Story update: San Rafael rescinds Civic Center PDA

As everyone no doubt heard, the San Rafael City Council voted last night to rescind the North San Rafael Priority Development Area (PDA) on a 3-2 vote. Mayor Gary Phillips and councilmembers Kate Colin and Damon Connolly voted to rescind. Councilmembers Andrew McCullough and Barbara Heller voted to keep the PDA.

Slow-growth activists decried the PDA as a high-density housing plan that would burden the city’s schools and water supply while destroying the drivable suburban character in the neighborhood. Urbanists and environmentalists said the PDA carries no strings whatsoever, that the housing guidelines were nonbinding suggestions, and was a way to fund improvements for the San Rafael that exists today.

At a county level, eyes now turn to the Strawberry PDA, which has come under attack by critics for much the same reasons other PDAs have. The argument will likely take much the same shape as it did last night, though it remains to be seen whether Supervisor Kate Sears will propose to remove the PDA or not. Given that she has not come under the same withering criticism Supervisor Susan Adams did over the Marinwood PDA, it may remain intact for the foreseeable future.

At a city level, the downtown San Rafael PDA also remains intact. Mayor Phillips and others who opposed the Civic Center PDA have said the housing suggestions make much more sense downtown and that regional money would do more good in that area anyway. Still, slow-growth advocates, convinced that the PDAs constitute a mandate for housing, are likely to attack this PDA, too. Council candidate Randy Warren, for one, has argued this designation should be rescinded, too.

A future post will look at how San Rafael and TAM could make lemonade out of the situation and the barriers to getting PDA-designated funds from TAM’s account into projects on the ground.

 

Politics threatens good policy in North San Rafael

There seems to be a majority forming on the San Rafael City Council to rescind the Civic Center Planned Development Area (PDA). At last week’s special session on the subject, three of the city’s five councilmembers (Mayor Gary Phillips, Councilmember Damon Connolly, and Councilmember Kate Colin) expressed opposition to the PDA.

While each expressed their own reasons for opposition, most swirled around the idea that, if we keep the PDA, San Rafael will be obligated to build massive quantities of affordable housing in an area that cannot support it. Fortunately, this is simply untrue.

What would the PDA actually do?

PDAs are an investment vehicle originally created by MTC. Cities tell regional agencies where they plan to focus population and job growth, and the region earmarks regional transportation money for those areas. In Marin, MTC requires that half of those regional transportation funds go the county’s PDAs. The other half can go to transportation projects anywhere in the county. While there is some talk in Sacramento to channel climate change transportation funds exclusively to PDAs, that proposal has not been finalized.

To help guide local planners, each PDA has a different “place-type” designation, which provides nonbinding guidelines about residential density and the quality of transit service. North San Rafael is a Transit Town Center, which MTC recommends should have or plan for between 3,000 and 7,500 housing units.

But, as a nonbinding recommendation, there is no obligation on San Rafael to actually zone for or build the recommended number of housing units. Rather, the recommendation is there to help San Rafael planners craft a local plan, which was done with the Station Area and General Plans.

There is concern about CEQA streamlining for affordable housing projects within PDAs, but the state doesn’t obligate the city or county to loosen its own environmental review processes. If the city decides a project shouldn’t receive CEQA streamlining, it won’t. This, as the only non-funding legal aspect of a PDA, is still well within the control of the city.

So what is the fear?

Anti-development (“slow growth”) activists in North San Rafael are concerned that the PDA creates an obligation to the city to zone for thousands more housing units than it could actually support, clogging streets, stuffing classrooms, and putting people in harm’s way along busy, high-speed arterial streets. We don’t have the water, don’t have the class space, don’t have the road space, and don’t have the tax revenue to take in so many new people.

But the PDA doesn’t obligate a thing. Mayor Phillips Councilmember Colin had another answer to that. They said it would be dishonest to use a place-type with a higher housing guideline than could realistically be put into the area without adverse impacts to existing residents.

As a nonbinding guideline, then, it would make sense for the city to simply downgrade the PDA to a level that falls in line with the existing level of housing development.  In fact, this is precisely what Councilmember Andrew McCullough proposed, and is one of the optional resolutions for Monday’s council meeting.

Why would we want a PDA?

Because North San Rafael has over $25 million in transportation needs, and the city is considering raising a sales tax because it can’t fund its existing obligations. It needs some extra funds if it wants to improve the neighborhood’s roads.

In fact, one project is very likely to be funded with PDA money: the proposed improvements to the Civic Center campus. Without the PDA, the $3 million project will be ineligible for regional money, and TAM will be forced to shift those funds to another PDA in the county.

But beyond that, a theme of those who spoke in favor of the PDA was that the neighborhood was unfriendly and unsafe for people walking or biking. Given the relative lack of bike lanes, bad connections to regional and local transit, and missing or crumbling sidewalks, it’s a wonder people haven’t been killed. Drivers, too, need to battle with congestion. They have been patiently waiting for a new freeway interchange for years.

All this could be funded by regional transportation dollars, or would need to compete with projects in the rest of the county. The PDA, as a funding tool, would put these projects on a fast track for approval and funding. Removing the PDA would likely cut the neighborhood off for years.

