Final Larkspur Station Area Plan goes before the community

The reexamination of the Larkspur Landing neighborhood is proceeding apace, and the city will start to consider the SMART Station Area Plan’s final documents tomorrow. However, the forces opposed to change in Marin are mobilizing opposition already, fueled by some ill-chosen words in the IJ and ideological misgivings about transit.

What is the Station Area Plan?

The station area plan (SAP) was put together by a citizen advisory committee over the course of about a year, with public meetings and community input the whole way. It studied the possibility of new office, housing, and retail development, and its possible impacts on traffic, parking, and transit. It described ways to ameliorate some of the existing problems and ways to ease the introduction of new development.

While it was described in the IJ as a housing plan for 900 new units in the Larkspur Landing neighborhood around the ferry terminal, this is inaccurate. It studied how up to that amount might accommodated in the neighborhood, but does not plan for this number. At best, it is a conceptual document with plans for infrastructure investment. A real housing plan would likely come as part of a new housing element or a broader zoning reform.

This is not a housing plan.

Why Larkspur Landing?

Larkspur Landing is a drivable bit of Larkspur centered around the once-eponymous Larkspur Landing Shopping Center, now called Marin Country Mart. It has the second-fastest-growing transit line in the county in the Larkspur Ferry and in all likelihood will soon be home to a SMART station. Plans for the Greenbrae Interchange will add a connection to the Highway 101 trunk line buses, giving easy access to the rest of Marin by transit.

It is a pass-through neighborhood. Commuters use it to travel to the Richmond Bridge, causing massive backups during the evening commute that spill onto northbound 101. The recently-approved Greenbrae Interchange Project will likely fix many of these issues, but fitting them into a broader plan to make the neighborhood a more livable one is important.

As well, Larkspur Landing is a good candidate for infill development. While the SAP is not a housing (or office, or retail) plan, it targets improvements with the idea of improving circulation and infrastructure in the neighborhood. It will be a transit and transportation hub, with easy access to the ferry, SMART, the region’s major trunk bus lines, and the North-South Greenway, our county cycling superhighway.

If the city ever decides it would be a good idea to add development or encourage new business to grow in that part of the city, the SAP’s studies of capacity and circulation at multiple population and job levels will be invaluable to that decision-making. Though that time is not now, advocates and opponents should know what they’re supporting and opposing.

How can we support a progressive Station Area Plan?

Opponents of any growth and change in Larkspur will fight for any mention of development in the SAP, believing it to be a “housing plan” and crippling its ability to improve the neighborhood. Supporters of a livable Larkspur should argue strenuously for maximizing the flexibility of the plan.

This means defending the land use portion of the SAP, which rests on the commonly accepted understanding that transit-oriented development promotes transit ridership. Though opponents have tried to tear down the concept, it holds true in the settings where it has been applied rigorously.

A recent study of rail-oriented development in New Jersey found that it is the density of bus stops – not proximity to rail or the newness of development – that is best correlated with transit use. The Larkspur SAP, by its proximity to the 25, 28, 29, and soon the 101 bus trunk, will fit that category.

The old-school TOD in Marin, oriented around buses, has led to the highest transit mode-share in the Bay Area outside of San Francisco, showing the truth of this concept in Marin’s suburban setting.

Arlington County, VA, dramatically increased its population in 40 years by growing only on the 5 percent of its land immediately next to transit. The result has been no increase in traffic. Though its densities are more suited to the Peninsula than Marin, there’s no reason for the model to fail on a smaller scale in the Marin setting.

Most importantly, the real traffic savings in transit-oriented development isn’t in moving trips from car to transit; it’s from moving trips from car to foot and bike. Not every trip can (or should) be so moved, but well-designed places give people the opportunity for productive use of their feet. If you lived in downtown Larkspur, your kids could walk to school; you could walk to get a haircut, get coffee, get a book, get new pet food, or do some light grocery shopping. Doing each of those trips on foot saves a mile or two from the roads and gives that road space to people who need or want to travel further.

A progressive SAP will give Larkspur the flexibility to build this way if it chooses but will not lock the city into this way of thinking if it feels the shopping center model is better than its downtown.

