.‘Shit show’ hearing ends with county letting down Marin City residents again

A Southern California real estate developer with approval to build a controversial, five-story apartment complex in Marin City heard strong condemnations of the project at a county hearing last week.

“It was a shit show,” developer Alexis Gevorgian, of AMG & Associates in Encino, told the Pacific Sun in an interview.

Indeed, it was. The three-and-a-half hour hearing marked the first opportunity for Marin City residents to publicly share their perspectives with the county board of supervisors about the 74-unit affordable housing development to be built on one acre.

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Speaker after speaker cited the dangers of adding another large complex to an already densely populated area. Not only is 825 Drake Ave., the location of the development, in a state-designated high fire hazard zone, but the area is also prone to flooding, and is served by only one road in and out.

Even the five supervisors were critical of the project, which the county approved in November 2020. Supervisor Mary Sackett said that 24 parking spots for 74 units is “ridiculous.” Each supervisor expressed a variety of concerns, with most mentioning the developer’s failure to engage with the community.

No one except Gevorgian, the developer, espoused anything positive about the project. Of course, Gevorgian should be thrilled. The for-profit developer took advantage of state laws that provide incentives for building affordable housing. The project benefited from a streamlined approval process, and it received an 80% density bonus, which added 33 units to the 41 units allowed under the county code.

The supervisors repeatedly stated their hands were tied—no local decisions could be made about the project—due to Senate Bill 35, a 2018 state law which restricts local governments from rejecting multi-family residential developments that satisfy specific criteria. Unincorporated Marin County is subject to SB 35 because it has not built enough new housing to meet the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), which aims to resolve the housing shortage. 

Marin City residents and their supporters had hoped last week’s hearing, held to determine whether to approve the issuance of $40 million in tax exempt bonds for the project, would give the supervisors the control they needed to derail the developer.

“Marin County Board of Supervisors, you all have the power,” Marin City resident Felecia Gaston said. “You can vote no.”

During deliberations, Supervisors Dennis Rodoni, Katie Rice and Sackett basically parroted the advice given at the hearing by Marin County counsel Brian Washington. Although Washington acknowledged the board had discretion not to approve the issuance of the bond, he seemed to discourage a “no” vote.  

“You know that decision would be judged on an abusive discretion standard,” Washington said. “You know the case law demonstrates that you have to have a bona fide, legitimate rationale for not doing an approval in a case like this. And you know, SB 35 and some other previous actions the board has taken do narrow the range of discretion in this instance.”

The board dismissed the residents’ impassioned pleas, voting 3-2 to approve the bond issuance from the California Municipal Finance Authority, a state-wide joint powers authority, of which the county is a member. Although Marin County is not issuing the tax-exempt bonds, local elected representatives from the area must provide approval, according to the Internal Revenue Service regulations.

Supervisors Moulton-Peters and Eric Lucan dissented, but for different reasons. Frustration with SB 35 propelled Moulton-Peters into making a fiery statement about voting “nay.”

“This is Marin City,” Moulton-Peters said. “They have the most multi-family housing in any area in the county. This was not where we were supposed to make up our RHNA numbers. It was to happen in other parts of Marin County that have not produced the housing they should have. And I’m angry about this, and the community is angry about this, and they have told us this today.”

Another bone of contention was that the developer couldn’t answer some questions because he didn’t have a current financial statement. Lucan expressed concern that the available financial information on the project is almost nine months old.

“I wanted to see the financials, updated and accurate, to see whether the county, a public entity, should authorize the issuance of tax-exempt bonds that will benefit a for-profit corporation,” Lucan said in an interview. 

For Marin City, which by far has the largest Black population in the county, allowing the behemoth development to move ahead is another step towards gentrifying the community. While the apartments are considered affordable housing based on Marin County’s area median income (AMI), most Marin City residents can’t afford to live there.

In the county, the AMI for an individual is $116,000. However, Marin City’s AMI is just 28% of the county’s figure—$32,847 for an individual—based on the most recent Census Bureau data.

Housing is considered affordable when a person pays no more than 30% of their gross income on the rent or mortgage, including utilities, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The monthly rent at the Drake Avenue development will start at $999 for a studio, which exceeds 30% of the Marin City AMI. This 561 square foot apartment is not “affordable” for the average Marin City resident.

The director of the Marin Housing Authority, Kimberly Carroll, said during the hearing that 25 project-based Section 8 housing vouchers were allocated to the development and preference could be given to Marin City residents. A person with a Section 8 voucher pays only 30% of their income for the apartment and utilities.

