SCA Action Alert: Housing Element meeting – 11/17 1pm, Civic Center

We need your help! An important Planning Commission hearing is scheduled for Monday, November 17th, at 1:00PM, at the Civic Center Room 324, and we need you to join us in speaking for the Strawberry neighborhood.

The hearing will focus on the 2015 – 2023 Marin County Housing Element, the “element” of the Countywide Plan responsible for future residential, commercial, and agricultural development.

The State of California requires all cities, towns, and counties to file a housing element every seven years to indicate where all types of housing, but especially taxpayer-subsidized housing, could be built for that period to satisfy a regional allotment. It’s not required that the housing identified be built, though it’s believed identification in the Housing Element makes it easier for housing plans to get approved.

The issue is a specific zoning change, affecting only Strawberry, Marin City and St. Vincent’s/Silviera Ranch in San Rafael, which remains intact regardless of whether the projects identified in the period are constructed.

Two years ago the County also submitted an Affordable Housing Combining District (AHCD, or AH for short) on two acres of land in the Seminary. An AHCD is simply a taxpayer-subsidized housing overlay on a parcel of land – in effect changing the zoning. The change to the Seminary via the AHCD was a density of 30 units per acre (increased from 2.47 per acre), plus the potential for an additional 35% density bonus for certain developers of taxpayer-subsidized housing, on each of the two acres, for a total of at least 60 units.

The County’s imposition of this ACHD overlay on the Seminary’s property went through NO community review or approvals process. Nothing in the guiding documents of our community (the 1982 Strawberry Community Plan and the 1984 Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary Master Plan) permits 60 units of taxpayer subsidized housing on the Seminary’s property. Instead, the County circumvented the normal public review and comment process of amending an existing Master Plan to implement the ACHD. We believe that under no circumstances should the County do an end run around the amendment process for these plans.

Additionally, Marc Levine’s recently passed AB 1537 re-characterized Marin County as a Suburban Area instead of a Metropolitan Area, reducing default zoning from 30 to 20 units per acre. While the reduction is obvious and logical to Marin County residents, the Board of Supervisors must vote to implement AB 1537 and approve it for the AHCD to reflect this reduction.

We have to ask for it – and, if we need to, demand the reduction, if not the outright elimination of the AHCD.


Specifically, we want the Planning Commission to:

  1. Reduce the default density of any Marin AHCD from 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre to conform to Marc Levine’s recently approved AB 1537, which re-characterized Marin County as a Suburban Area instead of a Metropolitan Area.
  2. Rescind the Seminary ACHD entirely.       It’s unfair and unnecessary.       Moreover, Supervisor Sears tried to rescind it last year, but her fellow Supervisors voted against her 4 – 1. Given the large buffer of sites for “affordable housing” in the 2015 – 2023 cycle, the County can easily meet it’s housing allotment without the Seminary AHCD. The time to rescind is now.


This is NOT a stance against affordable housing.   Whenever the Seminary property does get developed, there is a legal requirement for at least 20% of housing to be affordable to low- and moderate-income households unless the developer pays in lieu fees to get out of it. We believe all developers should have to live by that 20% rule. We don’t need to be singled out for the AHCD as well.

– It’s being imposed from outside the community
– It’s limited to just a very few neighborhoods throughout the county
– It’s high-density

For additional information about the Seminary AHCD or Housing Element issues, please see Ray McDevitt’s Letter_to_Kate_Sears_re_AB_1357, attorney Riley Hurd’s letter on behalf of the Seminary Neighborhood Association to the County here, and Sustainable Tam Almonte’s letter to the County here.




If you are unable to attend the Planning Commission hearing, then please send an e-mail in support of Ray McDevitt and Riley Hurd to:

Simply say:


Dear Planning Commissioners:

RE: 2015 – 2023 Housing Element hearing, November 17, 2014

I support the letters submitted by Ray McDevitt and Riley Hurd about the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Affordable Housing Combining District.