The SAP should aim for the best transportation future for the area: ameliorate traffic, promote the ferry-SMART connection, promote strong 101 bus connections, activate Sir Francis Drake and Larkspur Landing Circle as walking and biking streets, and examine ways to bring more counter-commuters to the ferry terminal.

What are the logistical challenges in Larkspur Landing?

A few of the challenges faced by Larkspur Landing are not within the scope of the SAP.

The biggest is the ferry’s legal capacity limits. At the moment, it may only do 42 catamaran trips per day, and it’s currently doing 37, not including ballgames. This is a problem that needs to be resolved, but it can only be done through a revised environmental impact report on the high-speed catamarans.

The next is traffic, which will be addressed by the Greenbrae project. Unfortunately, the project as passed didn’t include much benefit analysis, so it’s unknown at the moment how much traffic will be ameliorated by the bus, bike, and road improvements.

The last is the location of the SMART station, which is currently too far from the ferry terminal. Doing it right would mean moving the station either to the Marin Country Mart parking lot, which has space to spare, or to the ferry terminal itself. The SAP should keep this option open and encourage the SMART board to change its station site.

If you go (and you really should), the IJ published these details:

Larkspur will host a workshop about the Draft Station Area Plan and Station Area Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 400 Magnolia Ave.

The workshop will explore the major land use policies, plans for various types of transportation and open space and recreation opportunities for the area.

From 4:30 to 5:25 p.m., an open house will be held with informational displays for viewing and opportunities for conversation with project consultants and city staff. From 6 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a formal presentation and question-and-answer session.

For more information, call 927-5110.

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.

32 Responses to Final Larkspur Station Area Plan goes before the community

  1. Stephen Nestel says:

    You made me spit out my coffee, this early Monday morning. How incredibly foolish to think that a Larkspur “Station Area Plan” is anything other than the initial stage for urbanizing a critical transit junction.

    This, “move along folks, there is nothing to see” game played by planners and politicians is really getting annoying. Yes, the plan under discussion is not a finished “plan” or “housing proposal” but that does not mean it is not significant nor should the citizens of Marin allow this “conceptual plan” to happen.

    Imagine if this proposal was for conceptual idea for a nuclear processing facility. Would this be something that the citizens should ignore? Why then should we allow the city to plan for a development that will totally clog up traffic in Marin and bring unwanted urban development on our established neighborhoods?

    • There is a HUGE difference between a finished plan and a concept. I’ve already seen people comment in the IJ about planned development and developers when there are none.

      Of COURSE it’s important, but it’s vital to keep the conversation about what is, not what is not.

      • Richard Hall says:

        Dave – after Win Cup and the Civic Center Station Area Plan folks aren’t so easily fooled that these projects can’t be stopped further downstream. Win Cup is now the poster child and everyone knows about it (thank the IJ for that).

        It’s clear that strong special interests and committees overstuffed with sustainable and transit advocates can strongly deviate from “the will of the people”. The will of the people of Marin is now being witnessed at the voting booth and politicians pushing for higher density took one firmly on the chin. (Marin CSD totally overturned incumbents, failure of Kunhart, out of the blue candidate in San Rafael took 18% of the vote…).

        It’s now quite clear that this is not a two-way conversation (although we might have one here) but a stacked pre-ordained process engineered with token input from residents by a “we know what’s best for you” authority running the show.

  2. Stephen Nestel says:

    for innovative solutions that will reduce congestion and GHG for REAL see:

  3. Richard Hall says:

    So many issues here, where to start.

    1) The writer of the IJ opinion piece was on the SAP board but resigned in frustration due to the way it was being handled (contrived to maximize housing). This wasn’t so much outreach as a rubber stamp. I have to suspect that like in San Rafael there was an “overstuffing” of the committee with housing and transit advocates, an underrepresentation of residents and a manipulation of the committee by the chair to achieve the pre-ordained outcome.

    2) It studies how many units might be accommodated but does not plan for this number. We’ve seen how this works and we’re not naive. No sooner did Corte Madera allow the zoning of WinCup than not 6 months passed before a developer was presenting an active planning proposal.

    Secondly we’ve heard Mayor Phillips of San Rafael and other council members share that going beyond taking the PDA planning money to further progress creates an obligation or expectation that can be exploited by a developer. “You took the PDA money, so now you have to let me build”.

