General Articles
Marin Rebalancing
Marin County is in an enviable location, boasting mountains, coastal waters and rolling hills, close proximity to one of the world’s great cities and easy access to California’s north coast and Wine Country. At first glance, it seems ideal, but nothing is perfect. Sometimes the characteristics that are most appealing have a downside that an area has to address, if it is to grow sustainably and thrive. Such is the case in Marin. The high price of housing in particular is an issue. However, the entities involved are working together in a positive way to maintain the attributes residents treasure most, while striving to make the county a place where people can put down roots.
 

On the road

Traffic creeps slowly out of Sausalito on weekday afternoons, as cars make their way onto Highway 101 and join a steady stream of vehicles heading northbound and soon slow to a crawl. Gridlock is a daily event, and it’s frustrating for everyone. “You really just don’t want to go out there,” says Robin Sternberg, chief executive officer of the Marin Economic Forum. Many people don’t have a choice, and congestion is inevitable in a county with few options.
Marin’s residents value its natural beauty, but its geographic assets also impose limitations. Highway 101, which runs between the mountains and bay from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Sonoma County border is the county’s principal thoroughfare. It provides access to most of Marin cities and towns and bisects San Rafael and Novato, the county’s largest cities, so it’s the only logical choice for Marin residents. In addition, Highway 580, the route from the East Bay, and Highway 37, the road for drivers coming from points east in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties feed into Highway 101. In addition, Highway 101 serves as Main Street for Marin residents because there are not significant parallel street networks. “Everybody’s using the highway as a local road,” says Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin. She reports approximately 200,000 vehicles a day travel on Highway 101.
To find out where all those cars are coming from, TAM, a Joint Powers Authority with a 16-member board that includes the Marin County Board of Supervisors and a representative from each jurisdiction, acquired statistical information revealing that 55 percent of commuters crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco in the morning are from Sonoma County, just passing through, while most of the East Bay residents who enter Marin stay in the county to work. The result is three major hot spots: access from Highway 101 to Highway 580 and the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, the Marin-Sonoma Narrows on Highway 101 and Highway 37.
 

Cause and effect

The data shows that people are driving a long way to get to work, and Steinhauser points to the lack of affordable low-and moderate-income housing in Marin County as one of the reasons. She reports that the Marin Employment Forecast from Plan Bay Area, a collaboration of the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transit Commission, projected the addition of 16,800 jobs to Marin County over a 30-year period from 2010 to 2040. However, 13,900 jobs have already been added, she says, yet 13,900 units of housing for workers have not. In contrast, Solano County has added 40,000 units of new housing. “Those people are driving here to work, because they can’t afford to live here,” she says. Backed-up traffic is one of the consequences, and it makes the trip along Highway 37 between Novato and Vallejo an 80-minute drive during peak hours, instead of the usual 20.
With so many cars traveling in and out of Marin, bottlenecks are inescapable, and TAM is actively working to find ways to relieve the congestion at the three critical points Steinhauser identified. The solutions include building a direct connector to Highway 580 from Highway 101, which will allow drivers to avoid going through the current traffic lights in San Rafael and on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Larkspur. Meanwhile, work is already underway to create a bike lane on the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, with a moveable barrier so it can accommodate cars when required. Widening the narrows from Novato to Sonoma County on Highway 101 is on the to-do list, and plans for Highway 37 are yet to come, but TAM has two goals: relieving congestion and addressing flooding, which forced closure of the Marin stretch for several weeks after a levee broke during the rainstorms of early 2017.
Coy Smith, chief executive officer of the Novato Chamber of Commerce, is looking at Highway 37 issues, which traverses wetlands and is sinking. He believes one of the best options presented to date is an 11-mile bridge to replace the current roadway, and it would also address potential sea-level rise, should it occur. However, it would be extremely expensive. 
Funding for the improvements will come from the state. Senate Bill 1, a $52.4 billion revenue and spending bill that raises fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees will pay for road, bridge and freeway repairs as well as transit projects. Regional Measure 3 will increases tolls on seven Bay Area bridges, excluding the Golden Gate Bridge, which has separate management. Fixing the three critical spots will improve traffic flow, but they’re just part of the solution. SMART’s commuter service, which launched on August 25, is one piece of the puzzle, and Smith believes it would help if people were to take buses, trains and other modes of transportation when possible and increase the amount of kids riding school buses.
 

