Mid-Week Links: Build It and They Will Come

mill valley

Marin County

Well it looks like the other news organizations passed right on by the development news this week, and there’s no transit news to speak of. I suppose, then, these are the highlights from this week’s IJ.

  • The Grady Ranch debacle has reached New Yorker’s ears. The game of telephone, of course, has done wonders for our county’s image as an insular enclave for the granola-munching wealthy. Back in Marin, there is still debate as to whether opponents abused the system or not, or even whether they should be to blame. (NYT, IJ)
  • In the fallout of Grady Ranch, county staff want to create a panel to cut red tape and streamline permitting, and the supervisors seem to be on board. The results likely won’t mean much for developers in incorporated areas, who often need council approval to open a sandwich shop. (IJ)
  • Fully 85% of Marin’s land is protected from development, according to a new Greenbelt Alliance study, the most in any Bay Area county. Only 12.7% of our land is urbanized, and only 0.7% is at risk of development. (IJ)
  • Michael Rock, town manager and public works director of Fairfax, has resigned in order to pursue a position in what I can only presume is the far less interesting Lomita, CA. His last day as manager will be the June 22 budget meeting. (IJ, Fairfax)
  • Sausalito will not rezone a small area of old town for housing development after all. The two parcels in question could have accommodated 18 units of affordable housing but will continue in their role as offices. (IJ)
  • Under pressure from the feds, Novato’s remaining pot dispensary will close, leaving only one dispensary operating in the county. (IJ)
  • The $950 million Highway 101 widening project chugs forward, but the last $177 million hasn’t been found. At least CalTrans still has $20.5 million to repave 8.5 miles of the freeway from Vista Point to Lucky Drive. (Press-Democrat, IJ)
  • A San Rafael native has been enlivening the streetscape of Washington, DC, by playing the violin to passersby from his rowhome’s balcony. (Patch)
  • And…: Fifteen office buildings totalling about 710,000 square are up for sale in Marin. (IJ) … Terrorism, not the threat of bridge collapse, is the reason you can’t walk across the Bridge on its 75th. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • MTC and ABAG have approved Plan Bay Area. It now goes out for environmental review before final approval in April. (SF Chronicle)
  • The San Francisco Bay Area has a surplus of capital looking for new tech start-ups but restrictive housing policies drive up rents, which drive up wages, which inflates start-ups’ costs of doing business, which drives down the number of new start-ups to invest in, and that’s bad for everyone.  (Forbes via Planetizen)
  • The State Senate will vote today on the three-foot passing law, requiring drivers pass bikers with at least three feet of clearance. (Cyclelicious)
  • The neighborhood planning battles of Seattle bear a striking resemblance to the planning issues faced by Marin’s small towns. (Crosscut)
  • Young people are moving away from the car. Has the driver’s seat lost its old magic? (Washington Post)
  • BART’s long-term plans include express trains, better stations, and shorter headways. (Examiner)
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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.

Mid-Week Links: Until Next Time

Mt. Tam with Long Shadows

Mt. Tam with Long Shadows by cproppe

Thank you all who came out to last week’s happy hour!  We had a small group – a couple of planning commissioners, a couple of regular readers – and it was good fun.  The next one will likely be around the end of September, so keep an eye out.  In the mean time, I’m back in DC keeping an eye out for the goings-on in Marin.

It’s been two weeks with no links, so let’s get caught up.