    Restated – if you allow 920 units in the plan (if that’s not planning I’m not sure what is) then you will likely get very close to that number appearing in reality. So better to fight now than take a leap of faith that somehow special interests will back off in the next stage of planning.

    3) Opponents are not progressive. Not so. Opponents accept that there will be growth, but that this growth should be achieved in fitting with the architecture of Marin. This means second units, conversions – development that is intentionally not considered as meeting RHNA numbers (how convenient for the Plan Bay Area / ABAG special interest groups in development and unions that crafted the plan this way, can’t have the benefits going to meddling general contractors building second units and conversions).

    4) It is stated “the recently-approved Greenbrae Interchange Project will likely fix many of these issues”. However this has yet to bare fruit in terms of alleviating traffic congestion. It may never achieve this. So let’s not “plan” for putting 920 units right at a bottleneck affecting *hundreds of thousands* of highway 101 users who are not about to get out of their cars and adopt transit in the delusionary world of “transit oriented development”.

  4. Stephen Nestel says:

    The moment of eruption of my morning coffee was when you wrote,

    “Doing it right would mean moving the station either to the Marin Country Mart parking lot, which has space to spare”.

    At that point, you really crossed the line into “Smart Growth Imperialism”. This is what planners, politicians and stakeholder groups do every time when they see a plot of land they want to build on that does not belong to them. It is the moment of violation of a fundamental principle of our democratic rights of private property. They completely ignore the rights of the land owner.

    Because government has eminent domain powers (radically strengthened if SB-1 passes) it can condemn property at will to build their Smart Growth utopia whenever and where ever it wants.

    I don’t know if you have been to Marin County Mart recently. The parking lot is always packed and the shops filled with people. If you are planning to shutter their “walkable, bikeable” retail shopping center, then you need to check with them and the community it serves.

    The whole “Plan Bay Area” Smart Growth debate is so objectionable because long held democratic freedoms are being ignored to serve the vain demands of a few.

    One of the fathers of Smart Growth Andres Duany marvels at the brute efficiency of fascism and admits that top down central planning is the way to implement effective change:

    See these clips:

    • Did you really think I meant by eminent domain? No! With the consent of MCM and due compensation to the owners. If they don’t want it, that’s fine by me, though they have expressed interest.

      Parking surveys show they have room to spare on the weekdays (peak is 85% full), though the weekend lot is 100% full. Luckily, the weekend is when there is space to spare at the Larkspur Ferry lot and when office buildings have few workers. They should be used for spillover parking.

  5. Stephen Nestel says:

    David, living in Washington, D. C., you are disadvantaged from seeing the incremental changes like us. The Marin Country Mart has gotten very popular in the last year. It is very difficult to find parking now even on a weekday. Eminent domain is a power reserved for the government but the new SB-1 Law that is sitting on the desk for Governor Brown’s desk, allows vast new powers-even justification of “inefficient development” (i.e. anything the government wants to call inefficient) to take property0. You ignore the fact that the owner of may not wish to sell but the government can take it anyhow. That is why these plans are dangerous to the community.

    You assume that the public values the “human rabbit warrens” that New Urbanists want people to live in. This is one of the biggest FIBS of Plan Bay Area. Americans overwhelmingly prefer single family homes to high density living. Why should our tax dollars go to crony developers?

  6. Franz Listen says:

    1) I would be sympathetic to Stephen’s argument if what amounts to possible zoning changes actually involved government seizure of property, coupled with the public financing of Potemkin Villages that nobody wanted to live in. That does not appear to be the case here.

    2) I just glanced at a handout on the Larkspur website and it appears that in order for any housing to be built it would require GGT, MCM or the Sanitary District to want to make deals. Those are the owners of properties identified for potential housing. I think its very possible that a developer deal with the GG Bridge District and the Marin Country Mart could be tough. It might be years or decades or never until 900 units were actually built at Larkspur Landing.

    3) This differs from the Wincup process in that after Wincup sold its factory to a developer, it had no use for anything left behind, allowing the site to be cleared. In the case of GGT and MCM, there are pre-existing uses and well-utilized parking that will make workable development more difficult. Those two entities have no plans to abandon their sites. That’s not an argument against the Station Area Plan. It would give property owners flexibility. However, again, I think that housing on these sites could be very slow to materialize and may well never happen.

