A Lesson in Overreaction

There’s an old saying: “Think local, act global.”  It’s a pithy reminder that everything we do, from our brand of toilet paper to how we structure our cities, effects everyone else.

I think someone forgot to tell Corte Madera that.

This past Tuesday, Corte Madera voted to quit ABAG, effective July, 2013.  The Council voted out of frustration at housing mandates it says are killing the town’s character, out of anger at Plan Bay Area, and out of a belief that Corte Madera is perfect.  Yet its actions will have no effect on any of the issues at stake in this debate and will hinder the town’s capacity to shape those issues.

Corte Madera will still need to zone for more housing.  Although ABAG is the administrator of housing requirements for this region, the mandate to zone comes from the state government.  By leaving ABAG, Corte Madera will receive its mandates directly from Sacramento, exposing it to the whim of a truly unelected and unaccountable body.  Within ABAG, Corte Madera had a voice in the association’s General Assembly.  It could contest mandates, allocation formulae, assumptions, and more.  Although staff has a major role to play in governments across the region, at least ABAG staff worked for local elected officials and were answerable to them.

Beyond ABAG, Corte Madera is still a part of the other three regional organizations – Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Bay Coastal Development Commission – which are all working on Plan Bay Area.  Indeed, Corte Madera will be materially affected by decisions made by these agencies but will lack any voice at the proceedings, as it has no representative on any of their boards.

If Corte Madera is subject to SB375, it will need to work directly with staff at each of those regional agencies to formulate its greenhouse gas reduction plans, using up valuable regional and town staff time simply to duplicate efforts and wasting taxpayer money to do so.

Not that any of this will matter for a while.  Although details are a bit sketchy, it seems as though Corte Madera will still be subject to ABAG mandates for the upcoming housing needs allocation.  If you listened to media reports you’d never know it, but there will be no material difference to Corte Madera as a result of these actions.  The town will still be subject to Plan Bay Area and will still receive housing allocations from ABAG until the following allocation in 2020.

The straw that broke this camel’s back were preliminary draft growth projections being used in Plan Bay Area’s discussion phase.  They were too high, a problem brought up with force at Tuesday’s council meeting, but ABAG heard the voice of the town and others and will revise its numbers significantly downward in the next draft.  Those original numbers were released with no methodology, another complaint of Corte Maderans, but ABAG will release its second draft methodology this month.  Housing allocation numbers for the next cycle haven’t even been drafted yet, but they were brought up time and again as though the town already knew it would need to zone for hundreds of new units.  These are fake problems ginned up by Corte Madera’s ABAG representative, Councilmember Carla Condon, who should be fighting within the system rather than railing against it.

So what did Corte Madera get with its resolution on Tuesday?  Headlines, extra costs, and a muted voice.  Corte Madera will still receive housing allocations from ABAG in 2013 and the state in 2020, it will still be subject to Plan Bay Area, it will still be under regional organizations, but it has forfeited its voice in any of these decisions and has thrust upon its staff state-mandated planning requirements currently performed by ABAG.  The council gets to look like a hero to the county’s paper progressives, but its petulant overreaction to nonexistent problems will only compound the town’s woes.

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About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

2 Responses to A Lesson in Overreaction

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