Things only got a bit unruly Wednesday night when nearly 500 people gathered at the Albert J. Boro Community Center in San Rafael for a public forum organized by critics of the government's affordable housing mandates.
Members of Citizen Marin, including the evening’s main speaker — Mill Valley resident Bob Silvestri, are critical of government agencies and organizations that divvy up affordable housing requirements to Bay Area communities.
Roughly 50 protesters gathered outside the center before the Citizen Marin town hall meeting began at 6:30 p.m. Some were with the Concerned Marinites to End NIMBYism and others were with the Marin County Human Rights Commission or the Canal Alliance Youth Scholarship Program. The demonstrators in the organized rally, some wearing shirts and buttons that say “I just look illegal,” were against Citizen Marin’s resistance to affordable housing requirements.
One young man held a sign reading “Don’t discriminate against Marin’s workforce.” Other bright orange signs said “Fighting for the inclusion of all” in English and Spanish.
Silvestri has said he isn’t opposed to affordable housing, he just wants it done correctly.
Many of the protesters crowded into the community center's auditorium before the town hall meeting began, holding signs high in the air and quietly standing in the back of the room. However, most of the protesters had left the room after the first hour of the roughly three-hour meeting.
The San Rafael Police had five officers at the site for the meeting — San Rafael Police Lieutenant Ralph Pata arranged to have the police presence at the meeting by reshuffling schedules and bringing in officers from the department’s street crimes unit after Silvestri expressed concerns about security due to the planned protest. Two officers stood along the wall of the auditorium during the meeting and others stood outside the building. A San Rafael Fire Department Marshall was also at the meeting, at times monitoring the door to ensure the room didn’t exceed its 455-person capacity.
But the police didn’t run into any problems at the meeting and things only began to get testy during an open microphone time, more than an hour and half after the meeting began, when moderators struggled to control public speakers. The auditorium at the Community Center was standing room only throughout the night.
ANTI SB 375
Silvestri, an architect who penned The Best Laid Plans: Our Planning and Affordable Housing Challenges in Marin, spoke for more than an hour about Marin planning and the affordable housing challenges in the county. Hear him speak in the first clip in the above video.
Silvestri expressed his disdain for SB 375, which requires regional agencies such as the Association of Bay Area Governments to dole out new housing requirements to each town or city.
The majority of well-planned affordable housing opportunities in Marin are smaller and mixed-use sites, many owned by individuals or small businesses, he said.
“Where are the tax credits, tax exemptions, subsidies and incentives for them to build affordable housing? There are none,” Silvestri said.
He said solutions such as raising minimum wage, providing free medical care and free education could help make it easier to have social justice that paves the way for better affordable housing in the U.S.
When it was the crowd’s turn to speak, first during a Q&A with Silvestri and then during an open forum, many had to have moderators literally yank microphones out of their hands to cut them off as they tried to keep everyone to a two-minute speaking minimum. See clips of this in the above video.
One man who spoke succinctly, Forest Knolls resident and architect Colin Russell, told Silvestri he agreed with his points, but if the minimum wage was raised to an amount that would let every afford a home in Marin, it would have to be $30 to $35 an hour.
Many of the speakers expressed a frustration with affordable housing requirements. Others had common qualms with government.
“I propose a grassroots effort to abolish SB 375,” said Tiburon resident Helen Lindquist and the room erupted into cheers.
More than 30 people from throughout Marin and the Bay Area spoke at the meeting, which had tables with representatives from the Novato Community Alliance, San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition, Friends of Mill Valley, Sustainable Tam Almonte and others.
'NO SOLUTIONS' BROUGHT FORWARD
While many meeting participants spoke passionately about affordable housing or took to networking in the back of the room, San Rafael resident Isela Diaz quietly listened to the entire presentation and all the speakers.
Diaz, a San Rafael resident who works two jobs — one with the County of Marin — and pays high rent in Marin, said she was disappointed by the meeting.
She hadn’t heard of Citizen Marin before Wedneday night, but wanted to come listen to the meeting about affordable housing in Marin. She said she hoped to hear discussion about ideas and see people coming together to create better affordable housing options in the county.
“I thought people would come and gather with ideas,” she said, adding that she was excited to see how crowded the meeting was.
But she didn’t feel people were bringing forward a solution to affordable housing, she said, and they were instead talking about the negative impacts of affordable housing.
“I didn’t feel like I attended a meeting where people brought solutions from their hearts,” she said.
See Diaz briefly speak at the end of the above video.
Diaz said it seemed like all of the Marin residents and speakers at the meetings own thier own homes. "I didn’t see they were willing to open their hearts and say, 'Who are these people that need affordable housing?' I mean, I didn’t see many of [those who need the housing] in the meeting to begin with.”