Marin Elections: Endorsements all around

The Marin County election cycle is coming to a close in two weeks. Though there is not much on the ballot that deals specifically with urbanism, there are plenty of candidates who have some strong opinions on the subject.

For the most part, I’m in agreement with the endorsements of the Pacific Sun. Progressive, thoughtful political reporting has always been their specialty, and their endorsements show how much they weighed the issues.

That said, the IJ makes some compelling cases as well. While their reporting can stir the pot at times, their editorial board has always been a bastion of calm. For endorsements, they go out of their way to interview each of the candidates and make a well-balanced decision.

Or, you may want to figure it out yourself.

Below you’ll find all the council races with Pacific Sun and IJ endorsements, links to candidate websites, video debates, and, for some races, a nugget that might have been overlooked.

Corte Madera Town Council

Three seats, three incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Carla Condon (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun
Writing: “Investing in Kids Pays Off”; “We Need a Local ‘Council of Governments’ “; “Challenging Push to ‘Urbanize’ Our County”

Michael Lappert (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Diane Furst (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun
Writing: “TAM Should Support Working Group’s Freeway Plan”

David Kunhardt (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Though the Pacific Sun endorsed Carla Condon over Michael Lappert, as they seem to consider him arrogant, I think he is marginally less anti-urbanist than Condon. Condon has come out with fire against Plan Bay Area. Her Marin Voice pieces regarding development have, to paraphrase the Sun, bordered on the conspiratorial, which can be worse for governing than bombastics.

Fairfax Town Council

Three seats, three incumbents, four candidates.

Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Barbara Coler (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Chris Lang (challenger)
Campaign website

John Reed (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

David Weinsoff (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Larkspur Town Council

Three seats, one incumbent, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ EndorsementPacific Sun Endorsement

Kevin Haroff (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Dan Hillmer (incumbent)
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Daniel Kunstler (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Catherine Way (challenger)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Mill Valley Town Council

Two seats, no incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ EndorsementPacific Sun Endorsement

George Gordon

Jessica Jackson
Campaign website

Dan Kelly
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

John McCauley
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Though neither the IJ nor the Pacific Sun endorsed Jessica Jackson, given her inexperience, Jackson is the most progressive of the four on transportation issues. She has called for greater investment in bicycle lanes and sidewalks, and an expansion of Bay Area Bike Share to Marin.

Jackson would be a strong voice for progressive transportation in Mill Valley, and she would bring that voice to county and regional agencies, too. TAM and GGBHTD both could use another progressive. It doesn’t hurt, either, that she would be the first millennial elected to a municipal council in Marin.

Novato City Council

Two seats, two incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Denise Athas (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Pat Eklund (incumbent)
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun

Steve Jordon (challenger)

Eleanor Sluis (challenger)
Campaign website
Writing: Extensive Patch comments; “Entrance to Novato versus New Bus Transit Hub’s Location versus Mission Lodge, a Park, and Parking”

San Anselmo Town Council

One seat, no incumbents, three candidates.

Marin IJ Endorsement | Pacific Sun Endorsement

Matt Brown
Campaign website

Steve Burdo
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Doug Kelly
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Something to keep in mind about Doug Kelly, from the Pacific Sun: “Kelly has the most to say about Plan Bay Area and ABAG—he’s not a fan—but understands that if he’s elected he’ll ‘need to work with them in a positive manner regardless of [his] views.’ “

San Rafael Town Council

Two seats, two incumbents, four candidates.

LWV debate | Sustainable San Rafael debate | Marin IJ EndorsementPacific Sun Endorsement

Greg Brockbank
Campaign website
Endorsed by Pacific Sun

Maribeth Bushey-Lang
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ

Kate Colin
Campaign website
Endorsed by Marin IJ, Pacific Sun
“Making San Rafael a Sustainable City”

Randy Warren
Campaign website

Lots to keep in mind in San Rafael’s race:

Maribeth Bushey-Lang’s deep technical experience with railroad issues, especially railroad crossings could prove valuable for the city, county, and region. The city of San Rafael has seats on the boards of SMART, TAM, and MTC, all of which will deal with rail issues. And, while she can’t vote on the SMART-Andersen Drive crossing because she ruled on it as a judge, she believes she will be able to deal with all other SMART issues.

Kate Colin brings a wealth of experience about planning matters. Having someone from this background, who deeply understands these issues, would be of value to the city.

