• Katherine Martine

Assembly: Candidates talk housing, climate change at Belvedere forum


Belvedere resident Jane Cooper, a candidate for City Council, moderates a question-and-answer forum between California Coastal Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh and San Rafael Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, the two candidates for state Assembly, at the Belvedere Community Center on Sept. 7. (Elliot Karlan photo / For The Ark)

The two candidates vying to represent Marin in the state Assembly tackled topics ranging from affordable housing to climate change at a Sept. 7 forum in Belvedere.


More than two-dozen people turned out to hear from the Marin Democrats, Supervisor Damon Connolly and California Coastal Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh, at the forum moderated by resident and Belvedere City Council candidate Jane Cooper. The event was originally scheduled for Community Park but was moved indoors to the Community Center due to the heat.


Connolly and Aminzadeh are running for a two-year term in the Nov. 8 election to replace Marc Levine as the representative for District 12, which also includes Marin and the southern portion of Sonoma County. Levine, D-San Rafael, is terming out; he mounted a run to become state insurance commissioner but did not garner enough support in the June 7 primary to make the November runoff.


Connolly, who represents San Rafael on the Board of Supervisors, and Aminzadeh of Kentfield were the top two vote-getters in the five-way primary, qualifying them for the November ballot. Connolly was tops in Marin, getting about 42 percent of the total vote, and Aminzadeh was tops in Sonoma County, receiving about 35 percent of the total vote. Some 54 percent of district voters are in Marin.


A Kentfield resident with a background in law, Aminzadeh has been a longtime advocate for addressing climate change. In addition to her role as a California Coastal Commissioner, she’s worked as a lawyer and recently served as adviser and vice president of partnerships of the U.S. Water Alliance, a national nonprofit that works to advance water access for all.


If elected, she would be the first woman to represent the region in 20 years.


She said she decided to run for the District 12 seat because she believes change is needed in the face of “unprecedented attacks to our civil rights” at the national level.


She said given Marin’s water, housing and environmental challenges, “we need to do more, we need to raise the bar.”


Connolly, who’s also an attorney and took on prosecuting big energy companies in the early 2000s, was previously the vice mayor of San Rafael, serving on the city’s council for seven years.


A founding member of Marin Clean Power, Connolly also served as a school-board president and as a supervising deputy California attorney general.


Connolly told attendees he is running “to be your local voice in Sacramento,” touting his ties to and civil service in Marin.


“I’ve had the opportunity to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing our communities and I do it from a local base, and I will take those values, those relationships and that can-do spirit to Sacramento,” he said.


Connolly cited housing, criminal-justice reform, equal education opportunities for all, the climate crisis and sea-level rise as among the biggest issues facing Marin and its communities.


“Sea-level rise is a statewide issue, but it particularly affects Belvedere and Tiburon,” Connolly said, noting he has worked on the topic as part of the county’s Marin Bay Waterfront Adaptation Vulnerability Evaluation, or BayWAVE, a 2017 vulnerability assessment of the eastern Marin shoreline from Sausalito to the northern end of Novato.


“I know you’re grappling with the issue, and that’s where you need a partner to bring resources back,” he said.


He noted state resources also need to be allocated toward wildfire prevention “so folks can harden their homes, so we can create adequate evacuation routes.”


In addressing climate change, he is also calling for 100-percent renewable or zero-emission vehicles by 2030 instead of the state goal of 2035.


Top priorities for Aminzadeh include housing and climate action. As a self-proclaimed “climate candidate,” she said one of her goals would be to start a climate caucus in Sacramento that would prioritize climate action on a faster timeline.


“We have to decarbonize faster than the current trajectory we are on,” she said, adding that the way to do that is to “triple renewable energy.”


“That includes offshore wind and solar at scale as well as residential solar, electrify our buildings and build additional electric-vehicle infrastructure,” she said, as well as subsidies and support for electric vehicles, e-bikes and e-scooters.


“In order to do that we have to build power in Sacramento,” she said.


She noted she intends to organize her colleagues around decarbonization by 2030, a platform she said she’s already getting support on. According to Aminzadeh, she’s earned the endorsement of 40 current state legislators, including the president of the state Senate, Toni Atkins, a Democrat from the 39th district in San Diego.


Aminzadeh also said the state Assembly member must address the needs of communities like Belvedere and Tiburon for infrastructure, housing at all affordability levels, traffic mitigation and preserving the quality of life of Marin’s towns and cities.


