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Marin Independent Journal

Marin Voice: Housing also creates customers downtown

Marla Fields, Katie Crecelius, and Whitney Merchant

WITH A reopened City Hall, an attractive Grant Avenue and plans to transform Redwood Boulevard, downtown Novato is on its way to becoming a destination. All that is missing are enough shoppers to keep the retail in business — and the city can provide them with a vote for homes on Redwood Boulevard.

Novato’s General Plan Update Steering Committee will meet Dec. 16 to discuss whether or not to recommend housing for North Redwood Boulevard in the area between Olive Avenue and San Marin Drive. Some have been advocating for just retail in this area, with the hope that sales tax revenue will fill city coffers. But what if the shops fail? The best way to keep the new stores in business is to welcome new residents.

There’s another reason to include homes in the plan for Redwood. If only retail is built, we miss an opportunity to create homes for people of all income levels. The median single family home in Marin requires an income of $216,000 per year, which leaves out too many of us: teachers, retail clerks, childcare providers and public safety employees.

What’s more, a 2008 survey found that many Novato residents couldn’t afford to buy their homes in today’s market.

Two-thirds of the jobs in Novato are filled by people who don’t live in town, creating a financial burden. And it’s not just our workforce that benefits. A variety of housing types designed to enhance the neighborhood charm of Redwood would make it possible for aging parents to live nearby, and for our children, once grown, to have the option of living in Novato.

Creating homes on Redwood is the right thing to do for several reasons:

In an emergency, Novato may not be able to count on firefighters and police officers getting to their jobs. If too many of our first responders live in Vallejo and Petaluma, we’re in trouble. Crime is also reduced when neighbors live in downtowns. They provide eyes on the street.

People who live closer to where they work are healthier. They are more likely to walk to their favorite restaurant, coffee shop and grocery store. It’s a perfect location for commuters, too: Redwood area residents can leave their cars at home and walk to the bus stop and, in a few years, to the future SMART rail station, which will reduce traffic congestion on Highway 101.

Every time we group homes, shops and jobs together, we’re taking steps to fight climate change. In Novato, 67 percent of our greenhouse gas pollution comes from driving. And the state will be asking cities and towns to reduce the amount people drive to protect our climate and air quality. Novato can take the initiative to reduce reliance on cars and place homes near shops, services, jobs and public transportation on Redwood.

For the health, safety and success of Novato, the Novato Housing Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Novato urge the city to include new homes along Redwood Boulevard. It’s what our downtown needs to thrive.

Marla Fields is a member of Sustainable Novato, Katie Crecelius is chair of the Novato Housing Coalition and Whitney Merchant is Marin field representative for Greenbelt Alliance.



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