Randy Warren reneged on his blanket opposition to all PDAs by cautiously half-endorsing the one in downtown San Rafael, or at least promising not to oppose it if the mayor thinks it’s a good idea in three years. He did this in the Sustainable San Rafael debate so you can see it yourself, and it signals some flexibility to his heretofore inflexible anti-urban rhetoric.

Greg Brockbank is an unabashed urbanist and environmentalist, two hats that are difficult to find together in Marin. That, paired with his long history of public service, would make him a good fit to return to the Council.

Market-rate housing is just as important as subsidized housing

Controversy swirls around the Wincup apartment development in Corte Madera, and the IJ has published a piece detailing every complaint, from the size to the traffic to the fact that it won’t be “affordable” housing.

While there are problems with the piece (they couldn’t find one person who liked it? Or someone who was interested in renting there?), the myth that market rate housing does not help the cause of affordable housing, brought up by a neighbor, is one that we’ve addressed here and bears repeating.

The housing market in the Bay Area is fundamentally constrained, especially at the top. There simply is not enough supply to go around, and so prices are artificially high. A house that might go for $250,000 elsewhere goes for $850,000, and an apartment that might go for $700 a month elsewhere goes for $1,500 here.

Since there’s not enough super-luxury housing for the wealthy, they look for regular luxury housing, displacing the modestly wealthy. Modestly wealthy folk, whose luxury housing is now out of their price range, look for middle-quality housing, displacing the upper-middle class, who look for lower range housing, and so on down the line until the poorest get knocked off entirely.

Traditional affordable housing tries to build housing that’s been set aside for those poorest folk, but that’s only a stop-gap. Without a functional housing market, they’ll never get enough government largesse and charity. The construction of market-rate housing, shifts some wealthier folk back up the ladder, giving space for the poor and lowering prices across the board.

Now, a single project in Corte Madera won’t do this for the whole Bay Area, but it’s counterproductive to denigrate a project for not being “affordable.” We need a stratified, healthy housing market to solve our region’s affordability problem. Market-rate housing, from ultra-luxury on the Embarcadero to just somewhat lux in Marin, is the only way to do that.

The form of Wincup may be off. It may be monstrous, even. But don’t knock it for its prices.

Mid-Week Links: Novato Moving

Looking at Novato and Beyond

Looking at Novato and Beyond by udpslp, on Flickr

Things are starting to move in Novato, six weeks after the tragic crash that killed Hailey Ratliff. A memorial walk two weeks ago saw hundreds turn out, with city officials and residents expressing support for safer streets. Elisabeth Thomas-Matej joined my call for protected bike lanes in the city while a neighborhood group is investigating ways to lobby for safer streets. And, now that the driver who killed Hailey was cleared of wrongdoing, the Ratliff family has decided to sue Novato for negligence. The suit argues that poor road design, high speeds, and untrimmed vegetation all contributed to the tragedy.

Only time will tell if this movement is permanent. For the sake of the city and its people, I hope it is.

Marin Greater and Lesser

  • Marin County has the second-lowest number of people commuting alone to work in the Bay Area, bested only by San Francisco itself. Though it’s still somewhat high at 65.2 percent, fully 19 percent don’t drive, take transit, or carpool at all, and that probably means a lot of walking and bicycling. (CoCo Times)
  • Santa Rosa faces a tough decision with its Coddingtown SMART rail crossing. It can spend $1.7 million for a pedestrian overpass, or close one at-grade crossing so state regulators would allow the city to open a new at-grade crossing here. (PD)
  • Parklets could come to Fairfax, that is if the concept passes through all the governmental hoops alterations to parking usually have to jump through. (Patch)
  • The Italian Street Painting Festival is back! After a hiatus and concerns it wouldn’t return, organizers received enough seed money to revive San Rafael’s biggest street festival of the year for next summer. (Patch)
  • Sprawl in Tiburon is being subsidized by Marin and the costs are skyrocketing. A court ordered the county to pay half the cost of a housing development’s EIR, and the cost has now reached $468,000. (IJ)
  • Larkspur has the worst roads in the Bay Area. While not much of a problem for drivers, bicyclists have a tough time navigating the cracked and buckled pavement. (Bay Citizen)
  • Marin’s mountain biking history and culture is on display at the SFO gallery, so stop by next time you pass through. If you really want your fix, don’t forget that we have an express bus; for a $40 round-trip, it’s actually not much more than a high-class theater. (Pacific Sun)
  • A fighter pilot is trained to keep watch for any movement and to use his or her eyes to maximum effect. Drivers and cyclists, who aren’t trained in the fine art of attention, should be. An RAF pilot has some tips for how to detect cyclists if you’re a driver, and how to avoid getting missed if you’re a cyclist. (London Cyclist)
  • And…: Caltrans hit with record fine for breaking water quality rules in 101 construction. (PD) … A new Boston rail station is being funded by New Balance. (Archpaper) Could Fireman’s Fund do the same for SMART in Novato? … Fare hikes and service cuts are coming to Santa Rosa’s CityBus. (PD) … Marin Transit’s Muir Woods Shuttle awarded for excellence. (NBBJ) … Corte Madera’s long-awaited park cafe has finally opened. (IJ)