    4) Richard apparently wants a permanent moratorium on all new development in Marin County, with the exception of in-law units. Does this extend to office development as well? Office development seems to be a big part of Larkspur’s Plan. I doubt that such moratoria exist anywhere in the U.S., and if they did they wouldn’t just be challenged by HUD, they’d be challenged by conservative organizations promoting economic freedom and property rights.

    5) That’s the huge irony here. Those who want to allow a little bit of commerce over the next couple of decades (new homes and offices) are being called fascists, soviets, etc. Meanwhile, those who want the City of Larkspur to effectively ban anything new like to think of themselves as liberty lovers. They want the “freedom” to control other peoples lives by using the power of the state (Larkspur zoning code) to effectively stop any development-related commerce. Such are the rhetorical gymnastics of the libertarian NIMBYs.

  7. Stephen Nestel says:

    Franz- 1.) Government has the police power to seize property for redevelopment. Although a price can be determined through questionable “market” data, the real value is the one a willing buyer and seller are willing to pay. You are confusing a government mandate with a free market. No such free market exchange exists in these redevelopment schemes. 2.) Zoning changes skews development options. You imply that this is a good thing but the market is not asking for it. It is a government edict. 3.) Wincup sold it to a developer who purchased upon the forced decision by Corte Madera to comply with the flawed RHNA numbers from the state. There were no community voices championing that site for development. 4.) I know that Richard Hall advocates RESPONSIBLE development. In fact virtually everyone associated with citizens groups agree to responsible development. That is not what is occurring. The impacts to our schools, traffic and environment are being ignored. 5.) There is no irony at all that we take a position against irresponsible development. We are part of an unbroken Marin tradition for responsible growth. We love the environment and respect our heritage. The New Urbanist imperialism IS fascism (aka corporatism) and top down central planning is straight from the Soviet playbook although the Soviets only had 5 year plans while ABAG is 40 year planning cycles. The charge of being libertarian is one I proudly endorse if you mean “do your own thing” as was an essential part of the California dream. The charge of being a NIMBY is ridiculous. These priority development areas are concentrated in certain middle class neighborhoods. The elites will keep their leafy suburbs. They are the true NIMBYs. We will Save Marin (again).

    • Neil says:

      Lets be adults here; both you and Richard are specifically for government interference in land use because the outcome of a market soliution most likely would not fit your subjective definition of “responsibile development”. Feel free to fight development and zoning changes all you want, but please don’t pretend you’re some kind of champion of the free market for doing so.

  8. Franz Listen says:

    As far as I can tell the plans for Larkspur Landing are not a redevelopment, nor do they involve any government mandates. I think that you are arguing against something that isn’t actually in front of us in this case.

    If a property owner is permitted by local zoning to do X with their property, and then the code is broadened to allow them to do X or Y or X&Y, that does not represent an “edict” It actually represents the loosening of a government edict. It is not “skewing”; it is a liberalization.

    You don’t know what the market is asking for. In a free society we leave that up to entrepreneurs to make bets about. While RHNA (which I oppose) may have pushed Corte Madera to approve the Wincup project, that project never could have been financed if the people behind it didn’t think that the residential and commercial space would be saleable. I’m not suggesting that the Wincup project is a model. However, to suggest that a privately-owned, privately-financed, market-rate project is somehow fascist or communist is absurd hyperbole.

    Just about everyone in Marin, myself included, wants to protect open space. Moreover, I am not seeing a movement toward changing the zoning of residential properties. Even the PDAs (a framework that I am not enthusiastic about) excluded residential property from their boundaries. This debate is mainly about what should be allowed to happen in the future on existing commercial and industrial properties – which may be moribund, vacant, underutilized, etc. By preventing any sort of renewal or change on those properties, you are not saving Marin. You are possibly stultifying it and making it less desirable over the long term.