Marin County

  • What might One Bay Area learn from other regions as it crafts its Sustainable Communities Strategy?  First of all, make sure to do good outreach, and second, make sure to invest enough in transit. ABAG’s outreach has thus far been horrifically bad, at least in Marin, but at least MTC is on the ball with transit investment. (SPUR)
  • As it turns out, San Rafael’s red light cameras at 3rd & Irving are good for safety, reducing accidents by 12% over the last fiscal year while also reducing the total number of citations. Win/win, in my book. (IJ)
  • The Board of Supervisors wants San Rafael to take its due diligence regarding the proposed San Rafael Airport sports complex. While most of the neighbors are in unincorporated areas like Santa Venetia and so fall directly under the county, the airport itself is under the city. (IJ)
  • Apparently, George Lucas was serious when he proposed building affordable housing at Grady Ranch.  I can scarcely think of a worse place for it, though the irony is rich. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • Then again, perhaps Grady Ranch wasn’t such a slam-dunk for the environment after all… (IJ)
  • Are you a smoker living in an apartment or condo in unincorporated Marin? Better quit now – the Board of Supervisors is likely to ban smoking in apartments and condos, both indoor and outdoor, next week. (IJ)
  • West Marin tourists, park rangers, and bobcats got a pedestrian upgrade when two bridges were installed near Sausalito – one 180-foot span that bridges a creek and wetland, and another one 60-foot span. They were built so walkers could bypass nearby traffic. (IJ)
  • Sausalito’s Housing Element has been rejected by HCD, which cited a lack of 20-unit-per-acre developments and zoning. The city will take a second look and consider revisions. (Marinscope)
  • The 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, celebrated on May 27, will be a grand affair with no parking, so take transit!  There’s free bike parking at the Presidio, both Muni and GGT will boost their buses, there will be buses to the Larkspur Ferry (a shock!), and it will generally be a good time. Alas, Marin Transit doesn’t seem to be adding service so be prepared to walk, bike, or taxi from your bus pad or transit center of choice. Oh, and I recommend getting Clipper Cards for the family – saves you money and time boarding the bus and ferry, not to mention that it makes transfers to Muni easier. (Patch, GGB75, ClipperCard, IJ)
  • And…: The upcoming June 5 election?  Yeah, there’s an app for that. (Patch) … This week there were five DUIs on 101 in just a day. Be careful out there, people. (News Pointer) … Bus Rapid Transit on Van Ness is a go, and is set to open in 2016. (Chronicle) … Dispelling rumors on bike lanes and bike safety. (Mercury News) … The Golden Gate Bridge had its share of detractors. (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • If you missed it (I did), there’s a proposal winding through Sacramento to consolidate MTC, ABAG, BAAQMD, and BCDC into a single agency called the Bay Area Regional Commission governed by 15 commissioners elected from new districts in the Bay Area.  Fearing a loss of influence, Napa is fighting this one tooth and nail. (Napa Valley Register)
  • Martinez may soon join the city of Napa in switching its downtown streets to two-way. Ought San Rafael follow suit? (Contra Costa Times)
  • In a move that defines ambition, Chicago declared that it would have no road fatalities in 20 years. (Streetsblog)
  • Sometimes we go so long without transit that we forget how to behave, or we are so used to transit we never unlearn our bad habits. SFist has a great series of articles on transit and walking etiquette that I heartily recommend to you.
  • If you want a better street and live in San Francisco, check their new website for info on how to get some street improvements on your own.  Marinites, well, check it out for some street envy. Perhaps one day even Novato will warm to the parklet. (Streetsblog)
  • Cincinnati is giving form-based zoning a try, allowing neighborhoods to develop along the lines of how they wnat to look, rather than just based on how buildings are used. (Cincinnati.com via Planetizen)
  • UPDATE: People that live where it’s easy to walk from home to work or stores tend to do so, and also tend to bike significantly more than their more thinly-spread compatriots. Though the study was done in some of DC’s more tony neighborhoods, I suspect you’d find the same thing in the old TOD downtowns of Marin. (Washington Post)

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.

Mid-Week Links: End of the Line

Marin County Line

photo by Mark Garbowski

Marin County

San Anselmo’s Easy Street Cafe will close this Sunday after struggling with the economy and the Redhill Shopping Center remodel.  There is still hope that it will reopen somewhere else, though the odds seem slim.  With this institution’s closure, speculation is running rampant that the shopping center is turning into a regular chain-dominated strip mall.  So far, eight businesses have moved out or been evicted.  You can find their letter on the Pacific Sun. On a personal note, I am quite saddened by the loss.  It’s my favorite breakfast spot in Marin and I haven’t found anyplace better in DC. Since I can’t make it to the closing, eat some bangers and scrambled eggs for me and I’ll buy you a beer at the next happy hour. (IJ, Pacific Sun)