The Toll

One person died and two others were injured this week.

  • Richard Giacomini drowned after crashing his truck into a West Marin reservoir this week. The well-known rancher was 71. (IJ)
  • Joe Kwai Lee, the driver accused of killing Alvine Heese with his car last week, has plead not guilty in Santa Rosa court. He was driving to a doctor’s appointment on a suspended license. (PD)
  • A woman was injured by a driver backing out of their driveway in Santa Rosa. (PD) … A motorcyclist injured himself by crashing his bike in Sonoma County. He suffered only minor injuries. (PD)

Mid-Week Links: Area Plans

2006.34.5175.sm

Pre-development North San Rafael. Image from Marin History Museum.

Marin County

  • The Larkspur SMART station should be moved, at least according to attendees of a Station Area Plan workshop. While the town can’t do much to change the station’s location, the delay in that leg of the system means it could be moved to be near the ferry terminal. (Twin Cities)
  • Up the tracks, there is concern brewing that the Civic Center Station Area Plan would bring too much traffic and detract from the iconic Civic Center itself. (Patch)
  • Test results at a number of Bay Area bridges were falsified, according to an internal Caltrans investigation. The Bay Bridge and the Richmond Bridge both were the subject of false testing, though Caltrans is sure the two spans are safe. The Golden Gate Bridge is administered by a separate agency and was not part of the testing. (IJ)
  • Fairfax passed a balanced budget for coming fiscal year. The $7 million plan is bolstered by surging sales tax revenue, thanks to the new Good Earth store, and savings from empty posts, including that of Town Manager. (IJ)
  • Robert Eyler argues for a more reasoned approach to approving new development, one that separates fact from opinion and the interests of a neighborhood from the county at large. (NBBJ)
  • And…: One person thinks former RVSD GM Brett Richards deserves some praise; another thinks the San Rafael Airport rec center absolutely doesn’t. (IJ) … Mill Valley Lumber could be saved. (Pacific Sun) … Highway signs are in the offing for The Village shopping center. (Twin Cities)

The Greater Marin

  • The Richmond refinery fire disrupted a major transportation hub, not to mention a city of over 100,000 people, and residents are pissed. Unfortunately, while other agencies announced service disruptions, GGT was, once again, silent. (SFist)
  • San Franciscans will likely vote on luxury development 8 Washington in November, 2013. Opponents dislike the size, amount of parking, and the fact that it’s for rich people. (SFGate)
  • Preliminary reports on Muni’s all-door boarding experiment show marked increases in speed on some major routes. Before GGT copies its maligned cousin, though, it may want to adopt all-door exiting like every other major transit agency. (Streetsblog)
  • Healdsburg unanimously approved a sprawl project of 28 homes far from the city center. Though the homes aren’t terribly far out, they will be far from the city center and transit. (Press Democrat)
  • If you think you know everything there is to know about Marin’s old streetcars, you might want to find out about Contra Costa’s. The Museum of the San Ramon Valley is putting a number of artifacts on display detailing the history of mass transit in CoCo. The exhibit runs through August 19. (CoCo Times)