4000 Additional Daily Vehicle Trips in Strawberry?

Maybe you’ve seen the signs at the corners of Seminary and Ricardo, or on E. Strawberry across from Strawberry Point School, or attended the community “visioning” meeting at the Strawberry Rec Center.  If you don’t know what’s happening in the neighborhood, or if you’re affiliated with Branson and don’t know what it means, it’s time to find out what the Strawberry community is highly concerned about.


The Seminary Neighborhood Association recently commissioned a traffic study by a respected Marin traffic expert based on the proposal being discussed by the Fasken Trust.

While the trust claims to have no actual plans (because none have been submitted to the county), here is the scope they described to the press in April, and showed local community groups in highly developed presentations over the summer
–  a private school location equal to or larger than Marin Catholic High School, from 600-1000 students, currently being offered to Branson (which is currently in the Town of Ross)
– 300 rental townhomes averaging significantly larger square footage than the current student/faculty housing, housing not dedicated to the school but available to anyone.

The study found that over 4000 additional vehicle trips would be added – daily – to local traffic from these changes to the neighborhood.  The current Seminary housing is for students and faculty, and many of the school attendees live on campus.  With the new proposal, both the school *and* the housing would be generating significant additional traffic.

The main reason the Branson headmaster (well, former Branson Headmaster) gave community groups for moving to Strawberry is that the Town of Ross has strict limits on their growth – they are limited to 320 students.  Townspeople in Ross don’t want to be “townies” in their own community, and don’t want the traffic, noise and general activity of a larger school to change the nature of their town.  For some reason, the Branson board and the Fasken Trust think that the people of Strawberry want this.  And not just a larger school – the 800-1000 person target would make this new Branson the LARGEST private high school in Marin.

Imagine the traffic building up at the Seminary exit and on Tiburon Blvd in the mornings when students, faculty and administrators are arriving for school, and adding to the traffic jam on E. Strawberry by Strawberry Point Elementary at the end of the schoolday.

And imagine the additional traffic coming out of Strawberry from those 300 additional market units – no longer occupied by student and faculty for the Seminary – in the mornings and at the end of the day.

The Strawberry Community Plan and the Seminary Master Plan – which govern development of this land – describe these specifically as “student/faculty housing.”  These have never been contemplated as publicly available units in the agreements made between the county, the Seminary and the community.  The additional traffic generated by these units beyond the bounds of those agreements would have a major impact on our community.

We oppose Branson’s move to Strawberry at the numbers they are proposing.  If they want to move to Strawberry because the views are better, or because they like the access to the highway, or because the neighbors can be really great here when approached the right way with proposals that respect the community – we might welcome them.  But if the reason they want to move here is in order to build a bigger high school that will completely change (for the worse) the living and traveling conditions of our community, because the people where they currently live won’t let them do it to their neighborhood – then no, we don’t want them here.

If you agree, please join us by emailing

IMPORTANT COUNTY MEETING – Monday, July 28, 5pm, Civic Center

The first hearing for the new 2015-2022 Housing Element is happening THIS MONDAY with the County Planning Commission at the Civic Center.  We need Strawberry residents to show up and represent Strawberry – if you’re comfortable speaking publicly, please take your 2 minutes in front of the Planning Commission and raise one or more of the key concerns below. If you’re not comfortable speaking publicly, your attendance alone will help send the message that we’re concerned and watching.

Why does Strawberry care?
Despite the reduction in Regional Housing needs in unincorporated Marin from almost 800 units to under 185 units, the allocation at the Golden Gate Seminary site remains at 40 units, virtually unchanged from the last Housing Element assessment except to designate them all as Low Income.

