MARIN CITY – Residents of Golden Gate Village (GGV), the only family public housing development in affluent Marin County, CA, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the County of Marin and the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) to block private redevelopment, avoid losing their homes, and force authorities to fix “deplorable” health and safety conditions in the 700-resident community.
Residents of the predominantly African American community unveiled details of the suit in a press conference timed to recognize the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6. They also announced a GoFundMe campaign to support legal expenses and a petition to support their efforts, with details available at www.ggvrc.org.
The lawsuit aims to prevent the MHA, aided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), from engaging a private developer who intends to tear down 16 existing low-rise units, crowd an additional 156 units into two new high-rise towers, and introduce a cookie-cutter approach to Golden Gate Village that residents say would destroy the tight-knit community under the guise of saving it. In addition to preventing the displacement of residents, the suit calls for immediate repairs to GGV units after years of deferred maintenance. Residents are asking for housing officials to adopt a resident-designed revitalization plan, which includes the formation of a community land trust to help build equity within the community.
“Privatization is not in the interest of Golden Gate Village residents. It will take money out of the community and continue a dangerous cycle in America of erasing affordable public housing,” said Royce McLemore, president of the Golden Gate Village Resident Council (GGVRC) and the named plaintiff in the suit. “With the Black Lives Matter movement, it's clear that we all have the ability to stand on the right side of history – we're asking the MHA and Marin Board of Supervisors to stand with us.”
The predominantly Black community of Golden Gate Village has a long and storied history that touches on themes at the forefront of national conversations around racial justice and housing equity. Marin City first emerged as a thriving shipbuilders' town during World War II, employing thousands of African American workers from the deep South who had been excluded from higher paying jobs at home. As the war ended, white workers were able to leave and buy homes in surrounding areas as Black workers were prevented from home ownership through homeowner's covenants, redlining and employment discrimination.
Golden Gate Village, constructed in 1961 to provide housing for these community members, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's protégé, Aaron Green, and another renowned local architect, John Carl Warnecke, and aligned with Wright's philosophy that architecture should be integrated with the environment. Noted landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin, was responsible for all outdoor design, including overall layout, plant selection, terraces and play areas. The community holds a meaningful place in the Civil Rights Movement as a breakthrough project that applied sensitive environmental design to a federal housing project and is listed on the National Historic Register.
In recent years, the lawsuit claims, the MHA deferred maintenance of GGV, allowing it to fall into major structural disrepair and actively implementing policies that involve, “the intentional failure to address or abate unsafe and outdated electrical subpanel and other electrical code violations constituting fire hazards... no heat in bathrooms, water pipes not being insulated or protected, creating burn danger particularly for small children… active rodent infestation and mold,” according to the complaint.
In 2005, Golden Gate Village residents created the GGVRC to advocate before the Marin County Board of Supervisors and the Marin Housing Commission. GGVRC created a detailed plan for revitalization designed to be responsive to residents' needs. build equity and support homeownership. The GGVRC plan includes installing solar panels and double-paned windows, along with other renovations to make the buildings more energy efficient. It also would provide on-the-job training for Marin City residents to complete installation and renovation tasks, learning skills that could be transferred to job opportunities in the future.
Resident council members went door to door to introduce the plan to neighbors, gain feedback and secure buy-in – with more than two-thirds of community members signing on.
“Our revitalization plan is truly by the community and for the community, and it's shameful that the MHA has completely disregarded it for years,” McLemore said. “The GGVRC plan aligns with the Green New Deal and addresses climate change, racial equity and job creation – and most importantly, it allows residents to have a voice in the future of our community. In fact, our plan could become the model for how to incorporate the Green New Deal into public housing projects throughout the country.”
According to the lawsuit, GGVRC members presented their plan to the MHA many times over the past decade, but the MHA continued to drive forward with private development. Now, the MHA is planning to contract with Michaels Development Co., a developer headquartered in New Jersey, to manage private development of Golden Gate Village, again ignoring the GGVRC's plan.
In its legal action, the GGVRC is working to prevent the MHA from signing the agreement with Michaels and instead honor the Golden Gate Village residents' plan and wishes to move forward with critical repairs and renovations, enable residents to remain in their homes, and develop a community land trust. The land trust would help ensure that the property is permanently affordable and build equity in the community rather than transferring ownership to outside investors.
“Marin Housing Authority decision-makers have had dozens of opportunities – and even legal obligations – over the years to partner with the residents of Golden Gate Village on the future of this community, and they've failed community members time and time again,” said Stan Goff, the attorney representing GGVRC in its lawsuit. “Enough is enough. We're using the legal system to hold MHA accountable in supporting a viable future for Golden Gate Village, and an opportunity for this community to thrive.”
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Sketch of Golden Gate Village by architect Aaron Green