The Toll

  • This week: one pedestrian with severe injuries, six drivers or passengers with unspecified or minor injuries, and two crashes with no injuries.
  • The man who died riding a bike in Santa Rosa last week was a PE teacher in town for an educational conference and leaves behind a young family. The intersection where Ruben Hernandez was killed will soon get a stoplight as part of a new development, though it’s unclear if the city council would have done anything otherwise. (Press Democrat)
  • Two drivers hit one other on Highway 101 last Thursday morning. No injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • A driver had a seizure and crashed his SUV into a ravine off Shoreline Highway. The driver was transporting kids to a surfing day camp, but thankfully nobody was injured. (IJ)
  • The driver of an armored vehicle lost control and crashed after nearly being struck by the driver of a horse trailer on Lucas Valley Road. The armored vehicle’s driver was hospitalized, and his passenger was treated at the scene. (IJ)
  • A semi was struck from behind on northbound Highway 101 and its driver lost control, sending the truck into the southbound lanes near Tiburon. The driver suffered minor injuries, though no word on who hit the truck. (IJ)
  • A Porsche (it’s unclear if anyone was driving it or not) hit a woman in Greenbrae after literally going under an SUV. The woman has been hospitalized with serious injuries. (IJ)
  • A drunk driver pulled in front of someone driving a Jeep in Larkfield, causing an accident. One of the drunk driver’s passengers was injured, and the other – a 4 year old girl – was unharmed. No word on the condition of either driver. (Press Democrat)
  • A motorcyclist was injured on Highway 101 in San Rafael last week, though it’s unclear how he was injured or the extent of his injuries. (Patch)

Mid-Week Links: Reclamation

Fairfax Festival  MichaelOlsen/ZorkMagazine

People enjoying closed streets at the Fairfax Festival. Photo by MichaelOlsen/ZorkMagazine

Marin County

  • Fairfax is hashing out how to implement Streets for People, its own version of San Francisco’s incredibly successful Sunday Streets program. The town would close Bolinas for part of the day, opening it up to anyone on foot, bike, or other human-powered conveyance. (Patch)
  • New blood on the Ross Valley Sanitary District board promises a management and policy shift. New member Mary Sylla is opposed to new bonds and rate hikes intended to speed the district’s century-long pipe replacement cycle. Marcia Johnson, who lost her re-election bid, was a supporter. (IJ)
  • Tonight, chat with Blithedale Terrace developer Phil Richardson about his proposed 20-unit condo development in lower Mill Valley7pm, The Forest Room of the Mill Valley Community Center. (Patch)
  • A new sidewalk is under construction in Homestead Valley’s Evergreen Avenue under the county’s Safe Routes to School program. People still don’t like the plan, saying it undermines the community’s semi-rural character. There may be an injunction filed to stop the project, which is designed make the route to school safer. (IJ, @mikesonn, Mill Valley Herald)
  • A new Santa Venetia subdivision will not go forward as planned, at least not yet. County Supervisors rejected the 14-unit sprawl project pending a few more months of study. Unfortunately, the area is zoned for 15 units on one-acre plots, so it’s unlikely the project can be stopped entirely. (IJ)
  • Ever wondered how much your town’s Director of Public Works was paid? Bay Area News Group has created a searchable database of all public employee salaries in the Bay Area, so you can know at last. (IJ)
  • Ross faces dramatic cuts now that the town declined to pass the $642,000 public safety tax. Two police officers, a firefighter, and a firefighting apprenticeship program are all on the chopping block. The town will cut other areas to keep the damage minimal. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • The draft Civic Center Station Area Plan has been released to the public and to the Board of Supervisors, who are reviewing the draft now. The plan creates more housing, rezones parts of the auto-oriented neighborhood, and creates a better pedestrian circulation pattern through the area. (Pacific Sun)
  • And…: A yard that has encroached on open space for more than 20 years will finally be returned to San Rafael, though the owners have a history of ignoring officialdom on the subject, so who knows? (IJ) … In a picture of sweetness and light, a Corte Madera father and daughter spent the whole school year biking in tandem to kindergarten. (Twin Cities Times) … Brad Breithaupt goes deeper into the voting numbers from last Tuesday’s election. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • A comprehensive report on San Francisco’s multifaceted and crowded transit system has been released. The 103-year-old report details the pre-Muni world of streetcars and rails in the aftermath of the earthquake and fire. Among the recommendations? Getting rid of horse-drawn cars. (Muni Diaries)
  • Apple will stop using Google Maps on its iPhones, and it won’t include transit directions. You may have to go back to using that 511.org app… (Streetsblog)
  • It turns out Muni has been neglecting maintenance for years as the agency has sacrificed long-term financial stability for short-term savings. Be glad you have GGT managing your fleet, Marin. (SF Weekly)
  • A bill to create a statewide ceiling on parking requirements around transit has shown signs of life in the state Senate. AB 904 would force localities to require no more than one parking space per housing unit, 1,000 square feet of retail, or other measures. (Around the Capitol via @MarketUrbanism and @mottsmith)
  • If you want to encourage transit ridership, the best way is to price driving. While expanding a rail network by 10% nets a 3% gain in ridership, effective car regulations (like congestion pricing) nets a 10-20% increase in ridership and a commensurate decrease in driving. (Atlantic Cities)
  • And…: Santa Rosa mulls electing its councilmembers by district rather than at-large. (Press-Democrat) … The small-government aspects of smart growth appeal to at least some conservatives. (Next American City) … Frank Lloyd Wright hated cities. (Atlantic Cities)

Got a tip? Tweet @theGreaterMarin, email thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com, or post something on Facebook.

