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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Mid-Week Links: Formalization

Marin City Sunset

Marin City at sunset. Photo by Veit Irtenkauf on Flickr.

Marin County

  • Marin City is pondering incorporation. Though it would give the community of 6,000 greater independence in some respects, it would also mean higher costs, its own RHNA, and added responsibilities now taken care of by the county. (IJ)
  • Skywalker Properties was partially to blame for the Grady Ranch debacle, at least according to the state water board, because it knew certain aspects of its creek restoration effort were “unacceptable.” (IJ)
  • New housing guidelines are in development for unincorporated Marin, and the county wants your input. (Pacific Sun)
  • And…: The Marin District Attorney has launched an investigation into a $350,000 housing loan given to former RVSD general manager Brett Richards. (IJ) … Belvedere has an interim city manager. (IJ) … Fairfax to get electric vehicle charging stations. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Metro Atlanta rejected a major investment in its transportation infrastructure on Tuesday, turning down a 1% sales tax in all but three of its regions, which will see their own investments. Transit advocates are, of course, disheartened. (Streetsblog)
  • The fiscal health of a city is related to its urban form. Sprawling suburbs cost more to maintain than more densely packed cities and towns. Stockton and Bakersfield didn’t go under because of too much housing; they went under in part because they spread it too thin. (CNN)
  • Coddingtown Mall is throwing its weight around, demanding that the Coddingtown Station Area Plan leave some streets without bicycle lanes, cut out other bike lanes and new streets that cross mall property, and more, saying they would impose “undue economic hardship” on the property. (Press Democrat)
  • Napa County has a new director of transportation and planning. Kate Miller’s resume is thick on more urban experience, running AC Transit and working for MTC, and here’s hoping that will translate into better service for the Valley. (St. Helena Star)
  • When Caltrans wants to improve air quality in Los Angeles, it doesn’t turn to transit, it turns to wider roads. (Bay Citizen)

The Toll

  • A 37-year-old cyclist died in Santa Rosa after a driver hit him at an intersection. He’s the fifth bicyclist to be killed in Santa Rosa this year. (Press Democrat)
  • Sonoma: A very intoxicated driver seriously injured himself and a man standing in the shoulder of Highway 116. (Press Democrat) … A driver ran off a cliff and survived. (Press Democrat) … A driver was beaten and his car was stolen after a minor fender-bender in Santa Rosa. (Press Democrat)
  • Marin: Two motorcyclists riding at around 100 miles per hour collided, seriously injuring one another. (IJ) … The plaid-hating Tiburon driver apparently also hates bicyclists. (IJ) … A woman drove off Highway 101 and injured herself. (IJ)
  • The toll this week was one person killed, six people injured, and one person beaten.

Mid-Week Links: Plaid

Now that Fairfax and Sausalito are cracking down on cyclists violating stop-signs, perhaps it’s important to ask whether current law is the best law. A bicycle, after all, is absolutely not a car – it can stop faster, gives a better field of view, and is much more efficient when moving than when stopped. Idaho allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, to great effect. California ought to pass the same.

Marin County

  • Marin and Sonoma both dropped state parks from their park taxes after $54 million was found in the state parks department’s coffers. While Sonoma’s plan is dead, Marin’s tax plan would go to county open space instead. (Planetizen, IJ, Press Democrat)
  • Larkspur and Tiburon are both pondering library expansions, though residents in both communities wonder if the proposed buildings will be too large for the demand. (IJ)
  • HOV lanes in Novato are now open to the driving public, ensuring easy driving for a little bit until traffic catches up with capacity. (IJ)
  • A permanent farmer’s market, a roundabout, and other improvements will come to the Civic Center under a plan recently approved by the Board. Unfortunately, it’s at odds with the SMART Station Area Plan for the Christmas Tree Lot just south of the station, which calls for 4-5 story residential and retail. Planning and design for the improvements will cost about $2 million. (IJ)
  • And…: Construction has begun on SMART’s railcars. Delivery is expected in about a year. (Patch) … Novato will convert a city-owned building into art studios for around $100,000. (IJ) … A West Marin ecotopia could be shut down for running afoul building regulations, but its builders pledge to carry on. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Projections of growth are so often wrong, but they always inform whether we build new freeway lanes or rail lines or whatever. There must be a better way. (Strong Towns)
  • Activists accuse Veolia Transportation, which operates Sonoma County Transit, of human rights violations and want the county to investigate. Veolia’s parent company operates bus service between Israel and West Bank settlements. (Press Democrat)
  • MTC will study a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax on Bay Area drivers to raise money for roads and transit. The tax hasn’t gone anywhere in other jurisdictions, but boosters are optimistic a VMT would be an answer to the Bay Area’s financial woes. (Mercury News)
  • Some Chicago designers want you to help create the perfect transit app. Not only would it tell you how to get where you’re going with the schedule, it would give you real-time arrival information, allow stopovers for coffee or errands, interface with your calendar, remind you to bring an umbrella, and more. (Co.Design)