Key Concerns

* Rather than evenly reducing requirements based on the reduced housing needs assessment, the County has simply kept certain previously proposed location allocations virtually intact

* Despite the reduced numbers from the last Housing Element, the Seminary property continues to have unreduced low income housing totals planned for it, indicating an uneven allocation relative to the rest of the county.  In fact, two of the highest allocations include Marinwood Plaza (where residents have protested the planned development) and Strawberry (where residents have protested the PDA designation), two locations that have created difficulty for the Planning Department and County

* The Seminary property had previously been included with 25 Market Rate units and 20 Lower Income units; how is it now designated for 40 Lower Income units

* Last time the Seminary property was included because the County portrayed that the application to develop was still active, despite rejection by the Board of Supervisors and the almost immediate formal withdrawal of the application by the Seminary.  This time there is even less rationale:
– there is no active application
– the buyers have publicly indicated within the last 2 weeks that there is no plan or proposal on the table
– the Strawberry Community Plan and Seminary Master Plan are not consistent with development of any additional housing other than for students and faculty; given the Seminary’s sale of the property, how can it be likely that they will develop additional student and faculty housing?
– there is, in fact, no real reason at this time to believe the Seminary to be more likely to be developed in the near future than anywhere else

* The Seminary property scored highest in the county in criteria for development based on equally weighted concepts such as:
– local jobs (?)
– likelihood to develop (see above)
– economies of scale and zoning (is this code for high density?)
– lack of wetlands nearby (Strawberry is surrounded by wetlands)
– no health risks (despite proximity to freeway)

* This proposal includes TWICE the number of required units; during the last Housing Element it was argued that more were needed in order to be sure there are enough in the event a location is eliminated from the list; we reject having units allocated and approved on that basis.  The county has time to verify locations that work and allocate them correctly.  In fact, if they are proposing these locations because they have already been approved, why not allocate 22 units at each of the 3 locations, or 10-15 units each at other previously approved locations?

* The county has previously included 20 “Second Units” per year in their calculations; 8 years at 20 units would almost fulfill our requirements by itself, and would be in keeping with the general flavor of Marin.  This cycle, the calculation includes only 5 Second Units per year.  A September 7, 2012 letter from HCD approving the final draft of the previous Housing Element explicitly indicates that the allowance for 20 Second Units per year was appropriate.   How has that been reduced by 75% in these last 2 years?

* Are the 200 units of affordable housing for agriculture workers included in the previous Housing Element already completed?  If not, why are they not included in the list?  This is a key initiative of the Marin Workforce Housing Trust – how can this not be more likely to be built out than other locations in the county?

* The County Development Code requires that residential subdivisions and most residential and mixed use development projects include a 20% set-aside for affordable units.  Does the fact that none of the locations for moderate or above moderate development also include these affordable allocations mean that the county acknowledges that market rate developments will always buy their way out of building required affordable housing, that the entire program is not really intended to create affordable housing?

* Goal 2 of the Housing element is to Meet Housing Needs Through a Variety of Housing Choices – Respond to the broad range of housing needs in Marin County by supporting a mix of housing types, densities, prices, and designs. How are these Lower Income Units at density in three locations a variety of housing densities and choices?

* A more disingenuous representation of their public outreach process is hard to imagine. The feedback was generally that the assumptions were flawed, that the “choose from our pre-approved menu” process was not worthy of engagement (or of the County), and that with such a reduced target the County should be further exploring (not diminishing) individual unit and second unit opportunities to meet the allocation.


* The “Housing Element” is the housing component of the Countywide Plan, which is intended to ensure to the state that the County has identified adequate locations with potential for growth at both market-rate and low-income levels.

* While designation in the “Housing Element” itself does not change zoning or ensure properties are developed, it is both an encouragement from the County that an area has met certain criteria for development, and a doorway to potential streamlining of CEQA and other evaluation steps before development (See SB375).

* Every 8 years ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments), which is comprised of representatives from Marin and other Bay Area municipalities, meet to allocate housing needs for the next 8 years in a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), based on growth projections

* The assessment for all of unincorporated Marin from 2007-2014 was over 750 units (which included 45 units in the Seminary property); the new assessment (which supersedes the previous one) for 2015-2022 is for 185 units across all income levels:
Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.47.32 AM

* The current proposal for the new Housing Element includes these locations and units:
Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.48.35 AM

To read the full report, go to

Strawberry Survey about the Seminary Property

People who missed the April 27 meeting about Strawberry’s future development and the Seminary property proposal have been asking about the meeting and where they can find the survey handed out there.