Creative thinking

It takes a shift in thinking to get people out of cars, but Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly, who represents most of San Rafael and adjacent unincorporated areas, showed that it’s possible, when he took on a personal challenge and went an entire month without using his car or changing his schedule. “I used all modes of transit,” he says, including public transit, the occasional car pool and a bicycle. “The goal was to find out what’s working and what’s not,” he explains. It took flexibility and planning, but he found that biking is a healthy and convenient way to travel, regional transit is good, and local transit is improving. He believes that finding ways for people to get to and from transit stops would help and reports that the county transportation authority has partnered with Lyft to implement a rideshare program to offer discounted rides for commuters to and from SMART stations.
School bus use is also increasing. In southern Marin, Tiburon, Belvedere and the Reed Union School District formed a JPA in 2016 to operate the Yellow School Bus Challenge. This allows students in K-8 schools, who live in Belvedere, Tiburon and part of East Corte Madera, to get out of cars and onto school buses. Its mission was to reduce afternoon traffic on Tiburon Blvd., the main route in and out of town, which has a two-lane stretch notorious for afternoon backups. With 45 percent of students riding the bus at least one way, it appears to be working. “Everyone says the buses make a huge difference,” says Tiburon Town Manager Greg Chanis. The JPA contracted Marin Transit to do logistical management of the program, and its employees track the buses to make sure they’re on time and text parents to notify them of any delays. Passes pay for about half the costs, and Tiburon and Belvedere subsidize the buses and cover any shortfall. “It’s a great program with a great example of collaboration,” says Chanis. This academic year, the JPA expanded the service by working with the Corte Madera-Larkspur School District to use the same buses and create a route that takes children from Larkspur to the Cove School in East Corte Madera. “We see it as a huge team effort,” he says, but adds, “Ultimately, there needs to be a regional solution.”
Steinhauser believes it’s important to give people a variety of choices, with SMART, school buses, safe places to walk and cycle and public transit, among them. “Hopefully, you give people enough quality options that they don’t have to drive,” she says. Meanwhile, she reports that funding to resolve the issues is essential. The state passed Regional Measure 3 in September, and now needs voter approval. “This is a really good deal for Marin. It’s critical that the public approves it,” she says.
Meanwhile, heavy traffic continues and has consequences that go beyond the time spent behind the wheel. “Traffic affects everyone. There is a cost to having traffic,” says Sternberg. When people don’t go out to spend money because they’re avoiding traffic, she adds, it affects local businesses and the economy. It also takes a toll on families, when wage earners work a long way from home. According to Steinhauser, MEF can bring the voice of the economy to the problem and help to build consensus “It’s something we need to plan. We need to do it right. We need to be smart about it,” she says.
 

Finding a home

With an area of just 828 square miles, Marin is a relatively small county, and a substantial amount of land is protected as open space, parks, watersheds, tidelands and agriculture land. Its environmental attributes and closeness to San Francisco make it a desirable place to live, but limited space for development means that demand exceeds supply, and it’s expensive. The California Association of Realtors reported that the median price of a single-family home in August 2017 was more than $1.2 million dollars.
The lack of affordable workforce housing is having a profound impact. “We have traffic congestion, a labor shortage, and really, it’s pointing to the fact that we haven’t increased our housing stock enough,” says Joanne Webster, chief executive officer of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce. She adds that the inequality gap is huge, with multi-million dollar homes at one end of the scale and low-end housing at the other. “What about in between? That’s our workforce housing in Marin,” she says. “The [middle income] demographic is being completely left out, and that is of concern,” she adds. According to Webster, businesses might leave the county to relocate if their employees can’t afford housing. She says Marin housing has become a middle-class issue, with employees who have jobs that pay well unable to afford housing, and talented people refusing to accept jobs that require them to relocate to Marin. “My fear is that we will begin to experience the dislocation of business to other areas where they can find workers,” she says.
She believes that pride in one’s community is also an issue. If workers live elsewhere, they’re focusing their energies on that community, rather than the one where they’re working. In addition, Marin businesses tend to be generous, and their employees who live outside Marin don’t benefit from their philanthropy. “It would foster a greater sense of pride in the community if the workforce lived locally,” she says. “There’s a disconnect.” 
 

