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The Bay Area’s Housing Crisis Could be Alleviated by developing Marin County

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Marin County, the wealthiest of the North Bay’s four counties, and one of the wealthiest in the United States, is largely untouched, and undeveloped. As a result, Marin County is gorgeous. It has rolling hills that trail down from picturesque Mt. Tamalpais, redwood trees, miles of coastline on the Pacific, as well as a significant amount of shoreline on the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays. Unfortunately, all of this undisturbed beauty comes at a huge cost to the rest of the region. While San Francisco, the East Bay, the Peninsula and Silicon Valley are actively trying to find ways to pass legislation that expedites the creation of new housing units, Marin County, and to a smaller extent, the entirety of the North Bay, has done little to accommodate housing development, and in some notable cases, aggressively rejected it.

The most publicized example of this is when film industry giant, George Lucas, attempted to turn some of his private acreage into affordable housing for middle-class families. This was so outrageous to homeowners around Marin County that Carolyn Lenert, former head of the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents, was quoted in a New York Times interview claiming that Lucas’ housing proposal was “class warfare” against Marin County homeowners. The absurdity of that statement is immense if you’re willing to dive into the numbers. Marin County has a land area of 520 square miles, and a population roughly the size of Fremont, the Bay Area’s fourth largest city, with just over 250k residents and only 87 square miles. Marin County only has two actual cities: San Rafael and Novato, along with a cluster of very exclusive small towns with populations rarely north of 10k; the most notable being Sausalito, due to its tourist oriented atmosphere and location adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Skywalker Ranch in the hills of Marin County, Calif., in 1999. (Jeff Vendsel/Marin Independent Journal)

The vast majority of Marin’s land is open space, and ripe for residential and commercial development. We could build entirely new cities from the ground up; focused on density, walkable neighborhoods, access to transit, and equitable opportunities for home ownership. It could be a Bay Area city built for the future. Hell, maybe they could name it Skywalker, California. Has as ring to it, doesn’t it? Not only that, but the space could be used to better connect the county to the rest of the Bay Area. A potential idea would be to link BART with the North Bay’s SMART train. In fact, the original plan for BART had it going not just to Marin but all the way to Santa Rosa! But today we could link it all by extending the Richmond BART line into San Rafael to meet up with the SMART train. This would do wonders for traffic on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, as well as Highway 37, the North Bay’s main east/west corridor. This would be especially true if the potential plans to expand SMART east, through Napa County into Vallejo come to fruition, connecting the entire North Bay by rail for the first time in history.

Part of the original BART plan. Find the whole map right here. (Designed by Jake Coolidge)

Now, at this point in the article, you’re probably wondering how do we get this done? By being vocal, and demanding that it gets done! While housing advocates continually focus on San Francisco and Oakland, there’s only so much room for growth in either city. San Francisco is already bursting at its seams, and large swaths of Oakland are zoned for industrial use, or are being underutilized due to vast amounts of single family homes that were built in the late eighteen hundreds to mid nineteen hundreds. We as a region need to focus on places where rapid, large scale development is actually possible, and it’s possible in Marin County and the rest of the North Bay. Behind all the red tape, NIMBYISM and pseudo-environmentalism manipulated to solidify racial and class divisions, there is real possibility here. Let’s do what we can to get this done! May the force be with you!

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

I'm Abe. I make memes, write articles and do a bunch of sad boy shit. I drink caffeine and listen to way more rap than I should. I'm a Bay Area native, which apparently means something these days.

20 Comments

  1. malcolm johnston
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    The “Hearst Castle” and it’s surrounding acres OF RANCHLAND given to CALIFORNIA (Hearst tax writeoff) would be SO MUCH BETTER…
    LEFT ALONE! left AS IS it is a buffer around which the rest of california doesn’t look like HONG KONG!

  2. meursault
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    SMART is a complete joke and a boondoggle. This entire article is a joke. Marin is already packed to the gills and there is gridlock in every city. Build some high rises in the sunset and Richmond. Duh

  3. tjrags
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    Is it really a good idea to pave over paradise? Not too many cities have so much open space nearby. Another solution is $2.00 BART fares so people can afford to commute from existing outlying area’s that BART services. Melbourne AU is a good example of cheap public transportation. Seattle is on the right track.

    Abraham is trolling..

  4. Holly Williams
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    Before everyone packs up and moves to Marin, you’ll need to think about infrastructure, traffic, etc. I live in West Marin- did you know we have NO cell phone service out here?? Seriously, none! We have to have land lines, people! And no gas stations, one lane road in and out, takes me at least 30 minutes to get to a store to get milk. And the traffic around peak times is HORRENDOUS. You can’t add more residents without addressing the lack of infrastructure, and life in the “boonies” just isn’t for everyone.