  9. Stephen Nestel says:

    I don’t believe Neil, Dave or Franz has any clue about SB-1. Otherwise you would see what is going on with redevelopment in the State. Neil- for you to say that a government edict is “free market” is to fundamentally to misunderstand basic economics. Zoning affects property rights positively and negatively. The fact that the government is superimposing zoning on existing properties is meddling with the marketplace. I am not protecting “free market”. I am protecting “free people”. When government changes zoning according to whim or fashion it undercuts the economic liberty of property owners. It is an effective seizure of property rights.

    Franz, you misunderstand the meaning of fascism. Forget about Nazis. It is the marriage between crony capitalists and the government who control the capital under government protection from competition. It is absolute control of the economy. This is what housing element does when it creates special zoning districts for non profit housing (which is very profitable by the way) and meddles with the market. Of course New Urbanists have the “Mission of God” complex and see nothing immoral or undemocratic when they squash private equity- especially if it is owned by the middle class.

    Here is a bit about SB-1 with a link to the actual law. It is creepy.

    Wincup is being developed by MacFarlane who reportedly claimed lost one billion dollars of the Teachers Pension fund during the Real Estate crash. You don’t think this guy is not connected?

    Yipee. Faux Victorian rowhouses everywhere! Disneylandia rules!

    • I’m pretty certain I didn’t read you right, but I’m going to say it anyway. That sounds like an argument to revoke zoning entirely and ban it from the city and county government toolbox.

    • Neil says:

      I’m fairly certain chainging “zoning according to whim or fashion” is any kind of zoning change you don’t personally agree with. Most people wouldn’t think that upzoning to satisfy market needs in an area that has literally doubled in size since the 1960’s constitues a “whim”, especially since that growth isn’t exactly squishing the private equity of Marin and other property owners.

      • Richard Hall says:

        Interesting statement. Never mind personal viewpoints. Do you think 188,000 freeway users who already battle the Greenbrae bottleneck everyday would agree with adding 2,000 more cars to the vicinity? (or are you living the dream that these new residents will all take transit)

        • Neil says:

          They probably wouldn’t agree, but I’m not naive enough to think that the 101 won’t end up just as jammed when those new residents move to Petaluma, as if somehow not allowing development in Novato gets rid of the underlying demand for new housing.

  10. Stephen Nestel says:

    Zoning protects rights of land owners by maintaining consistent and compatible uses. I favor limited zoning providing it made as locally as possible and is not subject to the control of few. An argument against zoning can be made on free market principles. This is being done in Houston but the private market compensates by homeowners associations that have restrictive zoning. Houston is one of the rapidest growing yet affordable metropolitan areas in the United States. The prices are one third of the Bay Area for comparable homes.

    Most people prefer low density neighborhoods even in Europe:

    • Neil says:

      If I were you I would probably try to avoid using Houston as an example, especially if you want to keep pretending to be a free market person.

      Despite the fact that as you say, most people (even Europeans!) prefer low density neighborhoods, most of the new housing in Houston is specifically the “stack and pack” type you’re trying to prevent.

  11. Luke Evans says:

    OK Stephen, now I’m spitting out MY coffee. Houston and the Bay Area are in no manner comparable. Houston has few topographic constraints to development, whereas the Bay Area is probably one of the most topographicaly complex urban areas in the world. Marin is as good an example of this complexity as any in the region…development is largely restricted to the 101 corridor because that’s where the developable land is. There are steep hills and narrow valleys to the west, and the Bay to the east. You can also throw in all of the other constraints that are present, such as geological hazards, wetlands, essential habitat for listed species, and all of the rest. Unless you want to level the hills or fill in the Bay, Marin County, especially within the 101 corridor, is essentially built out from a planning perspective. This same situation is also present in all of the other Bay Area counties. The only option to accomodating additional growth or in dealing with current problems such as congestion or lack of affordable housing is to reshuffle what is already in place. There is simply no additional land to be had.

    Houston, on the other hand, has none of these constraints, especially as you move inland away from the Gulf. There is cheap and flat land aplenty to accomodate all of the McMansions on large lots you could ever want. There’s plenty of room for nice, wide roadways and massive shopping centers. The only question you have to ask is how much agricultural and forest land you want to convert to urban and suburban uses, and how fast. I’m looking at Google Earth right now, and what I see are hundreds of suburban developments as far as the eye can see, with plenty of room for more. Of course land and housing are affordable there! The supply is virtually unlimited, especially when compared to the Bay Area.

