County of Marin - Press Releases - Housing Density

For Immediate Release
January 22, 2014

Legislation Sought to Address Housing Density

County, Assemblyman work to clarify metropolitan vs. suburban labels

San Rafael, CA – The County of Marin, in partnership with Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), and Bay Area nonprofit housing agencies are seeking to create legislation that would clarify the default densities for suburban cities and counties situated adjacent to major urban metropolitan areas.

On Tuesday, Levine introduced AB 1537 to allow Marin County and three other California counties to have their housing designations changed from metropolitan to suburban and help them maintain their character while accommodating a diverse workforce and population. A change in those counties would amend the minimum density of future housing developments from 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre.

The collaboration was several years in the planning stages. Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears, the Board President for 2014, said the proposal addresses a vital issue for Marin County. 

“For many years, the County has looked for the most effective ways to meet its affordable housing goals, the success of which is critically important to many of our hard-working residents,” she said. “The County supports a change in law to better reflect the suburban character of our Marin communities, and in alignment with our neighboring North Bay counties. We look forward to working with Assemblymember Levine as the bill goes through the Legislature.”

The Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process to identify the number of housing units that each jurisdiction must accommodate in its Housing Element, and it differentiates the allocation by several affordability levels. Long-term housing needs are set by the California State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and, for Marin, units are allocated by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

Although specific language is still in the works, the proposed bill would affect counties with a population of less than 400,000 that are located in a metropolitan statistical area with a population of more than 2 million. If it became law, Marin, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties would be re-designated as suburban as would incorporated cities within those counties that have less than 100,000 residents.

Marin was designated as metropolitan when the default densities  were first developed in 2004. While supportive of affordable housing opportunities, Marin Supervisors have negotiated with regional and state officials along with nonprofit housing developers to see if the default housing density in Marin could be amended to be more consistent with Marin’s suburban character and density and the suburban designation of the other North Bay counties.

“Hopefully we’re on the cusp of legislative relief so that we’re in line with suburban counties near us that have a default density designation of 20 units per acre,” Supervisor Susan Adams said. “This would give us breathing room and help us stay within the character of our county. The stars are aligning, and we're now gaining statewide support for our efforts.” 

Supervisor Judy Arnold added, “Our hope is that this change will ultimately result in affordable housing that is more acceptable to our communities.”

As required by state law, towns, cities and counties must deliver a plan to meet existing and planned housing needs. In September 2013, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a Housing Element update to its Countywide Plan that had a default density of 30 units per acre and outlined comprehensive procedures for housing that is affordable to Marin’s diverse community and local workforce. On Dec. 31, the state HCD certified Marin’s Housing Element update.

While the update was in the works, many public hearings and spirited debates took place about housing density as it relates to Marin’s character. Brian Crawford, director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, said the Housing Element generated unprecedented public interest with density concerns among the chief sticking points.

“The update prompted a broader debate about local growth control and the extent to which affordable housing has a place in our communities,” Crawford said. “Some of those discussions were difficult but also very important in thinking about the type of community we choose and aspire to be.”


Matthew Hymel
County Administrator
County Administrator's Office

3501 Civic Center Drive
Suite #325
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6358
Email: Matthew Hymel
County Administrator website