Tempest in a Teapot

Teapot, W1042

By Black Country Museums

When Plan Bay Area released its draft preliminary growth numbers (yes, they’re that speculative), a cry went out around Marin that ABAG wants to cram growth down the gullet of stable and ungrowing county.  For years, Marin has lost jobs and so either lost housing units or grew at a snail’s pace.  We aren’t like the bankrupt towns of the East Bay or Delta, with vast tracts of new, identical houses.  Sadly, if regional and state agencies have  their way such reckless and unrestrained growth would come to our counties and you might as well kiss the Marinite way of life goodbye.

It’s a good narrative, but as with most sensationalist narratives of the government losing all reason, it’s pure nonsense.

Plan Bay Area, the sustainable communities strategy mandated by California, needs to accomplish a simply stated task: find out where people will live and work in 30 years, funnel that growth away from open space, and provide an effective way for people to get around without a car.  The first task requires projections of job and housing growth, the second utilizes the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process, and the third uses grants to localities that want to expand or maintain their transit infrastructure.

The fear among opponents is that projections of housing growth will mean that the state will mandate that level of growth.  I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make.  RHNA numbers are released in a similar fashion, and those really are mandates for zoning to accommodate the growth.  Thankfully, Plan Bay Area projections are intended to inform the whole sustainability strategy; they don’t constitute growth mandates.  Yet even if they did, they would mandate slower growth for the county than has occurred in the recent past, though you wouldn’t know it listening to the plan’s opponents.

Between 2000 and 2010, Marin added about 622 housing units per year.  Nearly every incorporated town (excepting Larkspur and Belvedere) and every unincorporated village added housing over the past decade.  Plan Bay Area projects that growth will slow to only 272 units per year, less than half the rate of the past decade.  This rate of growth includes both affordable and market-rate housing.  RHNA will be informed by these projections, and so will mandate even less housing.

Besides, the “mandates” aren’t even mandates.  As we’ve discussed before, RHNA requires a city to do two things: zone for affordable housing, and come up with a plan to maybe have it get built.  That rarely happens.

So Marin will likely grow faster than Plan Bay Area projects, will likely be required to build less affordable housing than it has been required to in the past, and so things will carry on in much the same way they always have.  There is no vast usurpation of local control, there is no growth mandate handed down from One Bay Area, there is no UN plot to confiscate your home.  You may notice fewer news stories about grants for roads and more about grants for bikes and transit, and I guess that will be kind of disruptive.


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.

4 Responses to Tempest in a Teapot

  1. ROGER THORTON says:

    Dave, is “urbanist thinking” synonymous with “develop every square inch to maximum density”? I have never once see you advocate for lower density than anything that has ever been proposed by developers or rail advocates. That is at the heart of why this otherwise literate blog grows tedious.

    • No, it isn’t. Marin County lives on its low rise character, and that should be preserved. But what I like most about Marin’s urban form is the low-rise downtowns, not the low-rise strip malls or regular malls, and I want to see downtown-style development expanded to those areas as well. There’s no reason to limit that which makes Marin so wonderful to where it has been historically.

      Put another way: six story buildings in downtown San Anselmo wouldn’t make San Anselmo a better place to live. Two story buildings? Yeah, I’d go for that if they kept the character of the town center, but that would still mean an increase in density. What about six stories around the Bettini Transit Center? Again, that makes sense to me if done right, and I’ve endorsed the Downtown Station Area Plan that calls for that.

      But Hanna Ranch? Absolutely not. It’s a development, sure, but it doesn’t support the philosophical pillars I use: it’s not easy to walk to, it won’t be pleasant to walk around in, and it doesn’t preserve or enhance Novato’s town character. Affordable housing at Grady Ranch? Wrong project in the wrong place.

      Actually, I’d love to hear your development philosophy. Seriously, I would! How does it contrast with what I’ve outlined? What would you like to see more of, and what would you like to see less of? How could Marin do it better?

  2. ROGER THORTON says:

    OK, so your home town of San Anselmo does not deserve six story buildings but you have no problem advocating for them elsewhere? I guess we can’t call you a NIMBY because you don’t even live here.

    I notice you haven’t opined on the San Rafael Target Store or the proposed San Rafael Airport Sports Facility. Judging from the opinions you espouse all over this blog, those two projects don’t rest on your “philosophical pillars” either. I’m guessing you aren’t critical of those projects because they are backed by the same Chamber of Commerce types from which you seek to cozy up to with this predictable online pander-fest of yours.

    What I would like to see here is analysis from a clean sheet of paper, backed by facts from somebody who actually has a stake in Marin.

    • Target was before the blog’s time, and I was opposed. I haven’t mentioned the airports plan, but you’re right – it, too, doesn’t rest on my philosophical pillars and I’m not a fan.

      I wouldn’t, and I haven’t, advocated for six-story buildings in downtown Mill Valley or Corte Madera or Larkspur or Fairfax or Ross or anywhere else that has a coherent space built out. I think RHNA mandates are idiotic, I’m against Hanna Ranch (and therefore in contradiction with the Novato Chamber of Commerce), against Target and the San Rafael Airport plan (San Rafael CoC projects), and against affordable housing at Grady Ranch (a Marin affordable housing advocacy project). I don’t see how those stances constitute a “pander-fest” to the CoCs.

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