Grady Ranch, two years on

With Marin’s housing crisis in the national spotlight, and the Grady Ranch affordable housing proposal light attracting the journalistic moths, perhaps it is worthwhile to revisit the assumptions made when Grady Ranch was first proposed.

In my first post on the subject, widely linked to by opponents of housing, I said of the project:

Development [at Grady Ranch] would be bad by any measure. Car-centric sprawl [such as this] fills our roads with more traffic, generates more demand for parking, and forces residents to play Russian roulette every time they want to get milk. It takes retail activity away from our town centers, weakening the unique Marin character embodied in downtowns...
I respect the efforts of George Lucas and Marin Community Foundation to find a place for the low-income to live, but Grady Ranch is not it. Lucas and MCF need to look at urban infill sites and focus on building up in those areas that are transit-accessible and walkable, places that are actually affordable. Replicating the discredited drive-‘til-you-qualify dynamic in Marin is not the answer; it’s just recreating the problem.

But the calculus has changed. While infill development is far and away the superior path to building more affordable housing, anti-housing activists have blocked every attempt to bring more homes downtown or to retrofit Marin’s drivable places.

In fact, they have actively worked to weaken or defeat opportunities for infill development. With a willful campaign of misinformation they defeated the Larkspur and North San Rafael station area plans. They have beaten Fairfax's planned expansion of downtown into highway commercial zones to within an inch of its life with the same tactics.

All the while, these same anti-housing groups have done little or nothing to advance their stated agenda of more second unit homes. They were absent when the Novato Water District pushed for massive fees on secondary water hookups, leaving it to CALM and MEHC to defeat the proposal. They have not tried to broaden acceptance of housing vouchers by private homeowners, have not pressed for reduced permitting fees, subsidized construction, or a lift of off-street parking requirements.

So without new infill development, without new second homes, and a mounting crisis, there is no other place for homes to go except the greenfield.

This is not a philosophical position, but a pragmatic one. The affordable housing waitlist is over a decade long. Our seniors are living in storage units, and our families are living in their cars. The crisis has only gotten worse in the past two years, and the politics have not improved. Affordable housing advocates, though firm believers in smart growth, should not stand idly by while our crisis deepens.

In other words, by throwing up roadblocks to development that will generate comparatively little traffic or strain municipal budgets, housing opponents have forced advocates to make a gut-wrenching choice between the relative well-being of Marin's worst-off and the practices we know will make for a better built environment in Marin. Opponents of housing will get the highest impact development possible because they have made it impossible to build anything else. Nobody is happy about that.

As I also said two years ago, "[E]ven if Grady Ranch is an irredeemable project, that doesn’t mean the end result can’t be less terrible." Grady Ranch is now in the planning phase, and there are myriad ways to reduce driving trips and promote connectivity for the new residents there. Advocates should dust off their New Urbanist hats and dive in to provide guidance on how to reduce trips and automobile dependence at Grady Ranch.

Grady Ranch really is all wrong, but doing nothing would be even worse.