Now reading

Social Equity Or NIMBYism? Marin County's Battle With Af...

Social Equity Or NIMBYism? Marin County's Battle With Affordable Housing

Marin County is home to thousands of acres of open space; national, state and regional parks; and one of the most staggering equity disparities in the country. According to the American Human Development Project, the median income for the wealthiest community in Marin County, Tiburon, is $80,000; the lowest is Canal at $21,000. The Canal

This map was produced as part of the Human Development Project's "Snapshot of Marin" report

Marin County is home to thousands of acres of open space; national, state and regional parks; and one of the most staggering equity disparities in the country. According to the American Human Development Project, the median income for the wealthiest community in Marin County, Tiburon, is $80,000; the lowest is Canal at $21,000. The Canal area, a primarily Latino neighborhood, falls short in health and education as well, and is rated at 3.91 on the Human Development Index (HDI). What’s even more stifling is that many affluent ‘Marinites' refuse to acknowledge this segregation, and are more concerned with protecting the character of their neighborhoods from the construction of affordable housing projects - a statement that other county residents interpret as racist and classist.

Oma Village is a planned affordable housing community in Novato, California.

The Marinites in question posit that urban planners are forcing the development of high-density affordable housing projects and transit systems in their neighborhoods. This NIMBYist (Not In My Backyard) attitude stems from the adoption of Plan Bay Area, a twenty-five-year non-regulatory regional plan for the San Francisco Bay. Plans like these have been State-mandated for California’s eighteen metropolitan areas in order to solve problems pertaining to:

Although Plan Bay Area is required under state law, its purpose is to guide development not force it; the plan explicitly states that “local land use authority is retained by the region’s cities and counties will continue to determine where future development occurs.”

Plan Bay Area

Despite this provision, ultra right-wing community groups continue to believe that Plan Bay Area is the extension of a global agenda to rob Americans of their freedom. Groups such as Citizen Marin and their outside agitator counterpart, the East Bay Tea Party, aggressively disrupt Town Hall meetings and verbally assault pro-affordable housing officials. They claim to be fighting against the destruction of the American Dream by regional governments; but judging by the predominately Caucasian ethnicity in communities such as the aforementioned Tiburon area, this view ends up appearing as a simple euphemism for elitism and bigotry.

How does NIMBYism affect the upward mobility of economically marginalized citizens?

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

Intern photo

Nick Danty is a graduate of the Geography and Planning Department at California State University, Chico and currently works at the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) in Santa Rosa. Nick has been involved in several programs a...

  • So glad to see this topic covered for the North Bay and add to the marginalized low-income voices there!
    It’s good to see Plan Bay Area in action and interesting to see who and where comes out against it….
    I always thought of the Bay area as SO progressive and above the NIMBY attitude that may have began as well intentioned neighborhood protectionist groups but has grown into a NIMBYism inequality promotion, halting well-needed affordable housing from going up all over the state!
    Great coverage of a great topic Nick!!

  • Nick Danty

    Thanks Gina! You’re right, unfortunately the wealthy communities throughout the Bay Area do harbor that NIMBY attitude when it comes to housing and planning, including even San Francisco where’d you think these ideas would be championed. Poverty in the North Bay can often be very overlooked, so it’s important to raise awareness about affordable housing and economic marginalization issues.
    I want to know what will happen if the city or county governments decide to act on any of Plan Bay Area’s recommendations, which is when we’ll really get to see it in action.

  • Libby Rodriguez

    I am an urban planning consultant. I think the best way to ‘do’ affordable housing is actually to sprinkle affordable units into more expensive single family neighborhoods or apartment complexes, rather than having them in one big block.

    This allows the lower income people to really become part of the neighborhood. And, it keeps from concentrating any of the pathos that are sometimes associated with poverty.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more Libby!!
    From a background in Conservation and Resource studies with an emphasis in Sustainability, the basis of my most core beliefs is in diversity….
    And I think that applies just as much to society as it does to natural resources!

  • Nick Danty

    I like the idea of ‘sprinkling’ affordable units in affluent areas to ameliorate current stigmas. That’s what’s so great about planning! When it’s done properly and is focused on improving quality of life, equality and diversity can flourish.

  • richard patrick

    Your subject is just fascinating for me. I was a poor advantaged minority when I came (legally) to California. I worked my tail off for 50 years to get out of shitty high density areas into Marin, with good schools, compatible neighbors, low crime, almost no graffiti, etc etc.