Still, there is a waiting list for vouchers, and only families, seniors or disabled individuals with extremely low or very low incomes qualify. Those qualifications exclude many working-class people unable to afford the rent at 825 Drake Ave. 

The typically soft-spoken reverend of Marin City’s First Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Rondall Leggett, expressed his contempt for the project’s approval during the hearing.

“Truth be told, it’s a rape job,” Leggett said. “And I call it a rape job because any time you force something on somebody without their permission, that’s rape.”

But the harshest words came a day later from Gevorgian. The real estate developer, in an interview with the Pacific Sun, said that he wasn’t happy with the 30 or so Marin City residents who spoke out against the project.

“They’re communists, right?” Gevorgian said. “They just want free handouts. You have 30 people who want to change [the project] and screw it up for 150 to 200 people who will have a life-altering experience, wherein they are leaving overcrowded housing in areas far inferior to this area and [will] be very appreciative.” 

“Those 30 people, they don’t care. It’s all about them. Give me more. Give me more vouchers. Lower our rent. They bring up George Floyd and Jim Crow. I’m just a builder coming into a hornet’s nest. All I want to do is build. You don’t like it, don’t live there,” Gevorgian continued.

With SB 35 and the bond funding lined up, it seems like the large development that Marin City residents don’t want is a fait accompli. State Assemblymember Damon Connolly and Sen. Mike McGuire are making a last ditch effort to bring the developer and the community together. This week, the two state representatives will be meeting with the developer to “insist they work with the community in a sincere and meaningful way,” McGuire said in a statement.

“Resident concerns need to be addressed,” Connolly told the Pacific Sun. “If the developer doesn’t step up, that would be a mistake on his part.”

So far, AMG & Associates, the developer, hasn’t made much effort to engage with the community, except for an email that was sent to eight organizations last year. While the company said they offered to meet with the groups, no meetings took place because of a lack of response.

The Pacific Sun reviewed the list of organizations, which an AMG & Associates representative said was provided by the county. Only two were based in Marin City, with one of those serving the entire county area. 

Paul Austin, who runs a Marin City nonprofit for children, said that the way the developer has treated the community has been “hurtful.” 

“They could have Googled ‘Marin City’ and gotten a better list of community organizations,” Austin said.

The chances of making changes to the Drake Avenue project are slim, since the developer has until May 30 to meet a state deadline requiring that he obtain building permits and issue a “notice to proceed” to the contractor.

In addition, Gevorgian, the developer, indicated to the Pacific Sun that he doesn’t believe the issues raised by the community are legitimate. With regard to flooding, he said, “take another road,” apparently unaware that Marin City has just one ingress and egress.

The fire hazard zone designation and the population density in the small area also caused little concern to Gevorgian. He said that millions of other California homes are similarly situated.

“We are zoned and have the right to build,” Gevorgian concluded.

Residents vow to continue opposing the development. A petition against the project started by a community group, Save Our City, has gathered more than 1,370 signatures.

“We’ll protest arm in arm and block the construction,” said Terrie Green, executive director of Marin City Climate Resilience and Health Justice, a nonprofit. “We have been fighting with the county about infrastructure issues, and this project is only going to make it worse. All we’re asking is they cut the building height in half, cut the number of units in half and build some parking. Let’s move on.”

Nikki Silverstein
Nikki Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Pacific Sun since 2005. She escaped Florida after college and now lives in Sausalito with her Chiweenie and an assortment of foster dogs. Send news tips to [email protected].

25 COMMENTS

  1. Another great article Nikki!
    Thank you for keeping your finger on the pulse of what is happening in Marin City…journalism like this makes a difference.

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    • Can’t see where to post comment so will do it here: Yes! Thank u Nikki for such brilliant exposure of all that is wrong w/ this horrific project. It is a complete and total misuse & abuse of power by all who voted to greenlight this monstrosity. If the “developer” can’t understand normal thinking- in that this zone IS (and officially deemed) a real fire hazard, sewer overload, flood zone, already over-inundated population density, complete 100% destruction of every single inch of tree canopy, open space, & blade of grass, danger to the children who play in Rocky Graham Park, etc, etc, etc… if he doesnt “like” our very valid concerns re such… I would say to him 2 things:
      1. Would you build such an edifice near YOU..?
      2. Why don’t YOU go build somewhere else??
      -Namely in the appropriate sections of Marin that have little-0 such projects, and where these ventures were actually intended to be.
      Marin City already has MORE than its fair share! Much more!
      ALL of this- from top to bottom- is yet another example of the “Systemic racism” that pervades in Marin!
      “30 people disagree bc they only want handouts” ?? Wow. What developer fails to (want to) see is, even if you gave 30 people a FREE apt– they still don’t want this nightmare!
      Ah, but Mr. Gevorgian obviously CAN’T understand normal thinking…

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  2. Thank you, Nikki, for shedding light on this out of scale, dangerously situated building that the Marin City residents do not want. Once again the voices of the residents of Marin City are not heeded.