The Toll

  • You’ll notice I have this new section for the death and injury toll on the roads in Marin and Sonoma as reported by local news outlets. Why? Because in the first three months of this year, 7,280 people were killed on the road in the US, doing nothing more than living their lives. It’s the least we can do to report on the human cost of our road-centered policies in this little corner of the country. (Atlantic Cities)
  • A Tiburon man drove onto a sidewalk to hit a pedestrian whose plaid jacket he didn’t like. The suspected driver, Eugene Thomas Anderson, has been arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. (IJ)
  • Three cyclists were struck by drivers in Santa Rosa this week, though one driver claims to have lost control of her vehicle. None suffered more than moderate injuries. Separately, a driver suffered moderate injuries after running his car off the road. (Press Democrat)
  • In Marin, two people were slightly injured in a bizarre two-crash incident in Novato. Another driver drove off the road in San Rafael, giving herself minor injuries. A driver couldn’t negotiate a turn and so rolled his van about 150 feet down a West Marin hill, resulting in minor injuries to himself and one of his four passengers. Lastly, a driver lost control of his truck in Larkspur, crashing it into a nearby townhouse. The driver and passenger sufferend moderate injuries. (IJ, Twin Cities Times)

Mid-Week Links: Progress

July 4th, 2009

by Brendan Landis

Marin County

  • Contract negotiations between Marin Transit and GGT are starting to pay off, though a timeline for finishing the new contract is still elusive. The MT board delayed a decision on Monday, deciding to let the negotiations play out. (IJ)
  • Structures built in the SMART right-of-way, i.e., stations, will not be required to go through the local design review process thanks to legislation introduced by Assemblyman Michael Allen and passed by the state legislature. They will, however, still be subject to local zoning ordinances. (Pacific Sun)
  • The new federal transportation bill, recently signed into law, will likely cost Marin some $500,000 in Safe Routes to School funding. Local sources of funding means the program will stay alive in the county, but with rather less robust finances. There is, of course, much more to the bill. (IJ, Streetsblog)
  • The Marin County election season is heating up again, with Sausalito’s hand-slapping Mike Kelly retiring after eight years on the council being the biggest news so far. In all, 28 positions around the county will be on the ballot come November. (IJ)
  • The venerable anchor-out community of Sausalito holds some of the most colorful, despondent, independent, thoroughly old-school Marinites in the county. With the America’s Cup around the corner, some of the anchor-outs wonder if their time is up. (Bohemian)
  • Novato’s new city office building broke ground on Tuesday, signalling an end to one of the major controversies swirling around the community, though don’t count on hearing the end of it at council meetings. (IJ)
  • Since the Pacifics began playing at Albert Park, there have been few problems, despite the vociferous arguments made during the process to approve the team’s use of the field. (IJ)
  • And…: GGT apparently runs unscheduled ferries between Sausalito and San Francisco to pick up bikers. Why not put them on the books? (IJ) … San Rafael touts the recent HOV freeway widening as consistent with its Climate Change Action Plan. (News Pointer) … Give your ideas for the Larkspur’s SMART Station Area Plan this Monday at 6:30pm. You already know my idea. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Plan Bay Area has been criticized as too oppressive and too dictatorial to communities that believe all development is character-destroying development. In trying to ameliorate these concerns, PBA may have become too weak to actually achieve its goals. (Underground Science via Google Cache)
  • The legal hurdles for California High Speed Rail got a little bit shorter this week. Five lawsuits are in settlement, and other opponents have been cowed by the project’s recent victory in the state legislature. (Mercury News)
  • Downtown Phoenix, Arizona, really isn’t that great, but it doesn’t have to be. Shade, density, non-car connections, and a grocery store would all make the core of that desert metropolis more livable. (TDG)
  • Demand for walkable neighborhoods is at an all-time high. Riding high on the trend are new urban cores like Bellevue, Washington or Silver Spring, Maryland, which have retrofitted their suburban downtowns into something much more traditionally urban. (Fiscal Times)