Finding answers

With the amount of land for new development limited, solutions are elusive. Connolly believes that one way to address the shortage of housing is to repurpose current properties. He gives Marinwood Plaza, in an unincorporated area of north San Rafael as an example of an underutilized property that could be converted to mixed-use including community-serving retail with some housing for people at different income levels. Once a busy shopping center, a substantial amount of its space is now vacant, and the community supports its conversion to mixed use with retail and some housing. It is, however, a toxic waste site, thanks to a former tenant who was a dry cleaner and allowed chemicals to seep into the ground, making remediation a necessity before it can move forward. He also believes that small in-fill projects might be worthwhile, especially in downtown San Rafael, and aggressively pursuing a policy to allow accessory dwelling units would help. “We see that as another opportunity for affordability,” he says.
In addition, he points to Section 8 rentals, a government-funded program that helps low-income families, seniors and veterans find affordable housing, and Marin’s efforts to incentivize landlords to participate through the Landlord Partnership Program, which to date has added 70 new landlords to the list of those who will accept Section 8 vouchers. Many landlords were reluctant to provide Section 8 housing, because they had misconceptions about possible tenants and believed their property might incur damage, or they might lose security deposits. To encourage them to become part of the program, the county made money from its general fund available to compensate them should that occur. It rarely happened however, and the strategy encouraged more landlords to participate. In addition, Marin offered one such incentive whereby landlords willing to participate in the Section 8 program were offered interest-free loans, so they could renovate their buildings. According to Connolly, many of them have taken advantage of the funding.
Lewis Jordan is on the front lines of the low-income housing dilemma as executive director of the Housing Authority of Marin, which owns and manages 500 units of housing with support from the federal government. Of those, 300 are in Marin City’s Golden Gate Village, and the rest are spread throughout the county. He reports that with Connolly championing the effort, MHA has ramped up its partnership with the landlords, and 55 new property owners have signed onto the Section 8 program in the past year. It’s still not enough, however. Jordan reports that the vacancy rate in Marin is only 3 percent and people are competing for housing. To address the shortage, he says, “We’re actively looking for properties we can acquire.” Explaining that the Marin County Foundation, the County of Marin’s Community Development Agency and the City of San Rafael are working in partnership to find opportunities. “We have to find ways to create units,” he says, identifying building, acquiring and converting property as possible ways to do it.  
Jordan believes that providing housing for low-income earners is the right thing to do. “It’s a good, sound business decision to have a well-rounded diverse community that can live, work and play in the same area,” he said, and it has a positive effect on families when breadwinners have the security of knowing they’re close to their children and loved ones and can build intergenerational relationships. “Those things are very important,” he says. “No matter what your station in life is, you deserve a good housing opportunity.” 
In his opinion, part of the solution is changing the narrative about affordable housing and making clear who needs it. He points out that educators and first-responders often find the cost of Marin prohibitive, and that needs to change. “We want to make sure we have a continuously growing and thriving community,” he says. Landlords should think of tenants as a long-term investment, he adds. “Overall, I believe there’s an opportunity for strong landlord-tenant relationships in our county,” he says. According to Jordan, if people have the comfort and ease of being able to live and work in the same community, the result will be a stronger workforce. 
 