Both candidates acknowledged the struggle communities are facing in planning for housing needs in the upcoming 2023-2031 housing cycle. According to the state-mandated regional housing needs allocation, Tiburon is required to plan for 639 new units in the next cycle, up from 78 in the current cycle, while Belvedere must plan for 160 housing units, up from 16 in the current cycle.


Neither city is required to build the housing, but they must identify potential sites and rezone to allow development.


“Let’s face it, the (regional housing) numbers are too high,” Connolly said.


He said that reflects the disconnect between the state and local jurisdictions and often doesn’t result in the desired affordable housing being built. He said one strategy could be acquiring existing properties to ensure that they remain affordable and turning commercial properties that are underutilized and vacant office space into affordable housing. He also said he has his eye on working to reform Senate Bill 9, which streamlines the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot.


Aminzadeh said the dilemma with housing is preserving community character while meeting statewide mandates and ensuring that doing so does not worsen traffic, impinge upon limited water supplies and put communities at risk.


She suggested forming a council of governments to address housing on a regional level and look at where additional housing can be placed near transportation and travel corridors instead of placing specific housing allocation numbers that can be geographically challenging and unattainable for places like Belvedere and Tiburon.


Aminzadeh said she’d support a third lane on Tiburon Boulevard to help ease possible traffic impacts from development, while Connolly said he wouldn’t support a third lane because it could invite more developers to the area.


Connolly said he supports a recent bill headed to the governor’s desk that if signed would take effect in 2025. Assembly Bill 1445 says as part of the next housing element, the Association of Bay Area Governments, which sets the regional housing needs allocation, would have to explicitly take into account sea-level rise, climate change, traffic and wildfire risk. He said there also needs to be true affordability, not projects like the proposed redevelopment of Belvedere’s Mallard Pointe community between the lagoon and City Hall, which currently has just four lower-income units.


Aminzadeh said the intention behind housing laws like SB 9 are good but are putting communities in unsafe and untenable positions. She also said the law needs to be reformed, as it’s not working well in all cases.


The candidates also discussed how they would address homelessness in Marin, with Connolly pointing toward tapping into federal Project Homekey funds to purchase hotels and motels and create housing sites. Marin County has three such properties, the most recent being a former skilled-nursing site in Larkspur that’s in the works. Addressing mental health and substance abuse is also vital because they’re often linked with homelessness, Connolly said. He advocated for mobile crisis units to meet people where they are and provide mental-health care.


Aminzadeh said while there are some programs working to address homeless, something different needs to be done. She said getting additional funding to address the district’s unhoused population is one of her top priorities.


“I think the burden has been on local city councils for far too long, and they are not always able to meet the challenges,” Aminzadeh said.


Connolly said if he is elected, his committee interests would include utilities and energy, including creating more control over local energy grids in the face of public-safety power shut offs, as well as working on renewable energy and energy-efficiency issues. He said he’s also interested in working on committees devoted to education and the judiciary committee with an emphasis on working on civil and women’s rights.


Aminzadeh said she would like to be involved with the budget committee with a focus on getting the district a fair share of resources for various projects, including procuring additional funding for basic infrastructure upgrades to roads and to address sea-level rise and drought-resilience projects. She said she’d also like to serve on the natural-resources committee.


The candidates were also asked how they’d reconcile opposing policies and help bring a more holistic approach to policies written in Sacramento.


Connolly said he would seek to have the state capital form true partnerships with local communities. He said the proposed Mallard Pointe development crystallizes the disconnect seen between the state’s policies and cities, as some of the state’s mandates don’t actually result in more affordable housing and don’t recognize that local governments aren’t the ones that build the housing.


Aminzadeh cited funneling more investments toward water infrastructure, expanding wastewater recycling and water capture capacity and continuing water conservation and efficiency measures.


Audience members also had the opportunity to ask questions, though most weren’t focused on the Tiburon Peninsula and instead were inquiries about relief from housing mandates via new legislation, addressing crime throughout the county and single-payer health care, among other topics.


Both candidates have said they’re interested in specific housing legislation reform and in single-payer care.


When discussing crime, Aminzadeh cited additional support for law enforcement and first responders. Connolly said he’d like to continue to have an honest conversation about relationships between law enforcement and communities, and particularly communities of color. He said safety in the broader sense includes having people feeling safe in reporting crimes, but also working on police de-escalation tactics and non-violent response measures, reform that’s not just needed in Marin but across the country.


Reach Katherine Martine at 415-944-4627.

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