The Toll

  • A 60-year-old bicyclist was sent to the hospital last night after a crash involving a car driver in downtown San Rafael. The driver stayed on the scene. (IJ)
  • Jessie Garcia died Saturday while driving in Santa Rosa. A vengeful driver struck his car instead of her boyfriend’s motorcycle, which she had been aiming for, causing his vehicle to flip and burst into flames. That driver, Heather Holmes, has been charged with second-degree murder. (Press Democrat)

Have a tip? Want to contribute? Email me at theGreaterMarin [at] gmail.com.

Mid-Week Links: Past to Present

The View From Work

photo by deminimis via flickr

SF Public Press continues its series on smart growth in the Bay Area. Though spotty at times, the series has shown a light on the issues facing our vast region now that Plan Bay Area is en route to its final approval.  This week:

  • Former Patch editor Kelly O’Mara chronicles Marin’s rebellion against Plan Bay Area. From Corte Madera’s bogus claim of build-out to Fairfax’s fight against three-story buildings, the piece explores the lay of the land though not its roots.
  • Sprawl’s 50-year march across the Bay Area is clear in a new map, showing each community’s “growth rings”. The East Bay, Delta, and Santa Clara grew the most.  Inner-ring suburbs and San Francisco grew the least.
  • The foreclosure crisis was exacerbated by transportation costs. Even in Marin, this is clear from unstable housing prices in Novato vs. stable housing prices in South Marin.

Marin County

  • Belvedere City Hall got all shook-up last week. Four staff members, two planners, the building chief and the city manager, have quit. Though criticized for conflicts on interest, the staffers’ departure was apparently a coincidence. (Pacific Sun)
  • MALT snatched a 126-acre dairy farm from the market just as it was receiving interest from non-agricultural buyers. The land is now permanently off-limits to development. (Pacific Sun)
  • San Rafael is gaming out residential parking permits, as street parking has become increasingly scarce on unmetered residential streets. Perhaps, rather than a blanket prohibition on non-permitted cars, streets could be metered and time-limited for non-permitted cars. (IJ)
  • One Bay Area officials got an earful of ugly at a meeting intended to solicit input on Plan Bay Area, now going through environmental review.  Rather than anything constructive, they got protests against human settlement gulags and global warming fabrications.  Have any of these listening meetings have yielded useful feedback? (Patch)
  • Closure of the Novato Narrows got another $56 million in state funds, enough to extend the carpool lanes three miles. The project is part of a $700 million plan to widen the freeway in the area. The cost is roughly double that of SMART, and for a far shorter distance. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Santa Rosa has approved dramatic zoning changes to its Coddington Mall area, ensuring transit-oriented development around the new SMART station. Over a millions square feet of office space, nearly 3,000 housing units, and a whole lot of retail will feature in the infill development. (Press Democrat)
  • Roundabouts, central to Cotati’s planned (but floundering) downtown road diet, would be illegal in city limits if a ballot measure passes. (Press Democrat)
  • A county, divided into rural west and urban east, questions what its future should be. Held in thrall by a development-happy Board of Supervisors, the county now faces whether the region’s urban metro system should extend into its borders for the first time. Loudoun County, Virginia, is an alternative future of Marin, facing many of the same challenges we dealt with in the 1960s but without the geography and coalitions that were so instrumental to our success. (Washington City Paper)
  • A transportation bill has finally passed the House and Senate, but it’s not exactly what was hoped for. The transit tax reimbursement remains half that of the parking reimbursement, funds for transit have been slashed, and dedicated funding for active transportation like walking and bicycling have been cut in half. About the only consolation is that things aren’t nearly as bad as they could have been. Oh, and it blocked $850 million in funding for Muni’s Central Subway while gutting Safe Routes to School. (Streetsblog, Examiner, Pacific Sun)
  • And…: The ATF has ruled last month’s BART-disrupting fire as arson, but there are no suspects. (SFist) … People seem to like Muni’s new all-door boarding policy. Now if only GGT had all-door exiting… (SFGate)