  • Just as regulatory hurdles were cleared, Lucasfilm formerly withdrew its Grady Ranch proposal, beginning a mad scramble around the North Bay to woo what a few Marin activists said would constitute the Hollywoodization of Lucas Valley. (IJ, San Rafael Patch)
  • For Earth Day, San Rafael promoted recycling, energy efficiency, and electric cars, but remains entirely silent on walking or biking.  Perhaps next year they’ll install a bike rack or two downtown? (IJ)
  • Travel on the Golden Gate Bridge is going to be terrible next week.  Not only is Doyle Drive closing, but Occupy SF plans to close the bridge on Tuesday. (SFist)
  • SMART is exploring a station near the Sonoma County Airport, which would be at their planned maintenance facility on Airport Boulevard.  Details are still sketchy, to say the least, but it would certainly make the airport a more attractive option for Marinites. (Press-Democrat)
  • SMART has approved a more sustainable pension plan for future employees than what it has now, remedying one of the Grand Jury’s principal gripes about the system. (Press-Democrat)
  • The Board of Supervisors has formally requested an audit of Plan Bay Area growth projections, saying that the job growth numbers just don’t seem realistic. (IJ)
  • Larkspur and MTC are looking for a few good souls to fill out their boards.  MTC has four vacancies on their Policy Advisory Council, while Larkspur has openings on the Planning Commission, Parks & Rec Commission, and the Heritage Preservation Board. Take a look to see if you want get involved. (IJ, PR Newswire)

The Greater Marin

  • When you make a great place you’re making great people habitat, and that’s good for the environment and all the natural habitat we need to protect.  New Urbanism is a New Environmentalism. (NRDC Switchboard)
  • The headaches caused by private bus companies in San Francisco are starting to get noticed, and the city may start to regulate. (SFBG)
  • Electric bikes can dramatically expand the reach and audience of bicycling.  In spread-out and hilly Marin, the electric assist can be a life-saver for the unfit. (Clarendon Patch)
  • Sonoma County faces a $120 million road maintenance backlog and only $4.5 million per year to fix it.  Though the county is looking for new revenues, perhaps it could spend less money on widening 101 instead. (Press-Democrat)
  • California will soon get $100 million in new electric car charging infrastructure, part of a settlement with energy companies related to the state’s 2001 energy crisis.  (Chronicle)

Mid-Week Links: The Subdivisions

by xspindoc

Marin County

  • LucasFilm has pulled its Grady Ranch proposal and will sell the land as affordable housing thanks to NIMBY opposition, stating, “Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not businesses.” Ouch. (Pacific Sun)
  • The Town of Fairfax has a new General Plan.  Among other things, the plan gives downtown businesses the opportunity to build second-story apartment units by right, rather than seeking special approval. (Town Manager)
  • Supervisor Arnold wants to know why growth projections for Marin have fluctuated so wildly in the Plan Bay Area draft SCS, and also why they are so out of line with historic norms. If the assumptions for Marin are flawed, she writes, then the whole process for the Bay Area is flawed. (IJ)
  • The March 28 MCCMC meeting offered opponents of housing quotas and ABAG to vent their frustrations against the regional agency. In the end, they also got leftover cookies. (Twin Cities Times)
  • Staying within ABAG is not just good for Marin – it’s good for the region, because what worries us ought to worry the rest of the Bay Area. (IJ)
  • Marin’s Local Coastal Program has gone through a four year epic journey of Coastal Commission and West Marin politics, public comments, criticism that it does too much (or too little), and even a splash of dominion theology as the county has worked to update the decades-old document. If you need some catching up, you may want to start here. (Pacific Sun)
  • And…: The AT&T Park ferry ride is getting too complicated, and too expensive, what with online reservations and a new convenience fee. (IJ) … A sidewalkless street in Homestead Valley is getting some sidewalks. (IJ) … What sort of light should a bicycle have? (Mercury News)