    All accomplished without the help of self appointed social engineers like yourselves. It’s called merit…you earn your way up, you should not mooch off others…OR you might end up as President, with zero achievements in life, and zero ability to even run a pop stand.

    You people need to get a real job and grow up.

    • Who is John Gault? Your comment is much appreciated Richard, but please keep your posts mature and without offensive language. We’re all adults here. Responding to your last comment “get a real job and grow up,” what is your definition of “real job?” The people who serve you food, pave your roads, drive you to the hospitals, patrol your streets, take care of your kids for at least 40 hours a week might be offended by you not calling those jobs real. They would probably love to move up within the hierarchy of their employer to the point where the could pay to live in Marin, but that doesn’t happen overnight no matter how long you work somewhere. You yourself said it took 50 years. Also, do you believe it’s ok that certain communities throughout the Bay Area have inadequate schools, incompatible neighborhoods, high crime, and tons of graffiti? That if you want a decent quality of life for yourself and your family you have make 90k a year and wait 50 years? I will tell you that working class families in these areas do not deserve a sub-par environment, and work with just as much purpose in their life as yourself. But you should know that this regional “social-engineering” is not a mandatory measure, so no affordable housing development will be planned without approval from the Marin County government, Not to mention that Marin is absorbing the least amount of growth that is expected in Plan Bay Area, which is mostly occurring near downtown. So don’t worry about losing your large lot home to other legal immigrants.

  • Michael Smith

    We moved to Marin two years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia which is consistently rated one of the most livable cities in the world. We chose Marin because we thought it had the combination of beauty and open minded liberalism that we were used to and comfortable with. Well, we were so wrong.

    Marin is being taken over by what is basically a Tea Party mindset masked behind a pseudo facade of environmental liberalism. The veneer is thin. I can’t read any paper or blog about Marin where either the article or the comment section isn’t riddled with Tea Party jargon, buzz phrases and other rhetoric. It’s very scary. What I’ve found is pretty classic. It really isn’t Marin’s wealthiest that are leading this nimbyism. Most of Marin’s old time money came from a progressive mindset born in the 60’s and is still adhered to. There just a bunch of ex-hippies done good. What is bring this frightening conservatism into Marin is what we call in Marin “the wannabes”. They are the type of people who believe that they have clawed their way into the right zip code and now they must be someone special because of it.

    What we are seeing is something that has often been seen in history where a group of people hold disdain for the socio-economic class that is right below them. It’s like the mirror they thought they escaped is biting at their heels. Nobody has the disdain for anyone or any group of people unless they are seeing some reflection they don’t like about themselves in them. It’s really pretty sad to see and we’ve even thought of leaving Marin if this faction of folks continue their aggressive attempts to force Marin politics to the dark side. It’s very much akin to the kind of folks that have been recruited into the Tea Party, Citizens United, etc. They are middle class people at best who seem to worship the rich. Maybe because they believe their salvation lies in becoming rich too. I don’t know. It’s crazy but they are turning Marin from being one of the few areas where affluence and liberalism successfully mix into an area that is more like something you’d find in the southeastern U.S. It’s terrible.

  • Michael Smith

    Richard Patrick above is very much the kind of mentality that I see pervading Marin. With a name about as white-Anglo Saxon as you can get, I’m not sure what kind of minority he claims to fall under but a place like Marin, where the cost of living is one of the highest in the country, isn’t a place one merely works hard to get into because it’s literally impossible to work that much harder to make living in Marin happen. Tell that to the corporate types in Tiburon who are on the tennis courts everyday by 2:00 p.m. But you can feel his disdain for those who remind him of what he once was. That’s the mentality that is leading the anti-everything crowd in Marin and thank God Marin is beautiful to the eye because energetically this kind of thinking isn’t making it beautiful to the soul. I’m hoping that those higher minded Marinites will wake up and see that their once compassionate, open-minded county is becoming and at least they will be embarrased enough by it to get involved and not let these types take over Marin politics.

  • Robin

    I’m a part Latino, Asian and White hybrid and I worked my ass off to live in Marin. I see no racism here, ever. Racism and nimbyism is now constantly used as a weapon by urban planners, social engineers to sell their crazy urban planning ideas. You must create an enemy, (rich Marinites)so uneducated people will focus on that and not your unrealistic high density blueprints. Please do not use our communities to practice your urban planning skills you learned in college. We are told, shop local, eat local, how about leave city and town planning to the locals. Sad..

