being one of the few areas where affluence and liberalism successfully mix into an area that is more like something you’d find in the southeastern U.S. It’s terrible.

  9. Michael Smith Says:

    Richard Patrick above is very much the kind of mentality that I see pervading Marin. With a name about as white-Anglo Saxon as you can get, I’m not sure what kind of minority he claims to fall under but a place like Marin, where the cost of living is one of the highest in the country, isn’t a place one merely works hard to get into because it’s literally impossible to work that much harder to make living in Marin happen. Tell that to the corporate types in Tiburon who are on the tennis courts everyday by 2:00 p.m. But you can feel his disdain for those who remind him of what he once was. That’s the mentality that is leading the anti-everything crowd in Marin and thank God Marin is beautiful to the eye because energetically this kind of thinking isn’t making it beautiful to the soul. I’m hoping that those higher minded Marinites will wake up and see that their once compassionate, open-minded county is becoming and at least they will be embarrased enough by it to get involved and not let these types take over Marin politics.

  10. Robin Says:

    I’m a part Latino, Asian and White hybrid and I worked my ass off to live in Marin. I see no racism here, ever. Racism and nimbyism is now constantly used as a weapon by urban planners, social engineers to sell their crazy urban planning ideas. You must create an enemy, (rich Marinites)so uneducated people will focus on that and not your unrealistic high density blueprints. Please do not use our communities to practice your urban planning skills you learned in college. We are told, shop local, eat local, how about leave city and town planning to the locals. Sad..

  11. Batman Says:

    Leave planning to the locals? Uh yeah duh, it’s called a Planning Commission and it’s made up of locals! They have the final say as to what gets built and where, so don’t blame the planners, blame YOUR elected officials. Maybe you should have worked your ass off to go to college like so many of us did, and then at best you’d read your idiotic close-minded responses before posting them. You’d also be able to see past the facade of libertarian politics that have you convinced that urban planners are social engineers hell bent on destroying your life, a belief that many of the uneducated people you speak of can see right through. Oh, and might I ask, how much would your life be impacted if full-blooded legal Latino immigrant children had access to good schools and parks? Would you buy an assault rifle and head for the hills if a new apartment building was constructed next to your local Whole Foods? Would your life be without joy if a single mom working 2 jobs to support two kids was able to live closer to her work and childrens schools? I dare you to go to Marin City or Canal and tell people there that they’re uneducated for wanting any of the above luxuries.

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