In mid-February, the Sausalito City Council unanimously passed its General Plan update, which will serve as the city’s blueprint for growth for the next 20 years. Included in the General Plan, which was the result of a separate 3-2 vote by the city council, is “language on a citywide zoning overlay” that could potentially open the door to housing in the Marinship, Sausalito’s historic working waterfront.
As we’ve reported, the Marinship is an economic powerhouse — generating some 46% of Sausalito’s business property taxes — that sits on a sliver of land hastily developed during World War II and now plagued by toxic soil and flooding, among other problems.
“I don’t want to tell people this is a dandy place to raise your kids if it’s going to flood and it’s toxic and all of a sudden somebody decides to put affordable housing on there,” Sausalito mayor Jill Hoffman was quoted as saying by the Marin Independent Journal.
In a Marin Post article, Bob Silvestri said that the new General Plan does not specifically address toxins, sea-level rise, etc., but does suggest that more studies should investigate these issues. “In fact, the city already has numerous studies, going back over 30 years, all of which come to the same conclusion: Remediation and repair needs to be done now and on an area-wide basis, because the environmental hazard impacts are far too comprehensive and expensive to be addressed on a project-by- project basis,” Silvestri wrote.
“But again, all this fell on deaf ears,” he added.
Former Sausalito mayor and current city councilperson Susan Cleveland-Knowles — who was among the three councilmembers who voted for the “housing overlay” — cited “a growing senior population and discriminatory housing restrictions against Black families after World War II, which has led to a ‘shocking lack of diversity’ as reasons to open up the possibility of housing citywide,” according to the Journal. “I would love to turn the corner on that policy in Sausalito and start to open up more housing opportunities for our families of Marinship workers and other workers, including our maritime workers, our essential workers, to make this a more equitable community.”
(New city councilperson Ian Sobieski beat incumbent Joan Cox — who was against new land-based housing in the Marinship — by a single vote back in November 2020. Sobieski was also among the three voting for the housing overlay. We think it’s more than fair to assume that if Cox were still on the city council, the overlay would have been struck down.)
Vice mayor Janelle Kellman, who was recently elected to Sausalito’s city council, told the Journal that environmental justice and racial justice are intertwined, and that she is not comfortable putting underserved populations in the city’s most problematic area without further review. “We should not use racial justice as a reason to potentially put affordable housing in an area that is known to be contaminated and flooding and sinking when we know we have something coming up, the housing process, that will allow us to give this the due diligence it really requires,” Kellman said.
Silvestri echoed that concern. “Councilmember Cleveland-Knowles’ way of governing ensures that the negative consequences of existing environmental hazards in the Marinship will inevitably fall on the backs of the poorest and most disenfranchised among us. They are the ones who would suffer the most from the City’s decades-old refusal to address the Marinship’s existential, environmental hazards.”
Despite near-universal praise for Sausalito’s working waterfront, actually doing business in the Marinship remains a difficult proposition. Silvestri noted that “while the new General Plan is filled with verbiage about supporting the existing maritime/industrial/artisan community in the Marinship, today, dozens of essential maritime and industrial businesses are forced to operate under adhesive month to month leases, precluding them from daring to complain about hazards or grow their businesses in place or make much-needed, long-term investments in their facilities.”