  • Batman

    Leave planning to the locals? Uh yeah duh, it’s called a Planning Commission and it’s made up of locals! They have the final say as to what gets built and where, so don’t blame the planners, blame YOUR elected officials. Maybe you should have worked your ass off to go to college like so many of us did, and then at best you’d read your idiotic close-minded responses before posting them. You’d also be able to see past the facade of libertarian politics that have you convinced that urban planners are social engineers hell bent on destroying your life, a belief that many of the uneducated people you speak of can see right through. Oh, and might I ask, how much would your life be impacted if full-blooded legal Latino immigrant children had access to good schools and parks? Would you buy an assault rifle and head for the hills if a new apartment building was constructed next to your local Whole Foods? Would your life be without joy if a single mom working 2 jobs to support two kids was able to live closer to her work and childrens schools? I dare you to go to Marin City or Canal and tell people there that they’re uneducated for wanting any of the above luxuries.

  • I’ve known of this post for a while, but it has almost seemed unworthwhile responding due to the nature of it’s inaccuracy and containing ad hominem attacks.

    Does anyone else find it hypocritical that the writer Nick Danty states in his comments “please keep your posts mature and without offensive language” yet is the first to lead off descending to name calling opponents using the term NIMBY. I find this offensive as it falsely simplifies a wholly complex and nuanced topic with a smear intended to distance observers who otherwise might read up on the topic, become informed and discover that Danty’s arguments are completely misplaced.

    Now on the topics of inaccuracy, where to start. I shall endeavour to be precise and include citations.

    First let’s get the most obvious, and blatant inaccurate statement by Danty out of the way:

    “ultra right-wing community groups continue to believe that Plan Bay Area is the extension of a global agenda to rob Americans of their freedom. Groups such as Citizen Marin…”

    Danty might be surprised to learn that Citizen Marin was co-founded by Marin Democratic Central Party committee member Susan Kirsch.

    Frank Egger, former seven time mayor of Fairfax – a town known for being ultra liberal – and director for the Ross Valley Sanitary District regularly attends Citizen Marin meetings and writes on the same exact topics:

    Bob Silvestri was also highly involved in Citizen Marin speaking at it’s event. Silvestri is also very liberal – he is outspoken about raising the minimum wage and is a former affordable housing developer. He has written an excellent book on the topic that goes into far more detail than Danty’s piece:

    But having laid bare the inaccurate smear tactics, let’s get down to the brass tacks of Danty’s mis-statements. Danty states:

    “The Marinites in question posit that urban planners are forcing the development of high-density affordable housing projects and transit systems in their neighborhoods. This NIMBYist (Not In My Backyard) attitude…“
    Plan Bay Area primarily manifests using the vehicle of “Priority Development Areas” or PDAs that are supposedly volunteered by local communities to accept significant development growth.

    I live the area that was formerly a PDA. The city nominated it to be a PDA, as for outreach this is what the city states:

    “There was no formal notification or community outreach employed when the PDA application was presented to the City County… PDA designations do not require any formal notification or outreach.”


    Only once the nature and purpose of PDAs became disclosed and apparent to residents, which they were forced to discover and research on their own watch, did opposition occur. The PDAs offered a paltry amount of transportation funding, in the case of Civic Center San Rafael’s mayor estimated $500k at best, but would set into motion planning for 1,300+ new housing units that would at the outset require the adjacent Freitas Parkway freeway interchange to be reconfigured at an estimated cost exceeding $15m.

    Residents spent 2 years attending a workshop referred to conveniently inaccurately as a “Station Area Plan” – rezoning and affordable housing was concealed. The most common feedback, repeated more than any other piece of feedback, was regarding heights – please don’t build plan buildings over 3 storys. Yet at its conclusion the committee spent an hour debating whether 4 or 5 storys was appropriate completely disregarding a crowd of 50 residents who not only observed but further reinforced this concern.

    In Marin almost every PDA except for downtown San Rafeal (which may be appropriate as it is already relatively dense), California Park (which is a dud – no developer would build there) and Marin City remain. Every other PDA was finally exposed, exhaustive research conducted, and after overwhelming informed popular pressure rescinded.

    You can watch video of the quite extraordinary debate that ensued in Strawberry, a suburb of Mill Valley, where informed citizens had read up and educated themselves on the facts to a level where the Supervisor, Kate Sears, who had doggedly pushed the PDA through and refused at that point to rescind it was completely out of her depth defending the PDA.