It’s hard to condense the presentation into a blog post.  The key points about the scope of the proposal on the table from the people who have the Seminary property under contract (but not closed on the sale) are in the survey document, which you can find below

But these are really the key points of the meeting:
* there are county-approved plans in place that guide development of all of Strawberry (the Strawberry Community Plans of 1973 and 1982) and specifically what can be developed on the Seminary property (the Seminary Master Plan of 1984).
* development plans that vary from those documents require updating those plans, which requires community involvement and review
* we believe that the current proposal does not comply with either the Strawberry Community Plan or the Seminary Master Plan
* we want to be able to tell the prospective buyers (and the County) the specific areas of concern the Strawberry community has about the general scope of the plan before getting into details, as well as what Strawberry residents would like to see happen with the Seminary property in the event of a sale.

More details are available in the survey here: Seminary Property Survey

Larkspur SAP, and a Tuesday night at the Lark Theater

Join us at a viewing of “Rebels with a Cause” at the Lark Theater in Larkspur at 7pm tonight and contribute to the fight against excessive development in Marin.


While we’re looking at the events going on in Strawberry, there are significant events happening throughout Marin – most notably the Larkspur Station Area Plan.

With the advent of the SMART train to Larkspur, the Larkspur City Council accepted a grant from MTC to evaluate options of what to do with the area around the new Larkspur Station (essentially Larkspur Landing, including the Ferry Building area, the mall and several properties in the area, including properties of the Ross Valley Sanitary District).

The most aggressive proposal is to build over 900 new units of housing (5 TIMES the WinCup building housing) at one of the worst intersections in the Bay Area, which regularly backs up traffic to Strawberry and often back to the Golden Gate Bridge.

(This traffic is why the county is planning to put metering lights at 101 onramps from the Golden Gate Bridge up to Larkspur.)

Bizarrely, this plan is put forward in the name of reducing greenhouse gases and traffic, though the plan itself acknowledges that it will increase both.  There’s no reason for this much building – the Larkspur Housing Element doesn’t call for it, even the required housing for all of unincorporated Marin is only 183 units – other than that developers and regional agencies want to develop Marin.

The Larkspur City Council who started this debacle – this is NOT the work of the County Supervisors – needs to hear from the whole county that this plan is ludicrous and that they need to build ZERO units at the 101/Sir Francis Drake intersection.  This will affect all of us in Marin county.

Visit for more information, or come see a great movie tonight (Tuesday) about the legacy of saving Marin from excessive development and preserving this beautiful place we call home.

Thanks for your support!

Strawberry Community Plan / Seminary Master Plan

There will be a lot of conversation in the next few months about these documents.

The Strawberry Community Plan and Seminary Master Plan are the guiding documents for the Strawberry community.  They were created by the community, with help from the county Planning Department, and officially adopted by the county as the governing master plans for the area.

We’ve made these documents available here, along with a little background.

The prospective buyers who currently have the Seminary under contract (but not yet purchased) have developed proposals for the 125+ acre seminary land, including a new day school (currently in discussion with Branson) rather than the on-campus residential school we’ve had in the Seminary  for the last 55 years, and 300 general market apartments rather than the student / faculty housing that was approved in the 1984 Seminary Master Plan.

A key point in the approval of any plan proposed by the buyers of the Seminary will be, does their proposal comply with these governing documents?  If not, what is the community’s opinion on the proposal?

It is critical that everyone in Strawberry gain a basic understanding of these documents to have an informed opinion on the upcoming proposals.

Please come to the community meeting at the Rec Center next Sunday, 4/27 at 7pm to hear about the new proposals and get a synopsis of the most important points of these governing plans.

Strawberry’s future – Join us 4/27/14 at the Rec Center

Congratulations to the Strawberry community for making itself heard and successfully resolving the PDA question at the board of Supervisors meeting.  Thanks to Supervisor Sears and the Board for hearing our request.

