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IJ Article: Lucas Valley group scrutinizes county housing plans

A group of Lucas Valley residents has banded together to keep a close eye on how the county’s efforts to comply with state housing mandates will affect their community.


The group, called Lucas Valley for Responsible Growth, has formed as county planning commissioners prepare to make their final recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on the new housing element. The element includes a list of proposed sites for building at least 3,569 new homes in unincorporated areas by 2030 as required by the state.


The supervisors are racing to meet a requirement to have the state approve the housing element by Jan. 31.


“We’re fundamentally in favor of more housing in Lucas Valley, and specifically affordable housing in Lucas Valley. Not all residents are,” said Kelby Jones, one of the group’s eight founding members. “Our concern is that it be done in a manner that produces a reasonably safe outcome, as opposed to an irresponsible development that could happen with the streamlined review process.”


One of the biggest concerns of Lucas Valley residents is their ability to evacuate during a wildfire. On Sept. 1, 2021, a wildfire believed to have been sparked by a lawn mower ignited a blaze that burned 44 acres and prompted the evacuations of some residences in LucasValley and Marinwood.


“Clearly in a major disaster we would have a much worse outcome,” said Jones, who said the incident created a traffic nightmare on Lucas Valley Road.


Marin County fire Chief Jason Weber said residents’ safety is top of mind when crews are battling a wildfire.


“We will manage traffic during fire conditions to protect those evacuating. This will be done by using traffic control at intersections and freeway onramps,” he said. “Those evacuating on paved roads in vehicles are generally safe, as we will move them away from the fire.”


The site list in the housing element involving properties in Lucas Valley calls for 80 homes for lower-income residents at 2 Jeannette Prandi Way near Marin County Juvenile Hall; 58 homes for lower-income residents at 7 Mount Lassen Drive; and 26 homes for above-moderate-income residents at 1501 Lucas Valley Road.


The Lucas Valley group believes that the area’s infrastructure could safely integrate this level of growth, which it says would constitute a more than 25% increase in dwellings for the Lucas Valley Homeowners Association and Rotary Valley communities.


Jones said the group is worried, however, that developers will use state-mandated density bonuses, available for building a certain amount of low-income housing, to construct more dwellings than outlined in the housing element.


“One of the greatest concerns that the housing element process has raised,” Jones said, “is the possibility of very significant increases to the numbers that were proposed for those sites and the ministerial review process that could cut out local evaluations of each specific project.”


There are a growing number of triggers under state law that allow developers to avoid any local review except “objective design” standards. Developers can even be freed from conforming with objective standards if they assert that conforming with such standards will make their affordable housing projects financially infeasible.


The group has requested that the county adjust the number of dwellings allocated to the Lucas Valley sites to ensure that maximums are not exceeded, regardless of proposals from potential developers.


One of the group’s top concerns is that development of the Marin County Juvenile Hall site not result in the elimination of Lucas Valley Park, which is part of the same county-owned parcel.


“We also are extremely committed to the preservation of Lucas Valley Park as a unique and valued resource to both current and future residents, accessible to all and providing an important social link across our communities,” the Lucas Valley group wrote in a letter to county officials.


The group said the park is used by senior residents at Rotary Valley Senior Village and residents of all ages for walking, jogging, biking and socializing with neighbors.


The letter stated that group members met with Supervisor Mary Sackett and Sarah Jones, acting director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, on Dec. 29 and were pleased to hear that park preservation was a goal of the county.


“We were reassured to learn that since the Prandi site is owned by the county, there will be a request for proposal process in which community input and inclusion was assured,” the letter said.


On Tuesday, Jones said, “On a county-owned site, the county would be defining the development proposal and we would have much more say over all aspects of the project than we would on a privately-owned site.”


Jones added, however, that “the review process itself would likely still be ministerial because we would need to comply with state law.”


The Lucas Valley group asserts in its letter that the development of any local site “must be conditioned on a thorough evaluation of each project to assure public safety, infrastructure, recreational and aesthetic needs are met.”


The group says the county’s new safety element and the programmatic environmental impact report on the proposed building sites contained in the housing element are inadequate for such an evaluation.

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