Mid-Week Links: Decisions

Petaluma River

Clearly this is worse than an office park. Why would SMART ever want to move here? Photo by Andrew Storms

Marin County

  • SMART will consolidate its offices in a transit-unfriendly Petaluma office park, far from downtown and far from the city’s planned rail station. A finalist property was downtown but even transit agencies can fall victim to the siren song of sprawl. The lease is up in six years. (Press Democrat, NBBJ)
  • Norm Solomon has conceded the race for Congress to Republican Daniel Roberts, all but ensuring a smooth election for Assemblymember Jared Huffman to Lynn Woolsey’s seat. (Patch)
  • Golden Gate Transit, along with a host of other regional agencies, is hiking fares on buses and ferries on July 1. Drivers, alas, will keep paying the same tolls. (IJ, GGT)
  • People are excited about closing the Novato Narrows by adding carpool lanes, the least bad kind of freeway expansion. On the downside, it’ll suck ridership away from the other big transit project on that corridor, SMART. (IJ)
  • The San Rafael Street Painting Festival is may not return again this year, or any other year. The wildly popular festival closes down Fourth Street for a day but has proven to be a money-losing enterprise for Youth in Arts, the sponsoring nonprofit, and they’ve called it quits. (IJ)
  • Nobody likes waiting in line to exit the parking lot after the Marin County Fair, so why not take the bus instead? You could even park at your local Park & Ride. (GGT)
  • And…: GGT’s bus stops are now on Google Maps as the agency continues its new-found affinity for customer service. (Google) … A Marin City housing activist will not be evicted for hosting her dying mother after all. (IJ) … On the opposite end, a Belvedere couple bought and demolished a $4.2 million home to expand their views and, presumably, their yard. (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • Healdsburg is getting serious about bike infrastructure now that its petition to be an official Bicycle Friendly Community has been rejected by the League of American Bicyclists. (Press Democrat)
  • Housing growth projections are notoriously difficult to get right, and the numbers ABAG is using for Plan Bay Area is complicated by internal and external politics to boot. (SF Public Press)
  • SFMTA has its proposed alternatives for the Geary Bus Rapid Transit line available to browse and comment. Though the current plan is to give only the 38-Limited access to the route, GGT’s Route 92 runs as a limited-stop service along Geary, so Marin City commuters stand to benefit from the process as well.  As well, Van Ness BRT has been approved has a preferred alternative, meaning one more step to better service for Muni, as well as GGT’s Routes 10, 70, 80, 93, 101, and 101X. (Streetsblog) [edited per Viktoriya Wise’s correction.]
  • California High Speed Rail faces a major funding hurdle in Sacramento today. The Legislature needs to release $2.7 billion in bond money so construction can begin on the central part of the line in the Central Valley. But lawmakers have also released a Plan B that would focus the funds on LA and San Francisco improvements instead, and there’s always the chance that no rail will pass at all. (Streetsblog)

An Extraneous Park

The park’s rendering. Photo by Jessica Mullins of San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch

On Saturday, the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce announced that George Lucas had given some downtown land to them. The vacant building would be torn down and a park, complete with statues of Yoda and Indiana Jones, would be erected in its place.

Perhaps I’m a curmudgeon to think so, but this doesn’t seem like the best idea.