The state steps in

The high cost of housing is an issue throughout California, and to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing, the California legislature passed three bills in early October. Senate Bill 2 levies a $75 recording feel on real estate transactions to help pay for affordable housing, and Senate Bill 3 places $4 billion in general obligation bonds for affordable housing on the ballot for voter approval in 2018. Senate Bill 35 streamlines the process for developers in communities that have failed to reach the targets for regional housing needs, which the Association of Bay Area Government sets for Marin County. Assemblyman Marc Levine voted for SBs 2 and 3, but not for SB 35. “I’m not sure the three of them will solve the North Bay’s housing problem,” he says. The economy is driving a job-housing imbalance, he adds, so even people earning $100,00 a year are having problems. “The best way to help people is to raise incomes and stem the inequality,” he says.
He points out that if voters approve SB 3, the state will incur hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. “If there’s a recession, it will cause us to make cuts to critical social safety nets,” he points out. However, he adds, “I have to look at the pros and cons. I look at the entirety of the impacts.”
In the case of SB 35, he explains that cities saw it as a negative, because it takes away some of the local decision-making power, while developers viewed it as a positive, because it allows a streamlined process. At the same time, it would force them to pay a prevailing wage, so they might prefer to keep things the way they are and pay low wages. “It’s unclear whether SB 35 would have the intended consequences the author sought,” he says. Although the goal is more affordable housing, he’s not sure it can deliver. He points out that it’s punitive for communities that haven’t built as much as required, but municipalities don’t build houses, developers do. “There’s no way for a city to reach its goals if developers don’t want to build.” 
 

Construction

Developers who want to build in Marin County face significant hurdles, which can include fierce neighborhood opposition and complex regulations that lack consistency from one jurisdiction to another. An example of the obstacles new projects often encounter is Grady Ranch in Lucas Valley, one of Marin’s last undeveloped parcels. Lucasfilm purchased the property and planned to build a digital film studio on the 230-acre site, which was zoned for 232 houses and got initial approval in 1996. Neighborhood objections and regulatory delays prevented the project from moving forward, however, and in 2012, Lucasfilm withdrew its plans and announced its intention to sell the land, which is still undeveloped, for low-cost housing.
Furthermore, navigating the process to acquire permits can be overwhelming. “I’ve heard dozens, if not hundreds, of comments from contractors, designers, architects and homeowners about their experience with the permitting and inspection process across the board in Marin County,” says Rick Wells, chief executive officer of the Marin Builders Association. He explains that each jurisdiction has its own group of elected officials, city staff and individual needs, leading to a unique set of requirements. A contractor can work at one municipality in the morning and another in the afternoon. “It’s like a different country,” he observes. It’s frustrating for people on both sides of the counter, because it takes more time for planning staff to explain procedures and requirements, and, ultimately, it makes jobs tougher to complete, because it results in longer time frames and more expensive projects. To improve the experience, MBA is working in partnership with the Marin Economic Forum to address the issues with Marin’s communities. Simplifying the process and educating the community are among the goals, as well putting information into a condensed and clear format. “Our ultimate goal is to work with all 11 municipalities,” says Wells, who reports that several of them are receptive to streamlining the process. He explains that a misperception exists that the planning departments don't care what people think. But in fact, he says, they do want to know how they can improve the process.
Wells sees it as an opportunity for the industry, because easing the process could increase the percentage of work that’s done with permits. He reports that approximately 40 percent of construction work in Marin County is unpermitted currently, and additional permit fees would provide more resources that could benefit the entire community. He adds, “There is no silver bullet for this,” explaining that it will take years to create a systemic culture adjustment. 
Connolly believes improved communication would also help, and he gives a proposed senior facility in Marinwood as an example. The Oaks is a 120-unit complex on 9.6 acres, and is in accordance with a master plan that the board of supervisors approved in 2005. Before proceeding, the developer, Venture Corp. of Mill Valley, met with county planning staff and held a community meeting with neighbors to gain their input and allow them to make their issues known. It had positive results and should help to avoid unexpected obstacles later in the process. Says Connolly, “It makes sense to engage the community early and often.”
 