Mid-Week Links: Halls of Power

Marin County Civic Center

by Amanda Tomlin

Elections

It was a crazy night on Tuesday, if by crazy you mean “everyone stayed home.” Whether or not people had a say, the elections happened anyway and Marin’s incumbents did rather well.

  • Nationally, assemblyman and Woolsey-endorsed successor Jared Huffman ran away with first place in the 2nd District’s first round election. Still undecided is whether the centrist will run against liberal Norm Solomon or conservative Dan Roberts which could decide whether the race is quite difficult or quite easy for the former state assemblyman. (IJ, Press-Democrat)
  • In California, Assemblyman Michael Allen and San Rafael Councilmember Marc Levine beat the rest of the pack to  first and second place in the open primary for the 10th Assembly seat. The Democrat-on-Democrat battle promises to be bruising as both fight over who is more of a Sacramento outsider and genuine local of the North Bay. (Press-Democrat)
  • Marin County Supervisors Katie Rice and Steve Kinsey walked away with clear victories against their opponents, reflecting the prevailing feelings of contentment with the Board, if not the regional agencies it deals with. (IJ)
  • Locally…: Ross rejected the Measure C public safety tax while seeming to settle on three new councilmembers. (IJ) … Belvedere got three new councilmembers and renewed its public safety tax. (IJ) … Voters firmly rejected incumbent Ross Valley Sanitary District board member Marcia Johnson, who supported doubling rates in order for the district to fix its lines faster than once per century. (IJ) … The Ross Valley School District will get its parcel tax hike, which it said it needed to offset state budget cuts. (IJ) … Sausalito will join the Southern Marin Fire Protection District. (Marinscope)

Marin County

  • Hopes are running high that fans of the San Rafael Pacifics will become patrons of downtown businesses given Albert Field’s location only three blocks from Fourth Street. (NBBJ)
  • GGT fares are growing faster than tolls at the Golden Gate Bridge, creating a perverse incentive for people to drive rather than take the bus. Though politically easy, it’s the opposite of what the Bridge District should do. (Streetsblog)
  • Meanwhile, MT is wringing its hands over a 3.6% increase in operating costs, driven mostly by increases in its $16 million contract with GGT to provide local service. They want to renegotiate the contract, but it’s unclear whether GGT will budge. (IJ)
  • San Rafael’s Street Crimes Unit is up for disbandment as the council grapples with ongoing budget deficits. The three-member unit has two retirements this year and the council may not allow the police department to hire replacements. Given the high-profile crime push at the transit center earlier this year, ongoing gang activity in Terra Linda, the Canal, Novato, and the criminal problems downtown, I think this is an instance of eating your seed corn. (Patch)
  • All your transit needs will now be satisfied at the new GGT/MT customer service center at the Bettini Transit Center. GGT will move its customer service center to the center so it can be close to the people who actually use transit. (IJ)
  • Marin’s local agencies and districts should consolidate to avoid duplication of services and save money, according to a Grand Jury report on the subject. The overwhelming approval of fire consolidation in Sausalito this past week is a good start. One former councilmember wants us to go even further. (Patch, Marinscope)
  • A Corte Madera manufacturing company, EO Products, is moving to the Canal after an exhaustive search of the region. The site is near existing transit and within walking distance of much of the immigrant neighborhood. (IJ)
  • A year after Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio and San Rafael Councilmember Damon Connolly got a tour of The Netherlands’ bike infrastructure, sponsored by the Bikes Belong Foundation, there seems to still be some behind-the-scenes movement towards bicycling. (Planetizen, Bikes Belong)
  • And…: The San Rafael Airport sports complex moves on to the council. (IJ) … Mill Valley approved some condos downtown over the objection of Streamkeepers. (IJ) … Who does the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents really represent? (IJ letter)

The Greater Marin

  • At least one West Sonoman wants the county to sell its western half to Marin. At least we maintain our rural roads, he says, while Sonoma is determined to turn its roads into gravel. In light of a massive road repair deficit and deadlock over taxes, though, who could blame them? (Press-Democrat)
  • The East Bay is working to promote transit-oriented living around its BART stations, something long lacking in the sprawl of the East. Not mentioned are updates to Richmond’s General Plan which attempt to make walkable the notoriously unwalkable city. (New Colonist, City of Richmond)

Errata of Corte Madera

While I was working on last week’s post, I gathered rather more information than I needed for something focused on mall redevelopment though most of it is really really wonky.  Be forewarned.

