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

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground is available now!

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