Labor

Also of concern to Wells is the difficulty builders have in finding skilled labor because it prevents businesses from growing at the pace they should. He identifies a competitive real estate market as one factor, since it means the workforce has to come from outside the county. This labor shortage will be magnified with the recent fire damage across the North Bay. In addition, too few people are pursuing vocational education, so the number of new workers entering the building trades isn’t sufficient to offset the attrition that occurs as older workers retire.
One solution is training, and MBA works in partnership with the Marin County Office of Education’s Regional Occupational Program to offer Learn to Build, an annual 18-week class at Redwood High School in Larkspur that introduces high school students and adults to skills required in the construction industry, such as blueprint reading and electrical and plumbing basics. The Marin Builders Association supports the Marin County Office of Education Regional Occupational Program (ROP) Construction Technology Program, which helps introduce High School Juniors and Seniors to the trades. College of Marin is exploring the addition of much needed construction management and readiness programs. And Wells speaks highly of North Bay “TIP,” a pre-apprenticeship program that California Proposition 39 funds to give potential entry-level workers a chance to find out more about areas of the building trades that interest them and hear guest speakers. “They have some great success stories,” says Wells. “Anything we do to add quality workers to the industry benefits all of us.” 
He adds that the building trades offer meaningful and enjoyable work that can be lucrative. “Our industry is full of successful individuals that do very well for themselves,” he says. He adds that the challenge with young workers entering the building trade is the cultural change that would be required. 
 

Opportunities

CareerPoint Marin, a division of Marin County Health & Human Services formerly called Marin Employment Connection, is responsible for making policy and implementing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as part of a federal, state and local partnership, with the support of funding from the Department of Labor. It’s a member of the Workforce Alliance of the North Bay, along with Napa and Lake counties, and among its services, it helps individuals who are looking for jobs and assists businesses that need to fill vacancies. It provides training in jobs and job-seeking skills, as well as a variety of services available through its Career Resource Center in San Rafael, including job-search assistance and labor market information.
To offer training that is meaningful, CareerPoint looks at the sectors that have a demand and encourages its clients to prepare for jobs in those fields. “If individuals want to live, work and thrive in Marin, those are the jobs they need and skills they should attain,” says Sherry Parr, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act program manager. CareerPoint finds that healthcare, government and the hospitality industry are fields where employers find filling positions challenging, and so the staff seeks out business partners who are likely to hire people who have completed appropriate training.
To meet a range of needs, CareerPoint offers career ladders that allow workers to start at the bottom and work up. Caran Cuneo, business engagement coordinator at Workforce Alliance North Bay, explains that healthcare is a field with a demand for qualified employees. Someone might enter the field as a caregiver, and obtain training and certifications even becoming a registered nurse. Similarly, in the hospitality industry, someone might start as a housekeeper or dishwasher, and then take training to acquire skills that will allow for advancement. It’s a practical approach, because it allows people to earn as they learn. “They need to increase their skills, but have other needs that take precedence,” says Parr, pointing out that employees have other obligations, such as paying a mortgage. She reports that CareerPoint has redrafted its on-the-job training program to make it easier for employers by subsidizing clients in the first months they are learning a job. After six months, a client whose performance is satisfactory will retain the job as a regular employee. “The way we’ve streamlined the County paperwork has cut down on the processing time, making it easier for employers to participate in the program,” says Parr, explaining that one of the biggest challenges for clients is meeting daily demands and learning at the same time.
Paula Glodowski, Marin County Social Services division director, adds that a pre-apprenticeship in construction is the result of a partnership that involves the College of Marin and unions in the construction industry. The goal is to create pathways for people and put them on the road to self-sufficiency, and the collaboration allows members to address common issues and contribute individual perspectives to create one common voice. Partnerships include Tam Adult Education, the Marin County Office of Education and various healthcare employers, as well as the College of Marin.
Career Point’s clients aren’t just entry level. Sometimes they are seasoned employees who suddenly find themselves out of a job and discover they need to upgrade their skills. “If you’re laid off, and you haven’t written a résumé in 20 years, you may find yourself in need of assistance,” says Parr. “We provide that assistance, as well as help others with finding an entry level position. We serve everyone.”
Such was the case when Fireman’s Fund closed its offices in Novato. Cuneo reports that Rapid Response, a program that offers free outplacement for any business that’s downsizing, sent CareerPoint staff to talk about the services employees could take advantage of, such as new methods for conducting a job search, using resources like LinkedIn, upgrading skills in Microsoft Office, or working with a counselor to develop an employment plan.
 