    I grew up in Arizona, where limits to development were and are similarly unconstrained (that is, of course, unless you want to consider the long term availability of water, but we’ll let the grandkids deal with that; in the meantime, let’s get rich!). At one point during the last boom, more than an ACRE AN HOUR of desert land around Phoenix, on average, was being converted to suburban development. I’m not an expert on Houston, but my guess is that a similar land conversion barbeque was occurring there during the same time period, and I’ll bet that the land developers are licking their chops at the prospect of restarting the party now that the economy is improving. Yeeeeehaw!

    So insofar as Houston vs. the Bay Area is concerned, the two situations couldn’t be more different…Houston has demand, but it also has abundant supply. Therefore, land and housing prices reflect that. The Bay Area, on the other hand, has LOTS of demand, but essentially no additional supply. I don’t have a PhD in economics, but I think we all know what that means for prices.

    And there’s one other thing, and no offense to my friends in Houston, but who WANTS to live in Houston? My guess is that people move to Houston because they have to, not because they want to. They move there because there are jobs and because it is cheap, not because it offers an awesome quality of life, great weather, beautiful scenery, or any of the other things that the Bay Area offers aplenty. Put another way, do millions of tourists from all over the world visit Houston every year, and as they leave say “Wow, I wish I could live here!” Somehow, I think not. That certainly isn’t the case here in the Bay Area. People WANT to live here, and there are many reasons why that is the case. Jobs, beauty, quality of life, progressive thinking, no Rick Perry…just to name a few. That’s why we are all here, and that’s also why many of us who aren’t millionaires are willing to forgo a single family home on a large lot to live here. We are satisfied with less because the many other features of this area outweigh any perceived need for a 4,500 square foot house with a four car garage. Sure you can get that kind of a place for 300k in Houston, but there’s one thing wrong with that…you live in Houston!

    The Bay Area will always be expensive, and for good reason. San Francisco, at the center of it all, is one of the world’s great cities, and the surrounding areas aren’t too bad either. But there is one problem, and that is that we can’t make anymore land. So it’s not ever going to be “affordable.” Houston, on the other hand, is emphatically NOT one of the world’s great cities, but it does have one thing going for it, and that is that land is plentiful and cheap. I’m happy that the people who have to live there at least have that going for them.

  12. Stephen Nestel says:

    Neil and Luke. Please re read my above comments. I said I prefer zoning not Houston’s model. I mention that Houston has success with “no zoning” from an economic perspective. I have never visited Houston but I am certain that I would not like to live in a neighborhood where my neighbor could sell to an apartment developer or build a skyscraper. I most certainly would seek out a neighborhood with private zoning. At least there would be certainty that the home I invested in would remain in a single family neighborhood. From the sound of things, the Supervisors and the planning commission are considering elimination of single family zoning that is said to be an impediment to fairness and even racist. See planning commissioner Ericka Erickson remarks here:

    Drink your coffee in peace. I enjoy leafy neighborhoods as much as you.

  13. Franz Listen says:


    Your website links to an issue in Seattle, which you suggest is about low-income apartments being jammed into single-family neighborhoods. However, that’s not actually the issue. The Seattle problem is about private homeowners using a quirk in the building code to build a second single-family home in side yards. These new single family homes tend to be tall and skinny. THAT is what is in your photo – not a low-income apartment building. You really should fix this on your site because it’s quite misleading.

    Moreover, from what I can tell, Eric Erickson’s petition does not appear to be about allowing low-come apartments right in the heart of areas now zoned for singe family homes. Rather, her “affordable housing zoning” might refer to inclusionary zoning requirements for new developments (which I oppose, by the way)

    I see no movement toward an abandonment of single-family zoning anywhere in the County, nor any threat of low-income apartments (or any apartments) popping up in areas zoned for single-family. I would absolutely not want that to happen, but I just do see it. I don’t want to fight phantoms.

    Again, the debate in this County really centers around what should be allowed to happen in the future on properties that currently have commercial, industrial, or multi-family residential uses.