    At a higher level what seems to be occurring is two groups have formed, and my apologies for being simplistic or using labels – but I am not going to descend to derogatory labels such as Nick Denty has done.
    Progressives: A group who believe they are being progressive, steadfastly believe that the Bay Area must grow and grow much faster than at previous rates, in order to address a number of ills: make housing affordable, address racial imbalances, reduce greenhouse gases, create jobs and keep the Bay Area competitive with an affordable workforce. This group stridently believes that the car must be replaced by transit, and that new and existing residents can be persuaded to adopt new, high cost transit investments such as trains. Although quite separate, this group is supported by housing developers, including non-profit developers (where execs still make exorbitant salaries) and Wall Street which finances new development such as Tamal Vista in Corte Madera – the carbuncle of Marin.

    Aware Residents: A growing body of residents has found themselves involved in the debate as their neighborhoods have been “nominated” for densification – routinely without their consent or even outreach. Somehow Democracy failed. They researched and realized that to build enough housing to return the Bay Area to being “affordable” is an exercise in ocean boiling that they would prefer not occur in their neighborhood. Claims of addressing racial imbalances fall amiss when it is realize that new housing cannot be selectively kept aside for minorities. In fact the Marin City PDA is set to actually remove one of Marin’s last areas with high diversity, replacing historic buildings with gentrified replacements. As for the idea to move everyone from cars to transit – what progressives fail to realize is the gap between whim and reality. Historically despite increasing investments in transit in the Bay Area per capita transit usage has actually dropped. This is covered here:

    What actually gets built, when allowed, are buildings like Tamal Vista which is 90% market rate offering luxury apartments most suitable for well paid San Francisco workers more likely to drive.

    Ultimately the author sees Plan Bay Area as the manifestation of Sacramento’s Senate Bill 375. This seeks to achieve “sustainable communities” but is really a Trojan horse to help state senate and assembly leaders who have received substantial campaign funding from development and building union interests. It is based on flawed analysis that if large numbers of new and existing residents can be switched from cars to transit this will alleviate greenhouse gas emissions. Besides failing to address causality whereby policies may actually reverse trends and lead to a new adoption of transit, the analysis overlooks that by about 2020 cars will emit less greenhouse gases per passenger mile than transit. I’ve run the math:

    In fact the case for transit being green is even worse than I state as trains like SMART won’t carry 44.1 passengers on average, but at best about 32 riders on average. At that ridership this diesel train will significantly increase emissions.

    Bottom line is we have two groups:

    Progressives – operating on whims, that do not look at the facts. They believe they “know what’s best” and drive through their policies – which only works until their subterfuge is discovered.

    And then there are “aware residents” that are growing in number. They are not about to allow their neighborhoods get densified, bring acute traffic congestion or parking issues upon themselves, or increase the likelihood of water rationing. They aren’t prepared to sacrifice quality of life for leap of faith likely ocean boiling exercises that are only certain to benefit developers and Wall Street. They might accept 20 or 30 units in their neighborhood but with Plan Bay Area’s PDAs they faced hundreds or thousands of new units.

    In Marin what was initially considered flash in the pan opposition became the dominant force in elections, removing almost every single “pro-development” candidate from office, one long-term incumbent even suffered a remarkable landslide defeat, something that rarely happens in politics:

    Mr Danty’s article is based on whim and inaccuracy and descends to name calling. It has taken me a while to respond to this article because on so many levels, as should be obvious from the above, it is not deserving of a response.

  • Pingback: A Response to Global Site Plans’ Nick Danty | Planning for Reality()

  • Ben

    Richard Hall, the majority of this blog is on affordable housing not transportation. Granted, you can’t talk about land use without getting involved in transportation, but in this case affordable housing should be the focus. The fact that over half the population in San Rafael is labeled as lower income shows that affordable housing should be looked at more closely. Additionally, many of the lower income, primarily hispanic, population that lives in Canal and San Rafael might not have the time to be engaged in local politics. When you have multiple children, work two jobs, English is your second language, and you drive long distances to work, attending city council meetings might not fit in with your schedule. Rich NIMBY’s have more political bargaining power and free time to block affordable housing projects and capital improvements for public transportation. You might think NIMBY is an offensive word, but that is exactly what anti-growth proponents believe…”I agree with public transportation and affordable housing, but I don’t want it anywhere near my home.” I think what this article is trying to convey is that there is a group of people in Marin County who are vehemently opposed to providing the least well-off in our society with basic human services i.e. housing. Weather or not the author incorrectly labeled Citizen Marin as conservative or not really does not matter. What does matter is that people across the spectrum are taking up arms against affordable housing projects and growth in general. What gives someone the right to move to a nice community and then not allow others to move there? Doesn’t make sense to me but then again I’m just a tree-hugging, bleeding heart, cheese-eating liberal.

