Marin residents sue to block apartments for homeless in Larkspur

Group says 43-unit project failed to meet CEQA exemption for Project Homekey

1251 S. Eliseo Drive, Larkspur (iStock, County of Marin)
1251 S. Eliseo Drive, Larkspur (iStock, County of Marin)

Residents in Larkspur have challenged a Marin County plan to turn a former nursing home into apartments for homeless residents as part of Project Homekey.

A neighborhood group has sued the county to stop the former skilled nursing center at 1251 S. Eliseo Drive from being redeveloped into a supportive apartment complex for up to 50 chronically homeless people, the Marin Independent Journal reported. The state will provide about $15 million of the $23 million necessary to purchase and renovate the rundown building.

The South Eliseo Neighborhood Alliance alleges the county failed to meet state requirements that exempt the Project Homekey site from the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The county has the burden to show why the project is exempt from CEQA,” said Nancy McCarthy, a Greenbrae-based attorney and spokesperson for the neighborhood group.

Project Homekey is a state program now allocating billions in state and federal funds to convert motels and other properties into shelters or permanent housing for unhouse residents. A state law created a CEQA exemption for projects funded by the Homekey program.

The exemption applies when Homekey funds are used to provide housing for people who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, who have been homeless, or are at risk of homelessness.

The lawsuit by the neighborhood group alleges the Marin County Community Development Agency failed to adequately consider all of the requirements that can exempt a Homekey project from CEQA rules. It says the Larkspur project directly contradicts a requirement that the apartments provide homes for homeless “individuals and families.”

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“The project does not comply with this section,” the complaint alleges, “as it would only provide housing to single adults with disabilities and not families.”

The 43-unit Elisea Drive apartment project, on the north bank of Corte Madera Creek west of the 101 Freeway and San Quentin, would offer permanent supportive housing and social services for mental health, substance use treatment and job and career training support.

There were more than 1,000 homeless residents in Marin County in January 2019, according to the last count, of whom nearly half lived in their cars.

Attorneys for Marin County don’t expect the legal challenge to delay the Eliseo Drive project, approved on Feb. 15. But they estimate it could take from three to nine months to resolve the legal challenge in court.

“The Legislature provided a statutory CEQA exemption to stop precisely this kind of challenge,” County Counsel Brian Washington told the newspaper. “We will look forward to demonstrating that to the court.”

[Marin Independent-Journal] – Dana Bartholomew

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