Demographic change

CareerPoint’s average job seeker is 45 to 55, and it’s a reflection of a demographic imbalance resulting from the graying of Marin. A Marin County Grand Jury report in 2014 showed that one in four residents was over the age of 60, and it further predicted that by 2030, one in three will be a senior. It’s a change that creates a dilemma in the workplace, because as people retire, businesses often have difficulty finding younger workers to replace them. Younger workers in the healthcare industry are especially important, because they’re essential for taking care of an aging population.
Often described as a silver tsunami, it’s a situation that creates a new set of demands, such as easy options for transit, which local agencies are meeting successfully. TAM’s Steinhauser reports that Marin Transit’s Marin Access program is a good mobility program for seniors, and Whistlestop, a San Rafael agency that provides services for seniors, provides over 150,000 rides a year, with funding from Marin’s half-cent transportation sales tax revenue. 
The growing number of seniors also impacts housing in an unexpected way. Smith observes that aging in place is popular, as many of the community’s elders are staying in their homes. “That has clearly caused the demographics to change,” he says. And he suggests that if developers were to build more small condominiums instead of large houses, a greater number of seniors might downsize and sell their homes, thus allowing a younger demographic to enter the housing market. However, prices still might be out of reach for entry-level buyers, because seniors who sell at a high price also buy at a high price, keeping costs elevated, and “you can’t tell people where to live,” he says.
 

The challenge

One deterrent to living in Marin is the amount of money people earn, because it’s often too little to make it affordable. “Wages have not kept up with housing costs and the cost of living,” says Connolly, and even for young people who grew up in Marin it can be difficult.
 
Webster points out that students leave for college, and don’t return after they graduate because it’s too expensive. “That’s not creating a sustainable economy for the future,” she says. “How are we going to fill those jobs as our population ages, if we don’t create a structure where the younger labor force can live?” she asks. She observes that good paying jobs and career potential are essential to settling in Marin. “A lot of people are raising their families here. It’s a great place to live and raise their families,” she says, but their children should be able to work in Marin too.
“We have to address the housing problem,” says Sternberg. The younger generations are essential for the county’s economy, she explains, because they bring disposable income and lifestyle opportunities to a community. They go out to restaurants, shop at malls and take advantage of Marin’s excellent schools, and they add vitality, energy and innovation. Without them, the economy will suffer. “We need a real strategy for economic development,” she says, reflecting on 2008-2009, when the market crashed, underscoring the importance of local business and its role in creating a vibrant economy. Without a viable workforce, she fears businesses might move away, which would undermine the county’s economic growth.
 

A collaborative approach

All the issues are connected and impact each other, so collaboration is an effective strategy. Glodowski observes that Marin County is very relationship-driven, thus allowing opportunities for finding ways to do business that aren’t common in other counties. “That’s the beauty of Marin,” she says. “Because of the collaborative nature of the County, we tend to go deeper into finding creative solutions for challenges.” 
Among its many business associates, the Workforce Alliance and the sector specialist at CareerPoint is part of a portion of the Marin-Sonoma County Healthcare Partnership, a national model that includes people from several fields within healthcare, who work together to address issues such as shortages in critical occupations. “We invite partners to sit quietly and listen,” says Cuneo, who observes that it’s important to listen fully to the needs and think strategically about solutions to keep Marin businesses healthy and growing.
Sternberg reports that the Marin Economic Forum is beginning to have industry roundtables to listen to participants’ needs and develop partnerships to find solutions to the issues they’re facing.  “We need to form coalitions to advocate for the things we think will benefit our economy long-term,” she says. “I’m excited about the role the Marin Economic Forum can play in all the issues,” she adds. “Our community is like a fabric of so many factors.”
“It’s a community. We can’t do it by ourselves,” says Jordan, and that recognition is the key to making collaboration work. It allows all the players to see the big picture and work together for the common good, allowing Marin to grow, while maintaining its unique character. And that’s the best outcome for everyone.
 

