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Resistance To Multi-Unit Housing Helping Keep Marin County Racially Segregated

MILL VALLEY (KPIX 5) -- Marin was recently identified as the most racially segregated county in the Bay Area and what's happening on a piece of property in Mill Valley may hold the reason why.

In 2004, Phil Richardson says he created a plan at the city's request to build multi-unit housing on a 1.25 acre site on East Blithedale Avenue, the last, large vacant lot in town.

"When I started the project the neighbors above me wrote a letter to the town saying they were concerned that this project would decrease their property values," he said.

The complaints from residents began pouring in about traffic problems, building heights and environmental impacts. The city demanded Environmental Impact Reports and project design changes. Richardson finally gave up but he thinks there was another, unspoken concern.

"It's a general community feeling that multi-family housing would be bad, because of, I don't know, maybe the people that would consider living in the multi-family housing?" he said.

Having six of the ten most segregated cities in the Bay Area, some are saying it is Marin's insistence on single-family housing that keeps prices up and people of color out.

There are lots of apartment complexes in San Rafael's Canal District and, consequently, lots of people of color. Canal Alliance CEO Omar Carrera thinks it's not a coincidence they are gathered in one place.

"I think in Marin County we have learned how to be racist without saying it directly to you," Carrera said. "All we have to do is use the environmental argument, use the historical argument, to maintain communities segregated and to prevent people of color from living in other cities across the county."

Richardson doesn't believe opposition to his development is about race, but he said Mill Valley has issued a report acknowledging that housing policies do affect racial diversity. He has resurrected his project. With the new emphasis on racial justice and pressure from the state to create affordable housing, he has renewed optimism that it will be built and neighbors who say they support racial equality will have a chance to practice what they preach.

Richardson's project is ready for formal submission and if all goes well, they could get approval within the next six months.

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