  14. Stephen Nestel says:

    Franz, you are either hopelessly naïve or intentionally trying to distract people from the truth. There are many articles that I publish on that have to do with Smart Growth and land use. One of those articles is about a Seattle single family neighborhood that is being overrun with multiple dwelling units. The same is happening in Portland, Minneapolis and anywhere the Smart Growth Nazis are in control. They are literally busting up single family neighborhoods for compact development. You can see this in Santa Rosa as well.

    The whole idea of Priority Development Areas is to encourage compact living zones. In my adjoining Neighborhood, a small area of about 300 living units was designated a PDA that would increase the total living units to 1500-3500. The only way this could be accomplished is through upzoning single family neighborhoods, tearing down single family homes and building new multifamily structures. Even though the planners and politicians don’t want to admit it THIS IS EXACTLY what is being planned for all neighborhoods within 1/2 mile of the 101 corridor. There is a great article by an Oregon blogger who is appalled at the loss of neighborhoods and greenery by Smart Growth Developers see:

    The Portland, Oregon experiment is the most mature of Smart Growth cities and should be studied for the positive and negative aspects of Smart Growth. Check out

    Ericka Erickson is a housing advocate for low income housing in her professional day job with Marin Grassroots. Her advocacy is well known to the community and appears to interfere with her objectivity on the planning commission.


    • groshkin says:

      I thought you said to forget about Nazis?

      • Stephen Nestel says:

        ha ha ha. I guess it is the internet rule. All conversations end with someone calling another person a Nazi. Sorry about the hyperbole. I should have used “authoritarian bureaucrat”.

    • A PDA is not zoning, nor are the nonbinding suggestions binding in any way, shape, or form. The notion that the PDA constitutes a raze permit for your neighborhood is simply inaccurate.

      The Oregon blogger you link to is basically complaining about denser sprawl. I wouldn’t call any of the developments he critiques “smart growth” in any way. He also conflates “green space” with more environmentally friendly, which is simplistic in the extreme.

      But even setting all that aside, none other than Bob Silvestri pointed out a study by sprawl-booster Wendell Cox that found single-family attached housing to be less CO2-intense than single-family detached housing – about 45-60 units per acre vs. 6. Both Silvestri and Cox chose to ignore that conclusion, but I think the results even on this flawed study are pretty stark.

      On top of that, there’s more to environmental friendliness than CO2 emissions. Runoff and water quality especially suffer under the low-density model.

      But people are established in these neighborhoods and I’d be at the forefront opposing their razing against the wishes of residents. As Franz says, the conversation is about growth within commercial and industrial areas, not greenfield (as your blogger complains about) or in single family detached areas.

      • Stephen Nestel says:

        Dave, you are conflating my comment about PDAs with zoning. I never suggested that. But there is a real insidious threat to all of Marin with the new law SB-1 in California that is awaiting Governor Brown’s approval. It is a redevelopment law that creates, JPAs to redevelop
        “inefficient development” around transit corridors. Effectively, the whole state is now a JPA and subject to condemnation by an unelected redevelopment commission.

        While, I hear great praise of these ” Transit Oriented Developments” (formerly known as condos and apartment complexes) I hear nothing about the outrageous assault on property owners who will be displaced.

        You see, essentially, it is one group of people stealing property rights from another group of people in a extra Constitutional lawless fashion no different from warring tribal societies. There should be little surprise that there will be a strong counter reaction from the vast number of victims of this imperious assault. People will not be dispossessed of their property easily. Trust me. Review your history.

        The Oregon blogger is against denser sprawl AND the artificial creation of it by government mandate. He is right. The suburbs ARE greener than alleyways of TODs.

        I don’t think any of the critics of TODs are against high density per se. They think it is fine as long as it does not destroy the character of the community. (Interesting side note. Richard Hall, leading critic of the urbanization of Marin lives in a high density development). We should have diversity and free choice.

        With regards to attached houses vs single family homes: Of course smaller, attached homes use less energy in the same way a motorcycle uses less gas than an SUV. It is logical. In the same way, there is less green buffer per household in TODs. Cities are pollution “hotspots” precisely because of density.

  15. All: PLEASE try to use the reply buttons. They’re there for a reason.

  16. Pingback: Point of agreement: Second units are a good way to add new housing | The Greater Marin

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