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  3. As Marin City’s Community Services District Board Chair – I would like to invite this developer to an in person board meeting. We meet every 2nd Wednesday of the month & we are willing to set up a Special Meeting.

    Here is my contact information since this developer has a hard time finding what organizations he should contact

    [email protected]

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  4. Nikki: you are a star…local journalism at its best! But for your articles on 825 Drake, “Mateo’s” beating at the hands of SRPD with no accountability, D.A. Lori “Frugoli’s Follies,” just to name a few, our community would be in the dark about all the the misfeasance and malfeasance upon which you shed light. Please keep up your detailed research and constant vigilance on our behalf.

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    • Hi Jerry: I’m so glad to see your involvement. I’ve been involved in Marin City since helping to start the Health and Wellness Center in the early 2020’s. The 825 Drake development’s approval is a real
      travesty of justice. Essie Blau (Suzi’s mother).

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  5. Thank you, Nikki. This is real journalism. You allow the developer to reveal himself not just as a human being but as the one the who truly has his hand out….

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  6. Thank you Nikki Silverstein for your excellent reporting. And a big no thank you- to the bigoted and clueless developer and to the supervisors’ vote to go ahead with a project that so many community members have significant objections to.
    This is a project far better suited to Marinwood, the unincorporated neighborhood of the county in which I live. I stand in solidarity and outrage with Terrie Green, executive director of Marin City Climate Resilience and Health Justice. Building a property of this size is an outrageously fool hardy decision made in spite of the facts- that it is in a state-designated high fire hazard zone, prone to flooding, and served by only one road in and out. It is, as Pastor Leggett commented, an unwanted intrusion, a rape – essentially an act of violence against community needs and safety which both the developer and the BOS must be held accountable for.

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  7. The residents are a community. They are not communists. The Board of Supervisors claim their hands were tied. Marin city already has their share of housing. Mike Mc Guire, Damon, Connolly, and the supervisors need to begin again.
    1. Number of units
    2. Insufficient parking
    3. One Access in and out/Fire
    4. Flooding
    Slapping Marin City with the development of all other Marin cities get a pass

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  8. Thank you Nikki Silverstein for shining a light on this huge injustice. Three of our Supervisors votes are out of integrity with their stated commitment to equity. The mission of the Marin County Office of Equity (OOE) is to “establish the County of Marin as an anti-racist, multicultural workforce committed to accountability, transformational change, and community engagement”. This vote moves us farther away from being actively anti-racist and dismisses all of the concerns that community members brought forward. Please remember that the core of equity is centering the voices and the wisdom of people most impacted by inequities in the solutions. What happened in this vote is exactly the opposite of equity. Now we have a developer making tons of money in one of our most marginalized communities while openly sharing his racist ideas and our own BOS supporting further marginalization while saying they are committed to working for equity in a county that is the second most racially disparate county in the state. This vote is out of integrity. They must be held accountable, and they must stop voting to maintain the status quo. Powerful community leaders have spoken out. Let’s listen to Terrie Green, Felecia Gaston, Bettie Hodges, Pastor Leggett, Paul Austin and other community voices and center them in the solution so we can prove that our County’s commitment to equity isn’t just lip service.

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  9. This project is absurd! Why Marin City of all places? There are many places in Marin where this project could be built. Thus, the county board of supervisors should reconsider its decision and make a halt to this ill-conceived project that will have enormous environmental impacts on our community.

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  10. We have to stop out of area for-profit developers from doing this. Affordable has no meaning anymore. Supervisors, get a spine! We need land and housing trusts, co-housing projects. Rent control on all apartments and rental units no matter when built. Fight to repeal Costa Hawkins. This developer sounds particularly sick and clueless. It’s just wrong.

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  11. Mr. Gevorgian is a modern day carpetbagger and the Board of Supervisors should have sent him packing. Would it have been easy? No, but we didn’t elect them to public office to do the easy things. They say their hands were tied, but what will be the outcome when we, their constituents, are forced by their inaction to join our hands with Terrie Green’s and create a human barrier for the construction? People may get hurt or seriously injured because they said their hands were tied!