  • While working through Corte Madera’s zoning code (Title 18 of the Corte Madera Municipal Code), I found that the densest type of zoning is R-3, which allows 17.7 units per acre at most but still requires buildings occupy at most 35% of a given lot, meaning an effective floor-area ratio of about 1.  In these zones, even studio apartments need 1 parking space each, and one parking space is needed for every 10 housing units to accommodate visitors.
  • As far as I could tell, there aren’t any parcels zoned for R-3 in Corte Madera. R-2 is rather more restrictive. It allows only 10.8 units per acre.
  • The minimum amount of land needed for a parking space in Corte Madera is 204 square feet. The minimum size of a studio apartment in the state of California is 160 square feet.
  • Corte Madera precisely prescribes the types of uses allowed in any given type of commercial space.  One can’t, say, open a bookstore in the along Tamal Vista (zoned C-3), sell electronics parts downtown (C-1), or sharpen tools in a store at Town Center (C-2).
  • The number of units per acre in downtown San Anselmo, including the Flats, is about 15.5.  If you want to live downtown, nine stores (zoned San Anselmo’s version of C-2) can have at least one apartment above. One of them, the shingled building on San Anselmo Avenue between the Courtyard and Bridal Salon, has three.  Unlike Corte Madera, it’s legal to live above a store in San Anselmo.
  • The best tools I’ve found so far are MarinMap’s Geocortex and the county assessor’s Property Tax Inquiry. The standard MarinMap is pretty handy, but nothing beats the querying capability of Geocortex. Find out the zone, size of buildings on the property, address, parcel number, and just about anything else you wanted to know. For the rest, you’ll need to input the parcel number into the Property Tax Inquiry, which tells you things like the number of housing units, how much they pay in property taxes, and more.

Make Town Center a Town Center

Central to the discussion of Corte Madera’s housing concerns is that it is built-out. There is no more developable land, and its commercial areas are productive and full. Where will more people go? The answer lies in Corte Madera Town Center’s parking lot.

The Situation

Corte Madera Town Center, block 024-163. Click to enlarge.

Over the next 28 years, Corte Madera is projected to grow by 204 units, most of which will be enforced by the state through its RHNA process. The town wants to rid itself of RHNA by quitting ABAG, saying that the assignment of so many units is simply too high given the fact that there is no unused land to develop.

Enter Block 024-163, occupied by the four story Town Center mall, two gas stations, and a buffer along the Tamalpais Drive exit ramp. Of the 31.7 acres, only 7.5 acres are used by buildings, leaving the other 24.2 used by parking or parking access.

Town Center prides itself on imitating a vaguely Mediterranean village, with narrow brick walkways and arches. Transit access is provided by no fewer than eight all-day bus routes and two commute routes. By bus, it’s 45 minutes to San Francisco, eight minutes to San Rafael from the bus pad, and it’s walking distance to downtown Corte Madera, the Village, and most of Central and Southern Marin are biking distance. Town Center has a grocery store, doctors, cafés, and restaurants.

I can’t think of a better spot to put some low-rise apartments.

The Proposal

My concept is for Town Center to fill its entire lot rather than just a fifth of it, creating a walkable village that activates the streets around it for foot traffic and develops a bustling hive of activity on the inside. Even with parking garages using a quarter of the lot, the design could accommodate between 400 and 665 units of housing – far, far beyond what ABAG projects the town will need to build.

People actually live in places like this. From MadisonMarquette.

From the inside, the Town Center would look much like it does today: winding pedestrian streets 20-30 feet wide dominated by retail. The closest American equivalent I can think of is Santa Barbara’s Paseo Nuevo. Located downtown, the two-block mall opens directly onto the sidewalks, integrating seamlessly with the rest of the city. Small retail bays would encourage locally-grown shops that couldn’t afford larger retail, and encouraging studio apartments would ensure little undue pressure on schools.

