A new disclosure form given to Marin homebuyers is the latest fault line in a Richter-topping controversy over regional zoning laws and affordable housing.
The Marin Association of Realtors' form informs potential homebuyers of usual disclosures such as pesticide-spraying, potential fire hazards and wastewater regulations. But on page 13, in a new clause adopted in May, it also addresses nearby housing developments.
Fair-housing advocates worry that adding affordable housing to a list of mostly negative disclosures, including the presence of lead paint and any prior death on the property, could have NIMBY implications.
"From time to time, the county, city and towns of Marin identify areas of Marin for possible developments," it reads. "Real estate brokers and their agents are not responsible for investigating or identifying properties which may be rezoned or affected by future developments."
It's hardly inflammatory language, but the environment into which it slips is very much heated.
The document was updated around the same time the Marin Association of Realtors announced its opposition to One Bay Area, an ambitious, controversial effort by regional planning hub the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to encourage smart growth. As the Bohemian has previously reported, One Bay Area was motivated by SB 375, California's statewide senate bill that discourages commuting and sets emission reduction goals through infill and city-centered growth. According to studies funded by foundations in Napa and Marin, the idyllic, open-space-worshipping North Bay is in dire need of such a push: 60 percent of Marin workers and 30 percent Napa workers commute in daily from Sonoma, Solano, Alameda and other places where the cost of housing isn't nearly as high.
But the plan—which would zone for 2,292 new units, including low-income housing, between 2014 and 2022—has been lividly debated in Marin. Some groups, like Citizen Marin, voice fears about high-rises and big-development interests that could radically alter the parks and oak-lined hiking trails residents now enjoy. Other groups have voiced dissent in more radical ways; Corte Madera voted to withdraw from ABAG altogether in 2012, and earlier this year another citizen group began collecting signatures to recall county supervisor Susan Adams.
Though it is the wealthiest county in California, Marin has been notoriously reluctant to zone for low-income housing in the past, spurring at least one lawsuit. Novato's 2011 attempt to update its housing element was an almost frenzied affair, in which townspeople—most of them, like Marin's 80 percent majority, white—packed the meeting hall, many lambasting the gang-banging, drug-using, sex-offending others that would supposedly come with their rent-controlled homes. Speakers pushed to segregate these perceived projects across the freeway, away from homeowners and their children—one going so far as to suggest that housing for "them" should be kept safely "in the desert somewhere."
The five councilwomen eventually zoned at a lower number than they were supposed to in an effort to "push back" against ABAG, and even zoned land with existing businesses on it, one of which said publicly that it did not intend to sell.