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  12. The develper does not understand the concept of respectful community. He does not deserve to interlope on this community with his disregard for people . I say send the guy to Vegas.
    C. Anderson

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  13. Thank you to Nikki Silverstein for this article. We need more attention paid to this project, as those of us who live in Marin City want to stop it! Laura Hopper

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  14. Thank you to Nikki Silverstein for this article. We need more attention paid to this project, as those of us who live in Marin City want to stop it! The Board of Supervisors clearly don’t care about Marin City residents or our needs. Laura Hopper

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  15. Adding my thanks to Nikki Silverstein for this important article revealing the shocking callousness and racism of the developer. And shame on those Supervisors supporting this. Encourage everyone to sign the petition.

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  16. Thanks again Nikki for shining a light on what most here in Marin don’t know and don’t want to know. Marin City gets a lot shoved down the their throats. Maybe racism has something to do with this? How about the blatant racism from the developer? His comments are appalling and offensive. But thanks to you they are now exposed for the world to see what an ignorant hateful man he is. I have an idea: take your development and shove it down the throats of the citizens of Belvedere and Tiburon. Kudos to the 2 supervisors who voted against it. For all the good it will do…

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  17. It’s about time that the Marin City residents (renters and property owners) incorporate their “city!” Sure, incorporating is complex. But, really, isn’t it time?

    It’s community is large and varied. The tax base is there. Take the power away from the county and make it their own. Be in charge of the zoning, the development in their town. It definitely is time.

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  18. Thank you for this excellent journalism. How refreshing to hear it like it is.

    My question: why did they vote for it? Sounds like they all hated it, but voted for it anyway. I think they should stand up to developer overreach, even if it’s a thicky wicket. That’s what leaders are elected to do, right? Stand up for what’t right?

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  19. Great article letting folks know not only what the issues are with the developer but also the choice the supervisors had available to them to potentially derail this development. As a Marin City resident, we are already at full capacity. The fact that the developer doesn’t even know there is only one way in and one way out, this is a problem. What’s more, the words used to describe our community as wanting hand outs, being communists, and the rest of his vitriol, is disturbing, disrespectful, and indicative of a bigger issue. What struck me as particularly troubling is the developers last words, “I don’t live there.”
    Marin County has its issues with regard to equity, and in my opinion Marin City has never had its respectful “fair shake” as a community, but still we move forward. Yes Marin County has to meet its housing obligations, yet both Supervisors Moulton-Peters and Lucan both made strong points against supporting THIS particular development by voting not to approve the bonds. Since this is Supervisor Moulton-Peters district, we had hoped that the other four supervisors would be more supportive of her take on the project, as I’m sure the same would apply if and when community objection for building is projected for their respective districts, what a shame that was not the case.

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  20. Mr. Gevorgian showed his arrogence and Supervisors Rodoni ,Rice and Sackett displayed their lack of spine in asserting their positions of power and ability to negotiate
AMG is a gigantic locomotive riding SB 35 almightedly into Marin County with hundreds of ill conceived high density multi storyhousing developments that will dynamically shift the paradigm from a suburban neighborhood into a highly congested city scape . 
Next on AMG list is the city of Novato where just under 500 new micro units stuffed in a 3 block radius on Grant Ave will over take the small suburban downtown neighborhood. With 492 living units and only 73 parking spaces in an existing small town neighborhood that is already at 100 percent parking capacity the congestion will overwhelm the downtown area .
To unrealistically think that all these new tenants will all use public transportation is shear stupidity.
    Equal to that stupidity is the planning and community director’s staff at the city level that has not reached out to the downtown neighborhood for any urban planning workshops. 
They have their heads in the sand too.

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  21. Thank you for illuminating the lack of understanding and care of the developer for this community and its laudable protest for a safe and healthy neighborhood. Too often out of ignorance on the part of power figures such as this developer, protestors are deemed a menace. In this case we should applaud marin city residents for their determination and courage to save their children and community from this kind of disregard. Move on and convince the legislators to rescind their vote. Thank you.

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  22. Outstanding article, and comments. TAKE ACTION: Monday 4 PM is the deadline for the county planning department to receive objections about this project. Send EMAIL, and must include your name and address:
    [email protected]

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  23. Wow..This same developer is building another project known as the Enlightenment Plaza across the PATH shelter on 340 N madison ave. They been having groundwater issues since last year and still continue to pump & build(water is rising on the site as I type this)…My father (USMC Vet) reported it and in turn they are trying to wrongly evict us&cover everything up. We have pictures and videos of everything and still up to right now. We both are black and seeking legal help. I’m thankful Marin County is doing the right thing.

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