Politics, not policy, is at work

So the PDA doesn’t obligate any development, doesn’t obligate any zoning, and provides a way to make North San Rafael safer for kids to walk to school and commuters to get to the bus. If the PDA does start to obligate the city to do things it does not want to do, or even if it’s threatened, the city could rescind the PDA with no problem at that point. So why is the council voting on Monday? Alas, it’s about politics, not policy.

It’s an election year. Councilmember Damon Connolly is running against Susan Adams and Councilmember Kate Colin is fighting for her seat against slow-growth candidate Randy Warren. The county’s slow growth movement has fought against PDAs as a proxy for their fight against Plan Bay Area.

By setting themselves up against the North San Rafael PDA, Connolly and Colin are betting they can inoculate themselves against attacks from that camp. At first glance, that seems like a safe bet. Polling from One Bay Area shows that those with anti-development sentiment are more passionate about the issue and are more likely to vote than their counterparts.

Yet they are forgetting that Marinites want choices in how they travel and how they live. It’s not as easy a sell on the campaign trail, but it would be the way for Mayor Phillips and Councilmember Colin to knock the wind out of the slow-growth lobby.

The best compromise is to vote for downgrading the PDA. While it won’t satisfy those who lead the movement, it will show that the council is concerned about density and height while balancing it against transportation improvements North San Rafael desperately needs.

End-Week Links: Hills

Sunset on a Masterpiece, by C. M. Keiner, on flickr

Sunset on a Masterpiece, by C. M. Keiner, on flickr

Marin Lesser and Greater

  • Peter robbed; Paul under investigation: Sonoma granted SMART $6.6 million of $9 million in bike/ped funding. The funds, from a federal congestion mitigation grant, will be used to purchase an additional train for the extended IOS. Sonoma bike activists are angry, to say the least unhappy, understanding, and moving forward. (Systemic Failure, SCBC)
  • Tilting at windmills: Wind turbines could be allowed in West Marin under the latest revisions to the Local Coastal Plan. Environmentalists oppose the measure, saying it would industrialize the rural region. (Pt. Reyes Light)
  • Tackling homelessness in San Rafael: Through mental health services and jobs, San Rafael is doing more to fight homelessness than just crack down on nuisance behavior. Here’s hoping it does good. (IJ)
  • Another study coming down the track: Transit feasibility in the Fairfax-San Rafael corridor is on its way yet again. TAM and MTC will examine whether BRT, rapid bus, or a full-fledged streetcar line would be best to serve the 5-mile strip. (Pacific Sun)
  • RHNA is almost as fickle as thought: Despite 43 years of affordable housing mandates, California remains woefully short on affordable housing. ABAG has tried to adjust to the demands of cities, but such a scattershot approach doesn’t make up for the state process’s shortcomings. (Bohemian via Scott Alonso)
  • Get your son on a bike: Research from the UK shows that it’s far safer for young men to ride a bike than to drive. Given that driving is the number one cause of death among teenagers, perhaps those Every 11 Minutes campaigns could be supplemented by some good old-fashioned bike lessons. (Red Orbit, CDC)
  • Hybrids really aren’t so green: Hybrids, at least if you look at their entire life-cycle, really aren’t as green as their reputation. The batteries are difficult to dispose of; the mileage really isn’t so great; and their battery will only last about 80,000 miles, meaning one will need to buy a new vehicle far sooner than otherwise. Perhaps Marin needs a new family car, like a bike. (Streetsblog)
  • Do the council shuffle: San Anselmo picks Kay Coleman for mayor. (Patch) … There’s still time to apply for San Rafael City Council. (IJ)
  • And…: Despite the threat of financial receivership, Detroit’s downtown is positively booming. (NY Times) … Local transit has published their holiday schedule. (GGT) … San Rafael Airport developer compares their sports complex project to Grady Ranch. (IJ) … The libertarian take on land use planning. (United Liberty)

The Toll

At least five people, and possibly a sixth, were injured this week.

  • Yes, a hit and run is indeed a felony: Jared Whisman-Pryor, who prosecutors say hit and seriously injured bicyclist William Schilling, has turned himself in to Rohnert Park Police. As it turns out, he will be charged for felony hit-and-run. (PD)
  • Obituary for mother killed last week: Barbara Rothwell accidentally killed herself in a car crash last week near Bolinas. The Point Reyes Light paints a portrait of her life cut short. She was 48.
  • Marin Injuries: A driver hit a woman while she was crossing the street in Novato, sending her to the hospital. (IJ) … A driver seriously injured himself by crashing into a power pole in Terra Linda. (Patch)
  • Sonoma Injuries: Ben Rhoades seriously injured himself and another driver by driving under the influence and colliding head-on with the other driver near Cotati. (Patch) … A driver rolled their minivan in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, though whether they injured themselves wasn’t immediately reported. (PD) … An 87-year-old driver seriously injured Wilfred Lewis, who was crossing the street in Santa Rosa. The driver said he never saw Lewis. (PD)

Got a tip? Want to write an article? Email us at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com or send a tweet to @theGreaterMarin.

Mid-Week Links: Area Plans

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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)
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