The Greater Marin

  • The finances and projections of California High Speed Rail are under scrutiny by noted rail opponent Representative Darryl Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. (Politico)
  • San Francisco’s Transit Effectiveness Project SFMTA will give Muni buses signal priority by next year. I’m hoping GGT gets in on that. (Streetsblog) [edit – contrary to Streetsblog’s summary, signal priority is a related but separate program from TEP.]
  • Someone in San Francisco wants to park a tiny, 130 square foot house in a driveway. The plans are actually quite nice and would make a lovely second unit, though I thought the minimum dwelling size under California state law was 160 square feet. (SFist)
  • Little City Gardens will be San Francisco’s first real urban farm now that the city has approved a zoning change for the market. It will sell and grow its produce on the same property. (SPUR)
  • Cotati’s downtown revitalization plan will move forward, but because it uses redevelopment funds the vote is up for state approval. (Press-Democrat)
  • The Southern California Association of Governments – ABAG and MTC’s Los Angelino cousin – approved its version of Plan Bay Area.  The sustainable communities strategy will spend half its transportation funding on mass transit rather than cars over the next 25 years, though a number of communities said it didn’t go far enough. Streetsblog has details. (SF Chronicle, Streetsblog)

Mid-Week Links: Plans from On High

image from NASA

Plan Bay Area

  • Pacific Sun has a wonderful rundown, as they so often do, of the issues surrounding One Bay Area and Plan Bay Area – from the workshops disrupted by tea party agitators to historical context to just what the plan actually hopes to achieve.
  • One Bay Area has cut job and housing growth projections for Marin, with significant housing cuts in some towns and dramatic increases in others.  Town planners will be consulted for the next draft figures, to be released in May. (IJ)
  • However, Supervisor Judy Arnold, Marin’s alternate representative to ABAG,  called Plan Bay Area’s projected job increase in Marin unrealistic, citing a shrinking, rather than growing, job pool in the county. County staff will examine the numbers, and a decision will then be made whether to proceed with an appeal. (IJ)

Marin County

  • The Downtown San Rafael BID will get a $250,000 cash infusion for advertising and events after Keep It Local San Rafael settled their lawsuit against Target and Cal-Pox. (IJ)
  • San Anselmo is still tied in knots as it tries to tighten design review ordinances.  Neighbors are still upset over the addition to Councilmember Kroot’s home. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • Joe Casalnuevo, who successfully challenged county ordinances over whether split lots needed to pay in-lieu affordable housing fees, has taken Marin to court over the fight, alleging $60,000 in damages and time lost fighting the fee. (IJ)
  • MCBC is taking volunteers for its annual Bike Locally Challenge, though at six months it may be a bit long for a promotion.  Arlington County, VA, does a month-long Car Free Diet that involves bikes and transit – perhaps Marin Transit could cross-promote? (Pacific Sun, County of Arlington)
  • Copyright law overrode local preference in Tiburon, where the council approved CVS’s red sign, overturning the Design Review Board’s ruling that it should be a gray and white sign. (IJ)
  • And…: Fairfax will at last install cameras for town council meetings. (IJ) … Ross Valley School District residents will vote on a $149 parcel tax in June to help stave off a budget crisis in the district. (Patch) … Marin Transit tweaks Novato and Terra Linda bus routes. (IJ) … Joseph Eichler designed more than just tract homes. (Bay Citizen)

The Greater Marin

  • While the focus of California High Speed Rail has been on just about everything but its utility, Central Valley cities are clamoring for the infrastructure. (LA Times, Fresno Bee)
  • Midcoast San Mateo is struggling with Plan Bay Area, which is including a county-designated Priority Development Area in the rural region.  Regional officials insist the rural development area is about improving infrastructure, not housing development. (San Mateo County Times)
  • Transit signage in the Bay Area are poor, and that’s actually no surprise at all.  Though MTC is on it, it’s unlikely Marin will see much of the fruit of their labor given our county’s current transit state of affairs. (Transportation Nation)
  • More people took public transit in 2011 than in 2010, the most since 1957, and that bodes well for the future of transportation and our cities. (New York Times)