By Annette Rose and Ron Albert
Guest op-ed column
POSTED: 11/25/2013 06:30:00 PM PST
ON OCT. 22 , the Sausalito City Council voted 4—0, with one abstention, to donate the city’s half interest in a two-acre property on Butte Street to a land trust, if funding from a land trust can be found to purchase the remaining half interest held by a private owner.
The land would be held forever as “open space.”
This was a bad vote on at least four counts: It violates the spirit of full disclosure to the community, the task force that was selected was not representative of the community, it endorses a give-away of valuable land held in public trust and it eliminates without replacement the largest potential multi-family housing site in the city.
On the first count, while there may not have been a legal mandate for notices to be sent to adjacent property owners, housing advocates and newspapers about this pending move, this stealthy process was a clear violation of good governance as well as the spirit of notification laws.
Apparently this deal was some time in the making. Earlier this year, the city quietly created a “Butte Street Task Force” composed solely of neighbors of the property who were upset at the possibility of housing being built on the site.
The Task Force was asked to make a recommendation as what should be done with the property. The only public notices of the existence of this Task Force and its activities were some postings at City Hall. There was no community outreach to the general public regarding this valuable property, which is the largest remaining undeveloped parcel in Sausalito, and which has been zoned for multi-family housing for at least 30 years.
Second, the selection of such a one-sided Task Force violates the ethics and morals of good governance, both in terms of process and membership. The Task Force was comprised solely of neighbors who pressured the council two years ago to oppose the possibility of housing at the site. Anyone with knowledge of the composition of this Task Force could easily have guessed the type of recommendations that it would make to the city.
Third, this give-away was done under the pretext of preserving open space.
Sausalito is blessed with a remarkable amount of open space. We are nearly surrounded by the San Francisco Bay, Richardson’s Bay and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with only a narrow strip of land connecting us to the rest of Marin County.
The city also already has substantial amounts of open space within its city limits. At the very least, the city should be compensated for this valuable community-owned resource. Instead, the council has given away a valuable city property without due process.
And this brings us to the fourth point.
So, why did the city give away a valuable property at the behest of a select group with an obvious special interest, and with the least possible public notice? Simple: the property is zoned for multi-family housing, and the recently adopted Housing Element designated the property as a possible housing site. This is an ideal in-fill site for multi-family housing, with adjacent properties already developed with multi-family housing.
It was a terrible mistake for the council to give away a public resource for the benefit of a small interest group with the absolute minimum of public notices. And it was done for the worst of reasons: to deny housing opportunity for entry level families in Sausalito.
We served as public officials and made our share of mistakes. The real test for public officials is how they respond when an error occurs.
The wrong response is to dig in your heels and try to justify a bad decision. The right response is for the council to acknowledge that this was a flawed process, that the need for affordable housing in Sausalito far surpasses the need for more open space, and to make a commitment to not transfer this property for any purpose other than multi-family housing unless the city creates comparable new locations for multi-family housing in Sausalito.
Annette Rose and Ron Albert are former mayors of Sausalito. Rose also is a former county supervisor.