The catch is that this sort of project is illegal under Corte Madera’s current zoning codes. Even the Mixed Use Gateway District is too restrictive, as it was tailor-made for the Wincup site and requires a parking space for every unit. The parking requirement would be particularly foolish for a development that relies on walkable, transit-oriented living, as it would impose onerous costs on the development for minimal return.

For the site to develop properly, a new zone would need to be developed for the site. Perhaps (and I’m spitballing here) a minimum of 40 housing units per acre but no maximum; no parking minimum; no restriction on what sort of store or office you could open on the site, contrary to what the code currently allows; a maximum height of 30 feet for the street, 45 for the interior; and a rooftop garden, to filter out the nastiness from the freeway. If the developer were allowed to unbundle the parking from the residences, meaning a resident could choose whether to just rent an apartment or to also rent a parking space, it would take some pressure off the need for more parking and allow the developer to figure out for itself how many spaces to build rather than rely on diktat from town hall.

The density may be enough to encourage Zipcar, the car-sharing service, to finally open in Marin. Studies have shown that one Zipcar takes 15 cars off the road, and that users tend to make fewer trips by car. If town hall wants to encourage transit use, too, it could facilitate a six month free bus pass program for anyone who moves to Town Center. Studies show that transit use is sticky – few people switch from transit to driving once going from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat – so putting people that already live in a walkable place onto transit from Day One will mean less traffic for everyone.

I present this project as a talking point, a concept of how Corte Madera could build value for itself through the affordable housing allocation process. The childless singles and couples that would move there would add tax revenue to the town without any additional burden on the school system. Rather than just a mall, Corte Madera would have a new village in Marin, and all on land that the city now thinks of as “built out” and undevelopable. These aren’t high rises, nor are they Soviet apartment blocks. By opening the door through zoning, rather than just constructing affordable housing, developers would be free to build housing however the market supports.

Every parking lot is an opportunity for something new. Storing cars isn’t a high use for land. It’s untaxable, and it leaves the land fallow for most of the time. Corte Madera has the space for new housing and, more than most towns, it has the location.  No matter what the town does it will need to build more housing. This is the best place for it.

ABAG, Let’s Talk About Corte Madera

Image from Plan Bay Area; drawing inspired by Lydia DePillis

It’s tiny, but Corte Madera is still important.

To ABAG Staff:

Congratulations!  You’ve been invited to testify at a couple of Corte Madera town council meetings.  I know it’s far away and I know it’s a tiny town, but please resist the urge to blow off these meetings.  Corte Madera deserves to know why it is projected to grow and how it’s expected to grow when it feels as though it’s already built out.  Luckily, the town council isn’t terribly familiar with the Plan Bay Area process.  For example, Corte Madera’s representative to ABAG, Councilwoman Carla Condon, only recently learned that Plan Bay Area involves more agencies than just ABAG!  There is a great opportunity to educate the council on what you do, why you do it, why it’s important for Corte Madera, and why it’s important for the region.

To prepare you for the task, I’ve assembled a bit of a cheat sheet of the questions you’ll get and what you should do in preparation to answer.  Each of these could be its own article, but hopefully I can point you in the right direction to find this out on your own.

Why is Plan Bay Area necessary?

Don’t simply say that the state mandated it, and don’t simply parrot a line about Smart Growth.  Give the background on the subject.  For reference, make sure to read the articles Planetizen has gathered under its SB 375 tag, including the ones critical of the legislation.  That’s your homework, because you need to argue for SB 375 just as hard as you argue for ABAG.

In short, Plan Bay Area is necessary to do exactly what makes the most sense: concentrate growth where there already is infrastructure to support residents; to build up our central cities; to reduce particulate pollution; to promote active living for a range of public health reasons; and to ensure growth builds up our region rather than weakens it.

Doesn’t higher density growth lead to more greenhouse gases?

This is an argument popularized in Marin by Mill Valley resident Bob Silvestri, a kind of home-grown Wendell Cox.  His opus on the subject argues that low-density housing is more environmentally friendly than medium-density housing.  Mayor Bob Ravasio believes this, too.

Though there are a number of problems with his argument, the least obvious is that Silvestri argues as though no growth is a viable alternative.  Of course constructing buildings produces greenhouse gases, but the point is to reduce per-capita greenhouse gas production, not absolute production.  This means moving people to their feet where possible and transit where not, and that means that growth should happen with moderately higher densities.

Be prepared to answer criticisms like Silvestri’s.

Doesn’t ABAG want Corte Madera to become a high-rise city?

