An aerial of the section of Miller Ave. most often identified as possible housing on Miller Avenue.

With an approved Housing Element from the State of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), the City of Mill Valley took initial steps last week towards the required re-zoning process of revising zoning maps, converting suburban-style tracts into apartment-ready parcels and proving to the state that they are, in fact, going to do what they said they would do to address California’s chronic housing shortage, according to a story by Ben Christopher from CalMatters.

What does that mean? All cities in Marin must close out their required zoning updates and preparing to implement updated housing elements. The updated documents will guide the production of new housing over the eight-year period through 2031.

The Planning Commission took its first pass at that work last week, and the City Council will consider a first reading of the re-zoning on Feb. 5th, and will also go through the next phase of the 1 Hamilton property. The process could include a number of well known properties, like the properties in and around the intersections of Miller Avenue and La Goma, as well as properties in downtown and along East Blithedale, like the Comcast building near Boyle Park.

“Whether Bay Area local governments comply — and how the state responds to those that don’t — could indicate just how seriously the Newsom administration takes its ambitious housing goals,” Christopher writes. “Suddenly, everyone is taking the once-obscure “Regional Housing Needs Allocation” process seriously.”

Bay Area cities and counties “know that they’ll take on a lot of risk by blatantly not complying” come Wednesday, said Jenny Silva, an advocate for denser development in Marin County and board chair for the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative,” per Christopher’s reporting. “They see what happens in San Francisco. They hear what happens elsewhere.”

Housing elements are big-picture plans that identify development sites and commit to future policy changes,” Christopher writes. “In their high-level abstraction, they can sometimes read like the urban planning equivalent of a vision board. Zoning rules, in contrast, are “the nuts and bolts of how to take a site and get a certain number of units on it …rezoning is really where the rubber meets the road,” Martha Battaglia, a planner with Corte Madera, which has already met the state’s upcoming deadline.

Changing a zoning code puts to paper a city’s decision to raise maximum building heights, reduce parking requirements or increase the allowable density of a specific parcel. These are changes that neighbors can readily identify, envision and, frequently enough, dread, bemoan and rally against.

When locals encourage Fairfax Mayor Barbara Coler to fight back, she said she points to the community’s sheer need for extra places to live. “What I tell folks is, ‘Who do you think is waiting on you in the restaurant? Don’t you want them to live here?’” Coler said.

The state plans to review the work of the Bay Area cities and counties that are on the hook for rezoning, said housing department spokesperson Alicia Murillo, in an email. If found lacking, those jurisdictions will be issued a warning and given 30 days to catch up. After that, the department “will revoke” its findings that those local governments are complying with state housing law.


Under the state’s housing mandate, the city must permit 865 more residences during the next eight-year planning cycle. The mandate includes 262 residences for very-low-income households, 151 for low-income households, 126 for moderate-income households and 326 for above-moderate-income households.

Mill Valley is planning for 969 dwellings, including 289 for very-low-income households, 185 for low-income, 151 for moderate-income and 344 for above-moderate households.

Changes to the sites inventory include adding information on development trends in Mill Valley and describing the characteristics of the SB 9 parcels. SB 9 is a law that allows property owners to split lots for up to four dwellings.

In all of Marin, the 2023-31 requirement is 14,405 new residences countywide, compared to 2,298 in the prior cycle. The state rejected appeals to reduce the number.

In addition to the aforementioned 1 Hamilton plan, the housing element identifies 401 Miller Ave., the complex that’s home to Sol Food and Simple Mills, as well as the large property on East Blithedale Ave. owned by Comcast building. City officials added that property owners interested in the redevelopment include Mill Creek Plaza, Sloat Garden Center, the former Jolly King Liquor store site and the former KFC/Taco Bell building. The city also plans on 16 residences developed under SB 9, a state housing law that allows property owners to split lots for up to four dwellings, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

1 Hamilton has faced consistent opposition from residents in the Enchanted Knolls neighborhood and adjacent areas, but councilmembers have sought to dispel the notion that a development at 1 Hamilton Drive would be the lone effort to address the City’s efforts to create conditions for more affordable housing. Hamilton Drive-area residents have pushed City officials to explore other neighborhoods and housing opportunities before doing so in their part of town, which has a history of multi-use and some affordable developments. 

Councilmembers have countered that the Hamilton Drive site shows the most promise as a City-owned parcel in proximity to transit corridors and commercial areas, but that all other options are on the table. “This is not going to be the only site we will look at for affordable housing,” Councilmember Urban Carmel added in September, noting that other sites, like the Edgewood Reservoir, the Miller Avenue commercial corridor and areas around the Mill Valley Golf Course and Boyle Park tennis courts, are potentially on the table.

City officials have made it clear that they are serious about pulling every lever possible to create the conditions that would significantly expand on the approximately 6,670 current housing units and support the amount of additional housing for which they’re on the hook, according to ABAG.

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