The Rundown

George Lucas owns 535 San Anselmo Avenue, a one-story, roughly 6,000 square-foot building with three retail spaces (parcel number 007-213-24, if you care about such things). The 1970s-era building opens onto the police parking lot in the rear and lies adjacent to Town Hall. According to Patch, Lucas was approached by the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce to donate the land and building, together worth about $2 million, for a park.

Lucas agreed, and now planning is on the way to transfer the land, demolish the buildings, and build a new park in downtown. The chamber is thrilled. Its president, Connie Rogers, told Patch, “This is going to be great for the city. It will increase revenues for the merchants and bring people to the town center.”

For those of you who don’t know, George Lucas is a San Anselmo local. He’s been heavily involved with town improvements, and you can see the results along Miracle Mile in front of United Markets. The recent demolition of the very old Amazing Grace Music building and the renovated replacement just up the median is his handiwork.

In a much more high-profile case, Lucas recently pulled out of his Grady Ranch film studio project in Lucas Valley over neighborhood opposition, vowing to put affordable housing at the location instead.

More Green Isn’t Always Good

Though a park, without considering the context, can be a good thing, if we pull back our view from the site and look at all the networks in the area, it doesn’t make sense.

First, we have the parcel’s current use, as retail. San Anselmo lives on sales tax, and a large part of that comes from downtown merchants. Though a park may attract more people to downtown, it’s likely they will mostly be geeky tourists and those of a sort that see the World’s Largest Fork. The park would ride on the cachet of Lucasfilm’s characters, and it’s doubtful the tourists would generate enough revenue to offset the loss from what would be there otherwise. That space will not remain vacant forever, and when it is filled it will be more valuable as productive land than as value-enhancing park space.  Creek Park and Town Hall’s front lawn are our green spaces, and they have served well as the town’s living heart.

Even more valuable would be to demolish and rebuild as a two-story structure with housing above. The second floor could provide four to six units, depending on size, and would lock in another four to six families to do most or all of their shopping downtown, boosting sales tax for the town.

If the units are studios or one-bedrooms, both of which are in short supply in Marin, they would likely be starter units for 20-somethings that want to live in town, or empty nest units for people that want to downsize out of their family home, meaning they would add value to the school district without adding children to the district.  That brings us to San Anselmo as part of the regional housing market. George Lucas wants to build houses in Grady Ranch; why not focus on building them in the center of our towns instead, in places like 535 San Anselmo?

From an urban perspective, the buildings at 535 are important for the town center’s “urban room”. They’re part of the wall of interesting shops and businesses that line San Anselmo Avenue. Think about that curve in the road by Hilda’s Coffee and the feeling of security and home you get standing there. How different that is from the feeling we get on South San Anselmo Avenue!  That difference is what separates a true downtown from just another commercial strip.

Demolishing 535 would open up the room to a parking lot, giving uninterrupted views from the Coffee Roasters to Library Place and the fences behind. Though good landscaping in the park could minimize that damage, a too-open street with views of noninteractive buildings and a parking lot deadens the streetscape. Unless something else is built behind the park to interact with it and block the views, the park would likely be a loss to San Anselmo Avenue’s streetscape.

Downtown is also part of the Ross Valley Flood Protection District, and our urban core could get a major overhaul. Though it’s still in preliminary phases, the plan calls for the shops that extend over the creek, behind the Coffee Roasters, to be demolished. This would mean a new extension of Creek Park, which would render the Lucasfilm Park extraneous. Alternatively, it could mean a complete reshaping of downtown; let’s build a park if someplace needs to be demolished to keep the town safe, not just because the Chamber of Commerce thinks it’s a good idea.

This park should not go through. Despite the positives it may bring, the potential downside of a missing tooth is too great for San Anselmo to ignore. If the Chamber wants to boost business downtown, it should not do so by demolishing shops for open space. It should do so by strengthening our center and getting people to live downtown. Our merchants, and the character of our town, thrives on residents, not visitors.

A park to attract visitors instead of shops to attract shoppers would move us into a more fickle, less stable situation, and that’s a bad idea.