Assocated questions are: isn’t Corte Madera already built out?  Where would we put more people?  ABAG’s vice president stuck a foot in her mouth when she answered this question with a finger pointed in the air, saying, If you say your town is built out, then build up.  For towns in Marin, her statement played right into the image of ABAG as a soul-sucking, social-experimenting, power-mad agency that wants to destroy town character.  Never, ever, say that Marin needs to build up.

Not only does it sound bad to Marinites, but it’s also not accurate. Instead of such a ham-fisted answer, you need to emphasize that Plan Bay Area wants to move the region back to how we used to build cities. To illustrate, talk about the parts of Marin that Marinites like.  We love the places like downtown Mill Valley, downtown Corte Madera, downtown San Anselmo, downtown Larkspur, etc.  When we think about small-town feel, we think of these commercial strips.  Contrast this with those areas we don’t like as much: Smith Ranch, Terra Linda, Vintage Oaks.  The distinguishing factor between the two types of areas are what they were oriented around. The places Marinites like are old transit-oriented development, built around train stations and people walking.  The places Marinites don’t like are car-oriented development, built around parking lots.

What Plan Bay Area envisions is a return to traditional town planning in those places that were built with the parking lot in mind.  In Corte Madera, allowing residential uses on the parking lots of the Town Center shopping mall, even if they’re just townhomes, would be more than enough growth for many RHNA cycles and certainly more than expected over the next 28 years of Plan Bay Area.

People don’t walk or bike now, so why would new residents?

To address this question, bring solid research and charts.  Remember that the densities you’re talking about for Corte Madera are in the range of 4,000 people per square mile, and that it’s proximity to transit amenities and bicycle infrastructure more than population densities that will induce people to use their feet and the bus.

Take, for example, the new study from the Arizona Department of Transportation.  Even at very low housing densities, moving people closer together brings down the number of vehicle miles traveled.  The goal isn’t to eliminate driving but to give people the option to walk, bike, or use transit without it being an undue burden.  Also, it’s also not solely focused on commutes.  Someone who drives to work but walks to Corte Madera Cafe on Saturday – Plan Bay Area promotes more of that.

Oh, and nearly one in five commutes in Corte Madera are already by transit, bike, or foot, so someone’s doing some walking.

What good has ABAG ever done for Corte Madera?

Talk to the Council about what ABAG does on a regular basis for Marin County as a whole and what they expect to do for Corte Madera in the future. ABAG, for example, manages federal grant money as a metropolitan planning organization.  It also provides financial services for members; provides research data on population and housing in the region; and a host of other things (PDF).  If appropriate, talk about the role of Corte Madera’s representative to ABAG and how you would love to work with her more.

What is the methodology used to create your growth numbers?

Bring a modelling expert with you who can answer questions about growth methodology.  This is important, so I’ll say it again: bring a modelling expert with you to answer questions.  For Corte Madera, the whole dispute boils down to what is happening inside the modelling black box.  The council is worried that your agency will destroy Corte Madera’s character out of negligence, so bring someone who can answer their questions and open up that black box.

Corte Madera has some legitimate questions that need legitimate answers.  You cannot sleepwalk through this presentation or the Q&A afterwards.  You will likely face a hostile public that will call you a fascist for doing regional planning.  You cannot zone that out either.  You need to be engaged and engaging.  You need to educate the Council about what One Bay Area is doing, why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it, and what it all means for Corte Madera and Marin.

In all honesty, I’d love to have the answers to some of these questions.  What is the proper role of a representative to ABAG?  What is the exact work that went into Corte Madera’s projected growth?  I’ll look forward to your testimony almost as much as the Council, I’m sure.

In any event, this is your chance to change the conversation in Corte Madera and the rest of the Bay Area.  This is your chance to reboot your messaging.  This is your chance to justify your agency’s existence.  Don’t let that chance slip away.

Come support Corte Madera in ABAG

Corte Madera will consider whether to finalize its departure from ABAG tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7:30. Come out and voice your opposition! I’ll be speaking at the public comment time and I would love to have more than me there.

As a reminder, Corte Madera voted to quit ABAG over what it saw as overreach by the association in housing mandates and the One Bay Area process. I strenuously opposed the decision, calling it a dramatic overreaction to nonexistent problems. It will hurt the town, in that it will get housing mandates from the state after the upcoming RHNA cycle is over in 2021, and will hurt the region as a whole, in that a growth model that fails Corte Madera may be failing the rest of the Bay Area. I will make the same arguments during the public comment period.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 970 other followers