Marin Demographics 

Figures from the Census Bureau on Marin County’s population.
Total population: 260, 651
Persons under 18 years: 20.5 percent
Persons 65 and over: 20.6 percent
High school education: 92.9 percent
Bachelor’s degree or higher: 55.8 percent
Housing units: 112,882
Employed civilian population over 16: 125,177
Management, professional and related: 51 percent
Sales and office: 22.9 percent
Self-employed: 17.6 percent
Service 14.8 percent
Construction, extraction and maintenance: 6.9 percent
Mean travel time to work: 30.2 minutes
Source: U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates, July 2, 2016
 

Social Equity

VenturePad, a co-working space and business incubator in San Rafael, offers opportunities for people to acquire new skills that will help them become successful in the workplace. Its programs include Lunch & Learns, with topics such as social media, project management and budgeting; a variety of workshops focused on specific business area; and networking mixers, such as Friday happy hour. 
 
Social equity is one of its priorities, and founder Chris Yalonis gives Yes We Code, a three-month program of classes that prepares people from underserved communities to work in the technology industry, as an example. “We are hosting and mentoring people who are coming from economically-challenged backgrounds.” According to Yalonis, the setting at VenturePad also gives them a chance to mix with entrepreneurs, who will eventually hire some of them. He points out that 15 percent of Marin's residents are under the poverty line. “We need to address our underserved, economically disadvantaged communities.”
www.venturepad.works
 
 

Helping the Homeless

Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly represents a variety of constituents, and “each has unique interests,” he says. According to Connolly, he ran on a platform of listening and believes it’s important to craft relationships with the neighborhoods he represents. That includes people who live on the streets. “Homelessness is an issue that’s significant, particularly for downtown San Rafael,” he says. “We’re moving toward a housing-first model.” He adds that Homeward Bound of Marin and other critical service providers are a key part. The Novato-based organization is involved in a number of ways, providing housing and making job training available at its Fresh Starts Culinary Academy among them.
 
Homelessness is a complex problem that often involves mental illness or substance abuse, and Connolly reports that mobile service units are meeting people on the street and reaching out to them. In the summer, the Marin County Department of Health & Human Services also launched a two-year pilot program of Laura’s Law, which allows judges the authority to order outpatient treatment for several mentally ill individuals. In addition, the Downtown Streets Team offers jobs to people who are without shelter or at risk of becoming homeless, giving them a chance to rebuild their lives and beautify the community.
 

Historic Housing 

Golden Gate Village in Marin City is 296-unit housing complex that was erected in the early 1960s during the post World War II building boom as public housing under the purview of the Marin Housing Authority. Every five years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires MHA to hire an outside consultant to do a physical-needs assessment. In 2015, the consultant reported that the complex needed $63 million in repairs and upgrades. 
 
Golden Gate Village had two options: apply for federal designation as a historic site and find the money to do the work required repairs, or convert it to mixed-income housing, with some market rate units and others below market rate, perhaps replacing it entirely. Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégé Aaron Green designed the buildings, and noted landscape architect Lawrence Halprin designed the outdoor areas, and in 1964, the U.S. Public Housing Administration (now HUD) honored it with an award for excellence in design. Residents favored historic preservation and were successful in securing a nomination in July 2017, and plans for renovation, which are not yet in place, will be within the confines of the designation.
 
“We want to make that place beautiful for the people who live there,” says Lewis Jordan, stressing the importance of building strong communities. “It’s critically important that we have affordable housing and that we have housing that’s safe, clean and desirable.” It provides a foundation for young people, he adds, and creates stable homes, impacts education and allows people to function successfully. “Not matter what your station in life is, you deserve a good housing opportunity.” 
 
