Where people live has a big environmental impact and affects the viability and sustainability of our community. That’s why Sustainable Novato has made affordable housing a key part of our Sustainable Communities Initiative. We have studied the impact the lack of affordable homes can have on our neighborhoods and for our workforce, seniors and young adults. We understand the need to make wise choices in where and how affordable housing is developed in Novato.
Recently the City Planning Commission, in order to meet the state requirements, made a proposal to zone for affordable housing. This has raised considerable resistance from many citizens of Novato. I applaud these people for being willing to get involved in the process of developing our community and making their voices heard. After all, Novato is home to us all, no matter what our opinion. It shows that we all care.
There are strong emotions around this issue, and some unkind accusations are being made about Sustainable Novato and certain members of our board who are involved in affordable housing. Just because we disagree on this one issue doesn’t give anyone the right to diminish another’s voice or attack his or her character. Civil discourse is about being civil. It is what makes America unique. I request that we show respect to each other in all of our interactions.
One accusation is that Sustainable Novato is being paid by a developer to represent this issue. That is completely inaccurate. We are a nonprofit that primarily is funded through membership and individual donations. Like many other nonprofits in Marin, we received a grant from Marin Community Foundation that was used to put on a series of 12 community forums on topics that range from environmental toxins and their effect on human health to green building, Marin Clean Energy and planning for sustainable communities. Our work has resulted in tremendous successes for the entire community, including the internal air quality initiative that brought the Novato Unified School District an award from the EPA along with several thousand dollars. We have also worked with the city to enact the green building ordinances, and have had toxic cleaning products removed from the school district through our green schools committee. As part of our sustainable communities initiative, we have also received a small amount of funding to research and advocate for homes at all income levels in Novato, to educate the public on how best to develop this type of housing so that it has a positive impact. This funding has come to us through Greenbelt Alliance, which is funded by the Marin Community Foundation. MCF’s board sees the need throughout Marin and their support is part of their overall strategy to reduce poverty, meet the needs of the people and reduce environmental impacts. Sustainable Novato receives no funding from developers, and doesn’t stand to gain anything if any new developments are completed. Rather it is the community that stands to gain from planning a neighborhood with a range of homes for people at all income levels, located near transit and goods and services.
How are we going to provide homes that meet the needs of all of our citizens?
The city manager has created an ad hoc working group to bring together all interested parties to find the best way forward on this issue. I think that is a positive start. I invite all those involved to look at the long-term effect affordable housing or the lack of it will have on Novato. Having options for our seniors who wish to stay in the community near their families, disabled community members, young families, divorced single parents, and the myriad of people who work each day in coffee shops, retail stores, restaurants, hotels, schools, water district, hospitals, elderly care facilities and more is vital. It is one thing to be against something; but without viable solutions to the challenge we will make choices that are unsustainable. If we are unsustainable we will not last. Let’s be wise, Novato, and make the best choices based on good research, community need, and the state requirements while taking into consideration neighborhood impacts and design fit.
We think the answer is to allow people to live locally, close to where they work and in an area where they can walk to transit. Novato has a deep history for taking care of our own. Marin County’s exhaustive survey of existing affordable homes in Marin shows the majority of the people who will live in affordable homes in Novato already live here, grew up here or work here. I appeal to the generosity of our spirit to find the best ways to meet this challenge.
Larry Dean Tackett