Marin Independent Journal
October 30, 2021
By Richard Halstead
Traffic, local taxes and demands on water emerged as key concerns during an online town hall meeting this week about plans for up to 250 new housing units adjacent to San Quentin State Prison.
Hosted by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, and state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, the lawmakers were joined by representatives from Education Housing Partners and Eden Housing, the project’s two co-developers; Jason Kenney, state department of general services deputy director; and Mary Jane Burke, the Marin County superintendent of schools.
The state is making 5 acres of land it owns between the prison and the Larkspur ferry terminal available to the developers at no cost. The project, dubbed the Village at Oak Hill, is one of a number the state has initiated following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order issued in January 2019 for the Department of General Services to create an inventory of excess, state-owned parcels where housing development could be expedited.
“This is something the administration has really leaned into,” Kenney said Thursday.
At least half of the 230- to 250-unit development will be reserved for Marin County educational staff and county employees. The units will be owned jointly by the county and the Marin County Office of Education. The remainder of the units will be reserved for low-income renters. All of the project’s units will be rentals.
Burke said Marin schools currently have 317 unfilled positions, including “teachers, speech therapists, custodians, paraprofessionals, food service workers, psychologists, bus drivers, to name a few.”
“The lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living in Marin County is the No. 1 issue that is affecting our public school ability to hire and retain educators,” Burke said.
Because the units will be built on state-owned land, all of the entitlements and permitting for the project, including analysis required under the California Environmental Quality Act, will be handled by the state. Neither Marin County nor the city of Larkspur, which includes the area within its sphere of influence, will have any say in the approval process.
Under county zoning of the parcel, no more than 21 single-family houses could be built on the site. The state, however, is exempt from the county’s zoning regulations.
“Traffic is probably the most frequently asked question that we have received,” Levine said.
Traffic on Sir Francis Drake between Interstate 580 and Highway 101 is often jammed during morning and evening commute hours. Critics worry about the added impact of residents going in and out of the new development.
“We are currently in the process of completing a traffic study,” said Bruce Dorfman, co-founder of Education Housing Partners, Inc. and a principal of Mill Valley-based Thompson Dorfman Partners.
Burke said many Marin educational employees commute to work from outside the county.
“To the extent that we can shorten those commutes,” Dorfman said, “we are going to have a positive effect on vehicle miles traveled.”
Dorfman said that at a 44-unit project that Education Housing Partners developed for the faculty and staff of the College of San Mateo, “the San Mateo Community College District determined residents commuted 250,000 fewer miles per year.”
Regarding the effect on traffic of vehicles going in and out of the project, Dorfman said, “We are looking at a number of different things including a signalized intersection at our entry.”
Dorfman said in addition to facilitating ingress and egress, a traffic light would provide pedestrian access to a pedestrian/bike path on the south side of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
McGuire said he believes it will be necessary to add a bus stop near the project.
“I know that is a conversation we’re going to need to have with local governments,” McGuire said, “but I think that is going to be critical for this development.”
Teddy Newmyer, a senior project developer at Eden Housing, said, “It’s something we’re thinking about as we do these traffic studies, looking at how we can better access the existing transit.”
The issue of property tax contribution and who shoulders expenses for public services also was raised.
Kenny said, “Right now, the county assesses zero tax on the land because it is state property. There are categories of taxes that the property would be subject to. I don’t think it is accurate to say there wouldn’t be any (tax revenue).”
County Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk Shelly Scott has said that the new construction would be assessable. She added, however, that Eden and Education Housing Partners could apply for an exemption that could cover as much as 100% of the assessable value.
Since the property is in unincorporated Marin, it would be the county’s job to provide such services as police and fire. But the developers said that may change.
“The intent is for this property to be annexed into Larkspur,” Dorfman said. “It is in their sphere of influence. There are discussions going on between the county and the city of Larkspur regarding that issue.”
Another issue raised by the public Thursday was the wisdom of additional residential development given the state’s ongoing drought.
Dorfman said, “We are going to be incorporating a whole host of energy and water efficiency features throughout the project.”
In addition, Dorfman said there will be some metering of water at the project, which will encourage residents to moderate their water use “because they will be billed directly for it.”
He also noted that higher density, multi-family communities like the one planned here use less water than lower density projects.
Dorfman said the developers expect to complete design work on the project by next year, begin construction in 2023 and complete the project by mid-2025.