On Aug. 6, Golden Gate Village residents made it clear that, from their standpoint, time’s up.
A group dubbed Residents of Golden Gate Village (GGV) filed a class-action lawsuit against the County of Marin, the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) and two housing authority officials “to block private redevelopment, avoid losing their homes, and force authorities to fix “deplorable” health and safety conditions in the 700-resident community,” the group said in a statement.
Residents of the largely African-American community unveiled details of the suit in a press conference timed to recognize the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, launching a GoFundMe campaign to support legal expenses and a petition to support their efforts, with details available at a just-unveiled website.
The lawsuit alleges that the county has ignored hazardous conditions such as exposed electrical wires, broken windows, dusty or broken ventilation systems, rat droppings and mold. MHA officials have disputed those claims, but MHA or County officials have not yet issued a statement about the lawsuit. The claim also suggests that landscape upkeep has been neglected and trash has accumulated.
The lawsuit says the alleged neglect of Golden Gate Village is part of a plan to let the property fall into disarray so the housing authority can engage a private developer, New Jersey-based Michaels Development Co., to “tear down 16 existing low-rise units, crowd an additional 156 units into two new high-rise towers, and introduce a cookie-cutter approach to Golden Gate Village that residents say would destroy the tight-knit community under the guise of saving it.” The redevelopment plan calls for preserving 300 residences, removing 16 others and building 156 new homes for a total of 440.
The lawsuit also calls for immediate repairs to GGV units “after years of deferred maintenance,” and asks that “housing officials adopt a resident-designed revitalization plan, which includes the formation of a community land trust to help build equity within the community.” Such a land trust would seek to promote home ownership within two years, residents said.
“We deserve our living standards to be up to par,” said Golden Gate Village resident Malachia Hoover. “We live in one of the wealthiest counties in the world – there’s no excuse for our community to have been so neglected. We’ve been discriminated against and treated unjustly. I want Marin City to continue to be a place where I can continue to plant my generational roots.”
“Privatization is not in the interest of Golden Gate Village residents,” said Royce McLemore, president of the Golden Gate Village Resident Council (GGVRC) and the named plaintiff in the suit. “It will take money out of the community and continue a dangerous cycle in America of erasing affordable public housing. With the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s clear that we all have the ability to stand on the right side of history – we’re asking the MHA and Marin Board of Supervisors to stand with us.”
Our neighbors in Marin City says that what they are experiencing today is built on a long, troubled past of systemic discrimination, institutionalized obstacles and, frankly, a lack of sustained effort on issues like housing, food insecurity, educational access and health disparities by county and regional leaders.
Marin City was created in 1942 as housing for employees who built ships during World War II at the nearby Marinship Corporation. When the war ended, African-Americans had fewer options to relocate than their white counterparts due to widespread racial discrimination and exclusionary real estate covenants
Golden Gate Village, constructed in 1961 to replace the temporary housing that was hastily constructed for Sausalito shipyard workers during World War II, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Aaron Green and local architect John Carl Warnecke, and aligned with Wright’s philosophy that architecture should be integrated with the environment. The community holds a meaningful place in the Civil Rights Movement as a breakthrough project that applied sensitive environmental design to a federal housing project and is listed on the National Historic Register.
Marin City leaders insist that Marin Housing Authority’s 60-year-old public housing project has moved too slowly in addressing the dire need of building repairs, far beyond the annual funding it gets from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department and far beyond the public funds the county is interested in investing.
“People want to be able to continue to afford to live in Marin City,” says longtime Marin City leader Gaston. “Marin County owes it to Marin City to let the residents decide what they want to do.”
“Golden Gate Village is the crucible of our county’s conscience,” longtime Marin politician Larry Bragman wrote in a Marin Voice piece in the Marin Independent Journal on August 5. “Will we embrace the spirit of the architecture for democracy that inspired it or retreat behind a moat of fear and entitlement? It is not too late to change course … Together we need to find the courage to follow the road to equality and justice. The clock is ticking.”