03/11/2013 02:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Marin Affordable Housing: 'Bureaucrats Gone Wild'

Bob Silvestri of Mill Valley calls efforts to develop affordable housing in Marin a case of "bureaucrats gone wild."

The 64-year-old author, architect, development and affordable housing veteran is the featured speaker at a March 20 "town hall" forum organized by several citizens' groups concerned about affordable housing efforts. He contends a bid by regulators to promote moderate- and low-income housing in the county's suburbs doesn't make any sense.

Local officials who worry about losing grant money if they rebuff edicts by the Association of Bay Area Governments for high-density housing are best advised to fight back and demand a program tailored to local needs, he said.

Marin has a big need for housing for local seniors, but regional housing quotas instead accommodate poor populations living in other Bay Area communities, he said. Making matters worse, regional projections of job and population growth used to calculate housing quotas are flawed, he said.

Spike the mix with officials pursuing their own agendas while citing misguided fears of losing transportation grants, and you've got a case of "bureaucrats gone wild," he said.

"I think we have a responsibility to help the taxpaying people who live here, first," before accommodating others, he said. But regional government "has a one-size-fits-all proposal ... that treats all areas the same," he said. "I'm just saying we should solve our affordable housing problems, but in unique ways. What is appropriate in Emeryville is not appropriate in Mill Valley."

Silvestri, who has drawn crowds at several Bay Area housing forums in recent months, will be the keynote speaker at the 6:30 p.m. session at the Al Boro Community Center, 50 Canal St. in San Rafael. A group calling itself Citizen Marin will convene a free "open microphone" town hall forum titled "Our Planning and Affordable Housing Challenges in Marin."

Toni Shroyer, a Novato real estate agent who plans to run in 2014 for the seat held by Supervisor Judy Arnold, will make introductory remarks at the event. Shroyer, a foe of ABAG's "top down" approach, noted Silvestri is author of "The Best Laid Plans: Our Planning and Affordable Housing Challenges in Marin."

Other forum participants include the San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition, Novato Homeowners Association, Friends of Mill Valley, Sustainable Tam Almonte, the Santa Venetia Neighborhood Association, Santa Margarita Neighborhood Association, Save Marinwood and the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents.

Affordable housing boosters also pledge to rally at the session. A group calling itself Concerned Marinites to end NIMBYism has announced it plans to attend Citizen Marin's meeting "to make sure all voices in Marin are heard and that the 'facts' are indeed facts and not just the continued fear mongering and lame excuses so often heard when discussing affordable housing." A leaflet urging housing supporters to attend calls it a "rally to end nimbyism, racism and classism in Marin."

Citizen Marin formerly called itself the Marin Communities Coalition for Local Control, a group founded by leaders of Novato's San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition as well as the Friends of Mill Valley. Silvestri is a member of the group, which formed after neighborhood leaders balked at a "One Bay Area" plan promoted by ABAG and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that envisioned development of up to 13,250 housing units in Marin over the next 30 years. County officials are now reviewing plans for affordable housing zoning of 30 units per acre in unincorporated areas, saying transportation grants are in jeopardy if they don't target sites for housing.

Silvestri worked as a developer in Colorado and was involved in partnerships that built more than 2,000 affordable dwellings in seven states. He is an architect and heads a nonprofit that helps make documentary films about environmental and other issues.

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