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.
So how much of that burden is Marin County's? A total of 2,292 units, of which 1,400 must be affordable. In other words, 1.2 percent of the total homes and 1.4 percent of the affordable ones.
"It's really a small amount of the Bay Area's housing needs, which are pretty enormous," Rapport said. "I don't think anyone's expecting them to rezone parkland. . . . But Marin should be somewhat responsible for its own growth."
The difficulty was plain to see during the March planning commission hearing. Under discussion were 16 sites that could be zoned for 30 units per acre -- high density for a county that has fewer than 500 people per square mile, compared with Los Angeles County's nearly 2,500.
Although residents were dissatisfied with all the options, Grady Ranch and a project called Marinwood Plaza near Highway 101 were among the most controversial. They also paint a stark picture of Marin County's reluctance to build housing for its low- and moderately paid workers.
Marinwood Plaza's location -- within sight, sound and smell of 101 -- was a stumbling block for several residents who worried it would be unfair for low-income people to have to live near a source of pollution that could increase asthma rates.
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