The present community housing shortage in West Marin is acute and immediate. A major irony is that working people cannot find housing in an area in which a large percentage of houses are vacant most of the time. One street in Stinson Beach has 15 houses on it, only one of which is occupied fulltime. The Bolinas School District, which 15 years ago had 240 students, now has 86 -- young families with school age children can’t find affordable housing in West Marin.
The volunteer Fire Departments of both Stinson Beach and Bolinas are short of volunteers because people young enough to put on heavy gear and leap onto a fire engine at 2am can’t afford to live in either town. This lack of volunteers means that to provide 24-hour coverage the Fire Departments must hire paid duty personnel, resulting in budget shortfalls.
Central to this issue is that many properties that were once long-term rentals occupied by local families, tradespeople, small business owners, service providers and emergency responders have been turned into short-term rental properties. This lack of rental housing has displaced locals, eroded school attendance and civic and social activities and has lessened the strong sense of community that once characterized the coastal towns of West Marin. An often-heard statement is that our coastal communities are being “hollowed out.”
The Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee (SBAHC) was created in 2016 to address this problem. In the Fall of 2016 the SBAHC successfully negotiated the acquisition of 21 Calle de Embarcadero, Stinson’s first and only affordable housing project, an eight-unit building now known as Ocean Terrace. The purchase of Ocean Terrace was accomplished by a collaborative group of public, private, non-profit entities and individual donors including Marin Community Foundation, Marin Community Development Agency, Marin Housing Authority, Marin Board of Supervisors, Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee and a list of local donors too long to list here. (see https://www.ptreyeslight.com/article/stinson-apartment-complex-secured-affordable-housing)
Our second project was Measure W, a ballot measure that appeared on the November 2018 ballot to provide financial support in perpetuity for both community housing and emergency responder needs in West Marin. Measure W increased West Marin’s Transient Occupancy Tax, a fee charged by Marin County to travelers for overnight accommodations, by 4% to create an annual pool of funds totaling approximately $1,400,000 per annum. These funds will be used solely in West Marin, where the conversion of long-term rental housing to short term AirBnB/VRBO rentals has created an enormous crisis in community housing availability. The same visitor influx that has taken so many homes off the long-term rental market in West Marin has also strained to breaking point the capabilities of the emergency responders in the area, often volunteer fire departments. The Measure W funds will be evenly split between volunteer fire departments and developers of community housing.
Members of the Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee created the first draft of the ballot measure proposal, worked on the committee that wrote the ballot measure and raised more than half of the campaign funds. A member of SBAHC acted as the campaign chairperson and several other members actively planned and executed key elements of the campaign. Measure W passed with a 73.7% majority and will be providing funds this year and every year to follow.
The SBAHC’s current project is supporting West Marin Supervisor Dennis Rodoni’s proposal to use Transient Occupancy Tax revenues to create more affordable housing in West Marin, as well as to support local volunteer fire departments and Marin County Fire, which serves as a primary responder to several parts of West Marin.
The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is a tax paid by visitors for lodging of less than 30 days. The current TOT rate is 10% and all TOT revenues now go into Marin County’s General Fund. Currently those revenues total approximately $3,746,427, the bulk of which (approximately 79% or $2,959,677) comes from the communities of West Marin.
Supervisor Rodoni’s proposal, which will be on the November 2018 ballot in West Marin, would raise the TOT in West Marin to 14%, with that additional 4% going into a pool of funds to be divided between creating affordable housing in West Marin and supporting West Marin’s emergency responders.
Why the TOT?
Because the TOT is a pass-through tax levied on visitors to West Marin rather than residents, increasing the TOT in order to fund affordable housing and emergency responders in West Marin has several advantages:
• It would allow overnight visitors to support housing for the long-term residents who provide many of the services associated with their visits, residents whose housing shortage is caused in part by the conversion of rentals from long-term to short-term.
• Further, in its support of fire departments, it compensates the fire departments for the large percentage of calls that are visitor related, currently over 50% of all calls.
• It returns a percentage of TOT funds to West Marin where a 79% of this revenue originates.
• It preserves the present funding level that the TOT provides to the County’s general fund.
Supervisor Rodoni’s ballot measure only affects West Marin: the areas from Muir Beach to Dillon Beach including Nicasio, eastward to the top of Big Rock Ranch, and includes the San Geronimo Valley to the top of White’s Hill.
The measure proposes that the additional 4% be split as follows:
• 2% or approximately $600,000 per year to go into an affordable housing fund for West Marin
• 2%, or approximately $600,000 per year to go to the seven fire departments serving West Marin
None of the 4% increase would go into the Marin County General Fund; all of it would be returned to West Marin.
The distribution of the affordable housing funds would be done by an advisory group representing key stakeholders in each of the communities in West Marin. The Fire Department funds would be allocated by a committee consisting of a representative from each Fire Department serving West Marin.
The Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee believes that Supervisor Rodoni’s proposal provides a readily achievable strategy for increasing community housing in the County. The availability of cash is always a problem in the development of community housing. Opportunities are frequently off-market properties requiring rapid responses to their brief availability. The creation of an affordable housing advisory group with representatives from each of the communities in West Marin provides a mechanism to assure that no viable opportunities are missed. The availability of an additional $600,000 every year for the purpose of acquiring or creating long-term housing in West Marin would provide local land trusts and other affordable housing developers the money needed for offers, inspections and due diligence so that they could proceed with alacrity when purchase opportunities arise.
For the Fire Departments, additional funds would help relieve the erosion of emergency response capability in West Marin caused by a diminishing volunteer base and the increasing number of calls generated by visitors to West Marin. It would allow the Fire Departments to hire more paid personnel to insure a timely response to emergencies.
Please Support Affordable Housing!
The SBAHC, along with the Bolinas Community Land Trust, Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, San Geronimo Valley Affordable Housing Association and Supervisor Rodoni, hopes that, if you are a West Marin voter, you will support the Transient Occupancy Tax increase ballot measure this November.
For FAQ’s about the ballot measure, click here.