TAM––Sources of Revenue 
 
The Transportation Authority of Marin receives $25 million per year and finds the best ways to spend it to deliver the greatest benefit. Sources of revenue are the following:
• A share of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ registration fees
• 1/2-cent transportation sales tax from Measure A, which passed in 2004
• Funds from the State Transportation Improvement Program
• Federal funding through Marin Transportation Commission’s One Bay Area Grant Program
 
California State Bill 1, should voters approve it, will provide additional funding for relieving traffic congestion and improving the Marin-Sonoma Narrows on Highway 101, access from Highway 101 to Highway 580 and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and Highway 37.
Source: Transportation Authority of Marin
 

Grand Jury Looks at Housing 

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury 2016-2017 cites four barriers to housing affordability for low-income earners and those with moderate incomes:
• Community resistance resulting from the conflicting needs of developers and the community
• High cost of land and construction
• Complex planning process and regulatory delays
• Lack of coordination among Marin’s 11 towns, cities and the county
 
Its recommendations for addressing the issues are the following:
• Better communication between staff and developers
• Proactive outreach to the community for projects that could be controversial
• Clear language from planning departments in explaining issues to the community
• Building houses for teachers and staff on school-district land
• Utility districts waiving hook-up fees for low-income housing
• Fast-tracking the planning and permitting process for low-income housing
• Creating a new position, regional housing coordinator, to work with funding sources and developers, identify properties that are underutilized, work with jurisdictions to create specific plans and create a countywide civic mediation program
Source: Marin County Civil Grand Jury 2016-2017, Final Report Summaries
 

SMART

SMART—Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit—began commuter rail service from north Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael on August 25, and is meeting its goals. “We are right on target with our ridership, and we expect it will continue to grow,” says Media Spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding, who reports that projected daily average ridership was 2,229, and at the end of September, it was 2,215. “Our weekends are also much stronger than anticipated, which is excellent for the local economy.” 
 

Wildfire Impact 

The Wine Country wildfires leveled thousands of buildings—both homes and businesses— in Sonoma and Napa counties, leaving the area with a critical lack of housing and putting a substantial number of people out of work. As a neighboring county, Marin is likely to experience the impact in several ways.
 
Housing
Robin Sternberg, chief executive officer of the Marin Economic Forum, expects increased pressure short-term on Marin’s already tight housing market. She believes that some Marin residents who were considering selling will see the increased demand as an opportunity to put their homes up for sale. “We will likely see more units put on the market in the near term,” she says. High prices, however, could make Marin unaffordable for many.
 
Labor
A significant number of people lost their jobs to the fires. “We hope a good portion of these jobs will be quickly reabsorbed due to already tight labor-market conditions,” says Sternberg. Meanwhile, the number of workers in the available labor pool in Marin could increase, easing the workforce shortage and bringing down wages. On the other hand, some workers might relocate to other areas where housing is easier to find and more affordable, creating a labor shortage instead.
 
Construction
Rebuilding will increase the demand for construction workers, probably for the next decade. Sternberg sees the unexpected demand as an opportunity to create a new workforce by offering construction-related pathway training programs in high schools and community colleges.
 
Tourism
Wine Country tourism is likely to decline short-term, but Sternberg expects it to rebound, assuming the economy remains robust. “Many regular visitors will want to come back to support the area,” she says. Meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to boost Marin tourism by making it either an extension or alternative to Sonoma County travel. “The Marin Economic Forum is establishing a partnership with the Sonoma Economic Development Board to provide additional assistance and a unified strategic effort,” she reports.
 
Strategies
Sternberg suggests the following economic strategies:
• Offer grant money for fast-track construction-related industry training, including apprenticeships, for displaced workers.
• Offer incentives for creating temporary housing structures and attracting displaced homeowners to Marin, especially if they work in Marin.
• Promote alternative dwelling units in Marin through a tax incentive.
• Create a portal to help make housing matches.
• Develop a campaign to pair Marin County and Wine Country tourism.