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Lucas plan highlights Marin County's lack of affordable housing

SAN RAFAEL -- After George Lucas abandoned plans to build a movie studio along a woodsy road in Marin County, he complained about the permitting process in a place so environmentally friendly that hybrid-car ownership is four times the state average.

His next move, some here say, was payback for what Lucas described in a written statement as the "bitterness and anger" expressed by his neighbors.

The creator of "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" is working with a local foundation that hopes to build hundreds of units of affordable housing on a former dairy farm called Grady Ranch, where his studio would have risen.

Now Marin County is squirming at that prospect -- and it is not a pretty sight.

The issue of affordable housing in California's wealthiest county has always brought its "green" lifestyle and liberal social leanings into conflict. No Bay Area county has more protected open space -- or fewer workers who can afford to live anywhere near their jobs.

At a recent hearing, where possible sites for subsidized housing were discussed, nearly all the heated testimony had some version of: "I'm all for affordable housing, but." Nine days later, protesters wearing "End Apartheid in Marin County" buttons demanded that officials do something to help low-income workers find housing in a place where the median home price is $650,000 and 60 percent of the workforce lives somewhere else.

Marin is near the back of the pack in the Bay Area region when it comes to absorbing predicted population growth -- and is the most unwilling, said Ezra Rapport, executive director of the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Every eight years, California's 58 counties are required to come up with a "housing element." The documents are not guarantees that units will be built, but simply a demonstration that the county is zoned so growth could happen.

After the Department of Housing and Community Development produces growth estimates for each part of the state, regional governmental agencies negotiate with their cities and counties to divide up the responsibility to zone for possible future home building.

Currently, the Bay Area must plan for 187,000 new housing units by 2022, of which 110,000 must be affordable to very low-, low- and moderate-income families.


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