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Marin Officials Tepid on Diversity Plan

Plan to bring Bay Area's whitest county in line with Civil Rights Act gets cool reception from panel

A plan designed to spur more diversity in the Bay Area’s whitest county received a chilly reception from a panel of elected officials in San Rafael Tuesday evening, even as most of them agreed action was necessary to avoid additional federal scrutiny.

The draft report, which must be adopted by May under the terms of an agreement signed with in December between Marin and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, came after the federal agency determined the affluent county had “failed to comply” with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and two other anti-discrimination statutes. 

Marin is home to seven of the Bay Area’s 10 whitest communities, according to the latest census figures.

“It’s really hard to do this,” said Corte Madera City Council member Carlo Condon, worrying aloud that Marin could not afford to build new affordable housing, especially family housing, which would also necessitate the expansion of schools and, she said, an increase in “public safety” spending.

“There’s a terrific financial impediment that was being forced us,” she said.

In its report, which was released last week, Marin’s Community Development Agency recommended amending zoning regulations to ease the construction of new apartments, passing laws requiring new developments to offer housing at below-market rates, and stepping up programs to combat discrimination by landlords and realtors.

During the course of the panel’s deliberations, however, Novato City Council member Denise Athas questioned the existence of discrimination against blacks and Latinos in mortgage lending in Marin.

Athas, a realtor by trade, said she wondered whether lending institutions “would even know” a borrower's race. “You’re not supposed to ask,” she said.

“We’re going to have to be very creative,” said county Supervisor Judy Arnold, who chaired the panel, which bears the cumbersome name Community Development Block Grant Countywide Priority Setting Committee.

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