    • malcolm johnston
      April 20, 2020 at 7:24 am — Reply

      and GREENLAND WAS NAMED TO ATTRACT EARLY SETTLERS JUST LIKE ICELAND WAS NAMED TO DISCOURAGE NEW SETTLERS! GREENLAND IS THE LARGEST ISLAND/CONTINENT MOSTLY ICE, AND ICELAND IS INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL AND LUSH ACROSS FROM NORWAY/SWEDEN (AND YES, THOSE SAME BEAUTIFUL ‘1ST TIGER WOOD-WIFE’ FOLKS INHABIT ICELAND AS WELL!). I ALWAYS SAID I’D RETIRE IN NEW ZEALAND… ALSO INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL BUT OCEAN-FRONT LAND IS OWNED BY THE GOVERNMENT AND CAN BE LEASED ON 99YEAR TERMS, BUT PRICES AND TERMS ARE NOT INVESTMENT GRADE.

    • Harry Bosch
      April 20, 2020 at 7:24 am — Reply

      I don’t think you understand exactly what this buffoon is suggesting … he wants to turn Olema into Fremont. You and your 100k new neighbors will have plenty of cell signal as you drive the Sir Francis Drake Expressway.

      • Holly Williams
        April 20, 2020 at 10:43 am

        Oh I understand Harry Bosch. But people seem to think that when residents rejected George Lucas’ proposal they were just being NIMBYs, but it’s SO much more than that. SMH, buffoon is right.

  5. Lindsey Hanson
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    What the fuck is wrong with this writer? Do you not know how long and hard a battle it was to reseed indigenous plants, reintroduce coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and the like? Why not write an article about the greedy real estate investors who buy up apartments buildings, in SF, and allow them to sit empty? What about regulating AirBnB? Our species takes up enough space. I’ve lived in an apt my whole life, never ever lived in a house, and I’m doing just fine. Why not turn all the big giant houses in Sea Cliff and Pacific Heights into fourplexes before ever thinking about bulldozing natural habitats, for non-human animals?

  6. John Anderson
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    I thought the whole “open-space-is-only-good-for-development” mindset went out with Nehru jackets. A big part of what makes San Francisco so special is being able to live in a city, but bike somewhere where I have a reasonable chance of being eaten by mountain lions, or generally experience something close to wilderness. The open space in Marin is a resource for the whole Bay Area, and undeveloped land is critical for protection of the biodiversity we depend on. I expected beter from Mr. Stuart.

  7. Anisoptera
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    Marin could use a lot more housing, especially close to 101 and 37. However, the lack of density (and POC/middle class folk) is the whole reason folks move there in the first place.

  8. Smith
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    Go live in Hong Kong or Mumbai if population density is your thing.

    • Anisoptera
      April 20, 2020 at 7:24 am — Reply

      Not density, just housing period. The area around Black Point could be developed easily without treading on others.

      • Smith
        April 20, 2020 at 10:43 am

        More houses, more people, more traffic—growth isn’t the answer. We’ve already lost 90+% of wetlands in California due to development. Do we need to lose it all in order to realize there’s nothing left?

      • NoeValleyJim
        April 20, 2020 at 10:53 am

        Have you ever heard of Green House Gases? Places that have single family homes need to be upzoned to apartments.

      • malcolm johnston
        April 20, 2020 at 11:16 am

        WHAT?!?… PACK MORE SARDINES IN THE CAN BY LIQUIFYING THE FISH… MAY LOOK GOOD TO THE PACKAGING ENGINEER, BUT LUCKILY MOST ARE AESTHETICALLY REPULSED BY THE IDEA OF “SOYLENT-GREEN” HOUSING!

  9. Erik Clyman
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am — Reply

    hey memelord,
    I’m so with you in spirit, but you can’t demand how other people choose to live. Marin needs to change, and it will. it’s mostly boomers and they gonna die sooner than later!

    • Harry Bosch
      April 20, 2020 at 7:24 am — Reply

      I’m curious … why and what about Marin “needs to change”?

      • Erik Clyman
        April 20, 2020 at 10:43 am

        we need more service roads, but how dare you build them. I’m mainly thinking of Lucas valley road for this one example, remember the oil truck that fell off the road? that road is lovely, but that corner where it slipped cannot be designed to be used for large trucks. imo they should either redesign the road or ban its use for commercial vehicles.

      • Harry Bosch
        April 20, 2020 at 10:53 am

        Thanks for the explanation. In fairness though, what you are describing is not at all what the author is advocating for. Widening some existing country roads is a far cry from his #BUILDINMARIN war cry.

      • Erik Clyman
        April 20, 2020 at 11:16 am

        I think that Skywalker ranch mentioned in the article is on Lucas valley road, and most of the reasoning behind the nimby response was the road couldn’t handle more traffic

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