    Your moment of zen…
    “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

  • @Ben:
    You state:
    “Weather [sic] or not the author incorrectly labeled Citizen Marin as conservative or not really does not matter.”

    It matters 100% – the author is running fast and loose with the facts. It’s a propaganda piece. The entire credibility of the piece is in question. It’s not like Citizen Marin was right and not ultra-right; Citizen Marin is founded by the left with members on the ultra left. In terms of right or wrong the statement is as far as you can go off the spectrum in terms of wrong.


    Once again the reality breaks down your argument:
    “”I agree with public transportation and affordable housing, but I don’t want it anywhere near my home.””

    Like many in Marin I live in a neighborhood that is comprised of 20% affordable housing. That’s the law for any new development in Marin. The opposition is not so much towards affordable housing as high density housing – large apartment complexes which are a departure from low rise, low density Marin. The people who moved to Marin came from locations like SF and stretched their budgets to be able to live in a community that was suburban and rural. Now folks like yourself are pushing to turn their investment back into the place they sought to leave.

    Many opponents are residents of affordable housing. Yet you clump the whole lot together as “Rich NIMBYs”.

    When development is allowed, guess what actually got built. The 180 unit Tamal Vista complex in Corte Madera has just 10% – 18 affordable units – yet it is going to create a traffic nightmare in an already highly congested area.


    Remember affordable housing is actually subsidized housing. It places an additional burden on schools, police, fire… Consider that Marin already has the highest property tax in the entire state. You might say “that’s because their houses are more expensive” – not so. This is a percentage rate. These property taxes are passed through to renters.


    Consider also that many with 2 or 3 jobs on low incomes are highly dependent on transit and transportation. If you over-densify you will push the already acute 101 traffic issues beyond current levels and reduce commute radiuses.

    And don’t get me started by suggesting the ludicrous SMART train is the solution. Hybrid rail systems get 32.5 riders on average, there are 11 trains each way. That’s 357 riders. Typically 70% will be displaced bus riders. Consider by comparison that 101 carries over 500,000 people a day at the Novato narrows. Then you can understand that this proffered solution delivers a rounding error in terms of alleviating 101 congestion, yet with bond interest will cost taxpayers $1.6 bn (and climbing) including those in the Canal District.

    Those residents needed better bus services – for a fraction of the money the train cost bus service could have been expanded across the county helping them get to their jobs.

    The things you are advocating are going to compound commute radius issues, increase taxes – they are going to make Marin even less livable (try driving on 101 during commute) and urbanize it – this will be irreversible. Attempting to return Marin to any kind of “affordability” will be an ocean boiling exercise – by the time your done Marin will be ruined.


    As for who has bargaining power, homeowners, who scarcely had the time (and weren’t even notified) had to take a year out of their lives to fight ludicrous plans that were slipped passed them. Homeowners are the bottom of the totem pole. The power lies with:

    – bike, pedestrian and transit lobbying groups that routinely send paid advocates and letters supporting growth

    – urbanization advocates, architects of high density housing and transit advocates who insert themselves onto community committees (or who get planted) like the blatantly rigged Civic Center Station Area Plan

    – unelected, unaccountable bodies such as the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that are controlled by a small group of insiders on key committees

    – city managers, city staff and planners who push flawed (but admirable) notions of solving housing, climate and transportation issues based on whims and sound bites rather than data


    – first ABAG and San Rafael ignored residents, pushing through Priority Development Areas without any outreach or consultation

    – then smear tactics and ridicule: urbanization opponents are labelled NIMBYs, ultra-right, tea party

    – then they fight you: daily I see articles such as this in the paper that misconstrue and falsely frame the issue. They present the housing crisis as if it is the only crisis – as if there is no extreme long term drought, no issue with the highest taxes in the state and there are no acute traffic issues

    Right back at you with the words of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi…

    “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” – Mahatman Gandhi

Tuesdays, in your inbox.

Weekly local urbanist news and jobs. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!