The 100 people protesting this past Wednesday night outside the Pickleweed Community Center—and the three cops patrolling the parking lot, with four more officers inside the meeting room—appeared prepared for a fight Wednesday night at Citizen Marin's first-ever town hall meeting on Bay Area planning and affordable housing.
Instead, they got a nearly hour-long presentation from real estate financier, media activist and community organizer Bob Silvestri on the history of regional planning and housing development.
The Canal Alliance and Marin's Action Coalition for Equity held up signs saying "I Just Look Illegal" and "End Apartheid in Marin," protesting the neighborhood groups that have worked to stop affordable housing projects. Groups like Friends of Mill Valley and the Novato Community Alliance, both part of Citizen Marin, have come out against low-income developments in the past, citing concerns about high density. While many in the organizations have said they don't associate with the extreme right, their rhetoric has often become nasty, and has divided communities.
But Silvestri, who called his politics "far to the left of President Obama," gave a speech arguing that the "top-down, one-size-fits-all planning" of the One Bay Area Plan, which allocates housing requirements, isn't going to solve Marin's problems. Instead, he argued—to increasing applause and heckles from the audience as the night went on—that what Marin needs is senior housing, infill housing, second units and the ability for young, working-class families to buy into the community.
Worse, he said, forcing large developments into Marin would ruin small-town communities and do nothing but put money in the pockets of developers.
"We already have everything they're trying to sell," he said.
Instead of building more high-density, low-income projects next to freeways, he argued, the minimum wage should be raised, healthcare should be provided for free, and ground-up community priorities should be created for Marin's towns. He posited further that Marin should opt out of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and create, with Napa and Sonoma, its own council of governments—an idea supported by Corte Madera's withdrawal from ABAG last year.
While some in the audience cheered at the ideas, others saw Silvestri's speech as nothing but a smokescreen.