What now?  Two critical related items are showing up very quickly:

1) We’ve all seen the news about the deal to sell the Seminary property to a family trust from Ross.  There is the potential for this to be either very positive or very negative, but it could have a transformative effect on Strawberry in very real ways within 2 years.  Despite the nuance in the papers, this process isn’t over, it’s just starting.  Supervisor Sears suggested that their reps contact us to reach out to the community, a role we’re happy to take.  As this unfolds, it’s important that everyone participate in raising our concerns and communicating our wishes to the proposed buyers and their developers as they think about land use.

2) Supervisor Sears asked her fellow Supervisors to remove Strawberry’s PDA designation in order to give us room to vision what we want Strawberry to be.  We think it’s time to review and reaffirm the 1973 and 1982 Community Plans, and update them to reflect what’s been done and what needs to be done to maintain that high level vision of Strawberry as the town we all love today.

To get the community’s thoughts on these issues, we’re hosting an event at the Strawberry Rec Center 4/27, where we’ll:

* distill the key points of the Strawberry Community Plan for those who aren’t familiar with it
* distill the key points of the Seminary Master Plan for those who aren’t familiar with it
* share research and information we’ve found regarding the Strawberry infrastructure (traffic, schools, water, etc.)
* share what we’ve learned about the plans to develop the Seminary property from the proposed buyers based on our meetings with them
* find out what YOU think about the new plans and where they match or miss against our Plans so the developers can hear community issues

Look for more information here on the website in the next couple of weeks, or subscribe to our blog to stay up to date.  Please mark your calendar!

Sunday 2/23 4-8pm PDA Open House – Strawberry Rec Center

If you…

* still have questions about the PDA
* are looking for something to say
* have more to say than can fit into 2 minutes and want to share a perspective for someone else to read
* need a ride
* want to donate to SCA
* need to know where to go on Tuesday

…then please drop by the Strawberry Rec Center (downstairs) between 4-8pm today (Sunday).  Volunteers will be on hand to help make sure that anyone wishing to speak Tuesday on the PDA feels confident in doing so.

Be sure to check out the PDA information here as well (also in the “PDA Overview” menu above).

Above all, be sure to show up at the Board of Supervisors meeting this Tuesday at 1:30 at the BOS chambers on the 3rd floor of the Marin Civic Center!


URGENT: PDA Meeting 2/25 with the Board of Supervisors

On February 25, at 1:30 pm in the Board of Supervisors chambers on the 3rd floor of the Civic Center, the Supervisors will be considering the Priority Development Area designation for Strawberry.

This is a critical meeting, where the PDA can be
– approved and move forward, inviting aggressive high density development
– rescinded, like other PDAs in TamAlmonte, Marinwood, San Rafael and elsewhere
– modified and approved

This meeting is the culmination of the efforts of many to keep Strawberry from becoming a focal point for high density housing, with an invitation and incentives to developers to begin changing the nature of our community.

We STRONGLY urge every Strawberry resident who can attend to do whatever is necessary to be there.  It will be important that the Supervisors see that the community is strongly opposed to this novel and uncertain designation that carries so much risk with it. Look here to get more information about the PDA.

If you can’t be there, please write a letter to the board and let us know on the contacts page, we’ll find someone to read it..

If you can be there but don’t know what to say, consider one of the following, or look here, or contact us and we’ll find letters from people who can’t be there (including several former members of the Strawberry Design Review Board) that you can read aloud.

The Voice of Strawberry
The not-so-innocuous PDA
No PDA – AT ALL – in Strawberry
What the Strawberry Community Plan REALLY Says
The PDA is about High Density Housing, not Affordable Housing

Look for more 2-minute points you can make here in the coming week.  If you would like to write a 2-minute pitch to share with others, please contact us on the “Contact” page.

If there’s ONE event this year you need to be at to have an effect on the outcome of this debate, this is the one!  We’ll see you there!