Mid-Week Links: Buffering

MCBC does wonderful work on bike paths, getting the whole county connected, but it neglects the needs of better on-street bike lanes and what they could do to improve the streetscape for all users.

Marin County

Novato’s city council meeting Monday night was four hours of non-stop affordable housing policy excitement. In sum, the city will allow second units to be built at market rates but, citing concerns over current residents of illegal second units, will not give amnesty to those illegal units. The fee to build the second units will come down, and the city will look into how to encourage second unit construction. The city will not implement an affordable housing fee on commercial developers, known as a commercial linkage fee, but did not rule out exploring it in the next housing element in two years. (City of Novato, IJ)

  • Fairfax is concerned that expanding White Hill Middle School will add more traffic to the town’s roads. Unfortunately, the school’s remote location 1.5 miles from downtown means mitigation will be tough. (IJ)
  • Once again, a car accident closed a direction of Highway 101. This time, all southbound lanes were closed. Only minor injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • Marin Transit will reevaluate its Novato bus lines over the next week to determine how to improve ridership. Ideas include extending the 49 and combining the 51 and 52. GGT should work with Novato to improve access, perception, and urban form in the area. (News Pointer)
  • It’s official: Gary Phillips is mayor of San Rafael, Gary Lion is mayor of Mill Valley, and Denise Athas is mayor of Novato. (IJ)
  • San Rafael extended a moratorium on opening new group homes of seven or more people. (IJ, Patch)
  • Another week, another pedestrian struck in Novato. The man suffered minor injuries while crossing De Long Avenue near Sherman Avenue, a block from downtown. (IJ)
  • Apparently Marinites like their government and are willing to pay to keep it going at current levels. (IJ)
  • Safe Routes to School has dramatically altered the behavior of students in Marin, shifting 8% of single-student car trips to walking, biking, transit, or carpooling. (IJ; TAM report available here [pdf] on page 183)
  • Mill Valley is testing a way to electronically comment at city council meetings, which can be done here. A certain blogger you know will probably take full advantage. (IJ, City of Mill Valley)
  • San Anselmo is showing its community colors by supporting a woman who has had a particularly tragic year: foreclosure, breast cancer, and the tragic death of her husband while on vacation. (IJ)
  • Cutting trees is a big issue in San Geronimo Valley, where tree-cutting fees are up to 30 times what they are in incorporated Marin. (IJ)
  • The eviction of Fairfax’s medical marijuana dispensary will go forward. (IJ)
  • The Transportation Authority of Marin approved about $1 million in bike/ped projects at its last meeting. (IJ)
  • Peaking of bike/ped projects, the IJ editorial board wonders whether the $15 million bike/ped bridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is worth the money. (IJ)
  • Just to be clear: Stand Up for Neighborly Novato doesn’t like the idea of housing at Hanna Ranch. If you want to comment on the sprawl development, please do: Novato City Council has scheduled discussion on the project for December 13. (IJ, Patch)
  • The runway at Novato’s Gnoss Field could be extended without major environmental impact. (IJ)
  • SMART and other projects are now evaluated under a cost-benefit and target analysis from MTC. The results were mixed. (Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • San Francisco will soon allow drivers to pay for parking via cell phone. Since Sausalito is emulating the city’s performance parking practices, might cell phone parking come to Marin soon as well? (SFGate)
  • Cotati’s HOV lanes are now open to vehicles. (North Bay Business Journal)
  • The suburban office park – a la Marin Commons, Fireman’s Fund and Hanna Ranch – is disappearing. (Times)
  • Marin is better poised than most to take advantage of the shift away from suburban office parks and towards centralized development: with the SMART train, strong downtowns and some local political will, commerce might still look to Marin to relocate, even if not in the typical places.
  • ABAG and MTC have been awarded a $5 million federal grant to promote sustainable communities. (Transportation Nation)
  • Population growth has slowed dramatically in California. While the state grew at a rate of 0.7% per annum, Marin grew only by 0.53%.
  • In planning there is a concept known as Level of Service, or LOS, which is widely used and places auto traffic at the top of the planning pyramid.  In San Francisco, that metric is being challenged at last. (The Atlantic Cities)
  • SANDAG has released a Sustainable Communities Strategy under Senate Bill 375.  How long until ABAG does the same? (ClimatePlan)

Making Sense of Our Governmental Mishmash

Marin is governed by a huge number of overlapping governments, commissions, committees, agencies, authorities, departments and boards.  No wonder the Bay Area is so difficult to govern.

If you hadn’t noticed, there’s a new page at the top of The Greater Marin, with links to every official entity with some power over Marin County development issues, from the White House to the Bolinas Public Utilities District.

At the Federal level, things are pretty clear.  Congress has oversight over the Executive Branch, which has issue-specific Departments and Agencies to deal with whatever regulations need to be enforced or enacted.  Laws get passed, but are typically implemented by the existing structure.

Lower down the chain, the situation becomes significantly murkier.  The Bay shoreline is managed by the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission, while the Pacific shoreline is managed by the California Coastal Commission.  Housing and urban development is even more touchy, with involvement from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the BCDC, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Joint Policy Committee, the County government, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, State regulations, and the affected city and county governments.  Transit further complicates affairs, as one or more of the Bay Area’s dozens of transit agencies gets involved, as well as the County transportation authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, State agencies and the US Department of Transportation.

At current count, for Marin alone I count seven unincorporated areas with governments, twelve incorporated cities and towns, four transit agencies, the Board of Supervisors and nine other regional entities with specific issue areas.

The good news is that most of the unelected bodies draw from Marin’s body of elected officials, so there is consistency of policy between them.  The SMART Board, for example, requires that some of its members sit on the TAM Board, to ensure that their policies have continuity, and that members are kept abreast of local transportation issues.

This agglomerated structure, though, leads to weakness and a sense that the unelected bodies are sent by Sacramento to intrude upon local sovereignty.  When the Clipper Card rolled out, it took a very long time for it to filter into the various member transit districts of the MTC, and even now not all transit agencies accept the card.  In the interim, local transit agencies spent millions of dollars to roll out similar cards, duplicating efforts, wasting money, and further prolonging the wait for a standardized smart card.

When Novato debated affordable housing mandates from ABAG, a continual complaint was that Sacramento was imposing its will upon the town.  When the city eventually finalized its rather modest housing plans, the chatter was that Novato had told off the State, not an Association on which its own councilmembers sit.

So what can be done?

On the one hand, Bay Area residents are fiercely independent and notoriously headstrong.  San Francisco has its own style, and it would just as soon not be lumped in with Fremont if it can be helped, Berkeley would blanche at being dictated to by Oakley, and the New York Times once called Bolinas the “Howard Hughes of towns.”  On the other hand, the Bay Area functions as a region and faces regional problems, from the Bay itself to the freeways and bridges.

One idea is to create a new office, a Bay Area Lieutenant Governor directly elected by the residents.  The official would act as advocate for Bay Area policy in Sacramento and coordinate policy between each of the disparate bodies that has authority over the region.  The election campaign of a Lieutenant Governor would unite the region in a way that is impossible under the current governmental mélange, while having someone at the top would mean greater legitimacy for the bureaucracy.

A less ambitious idea would be to simply consolidate the various bodies into a single unified hierarchy, perhaps under ABAG, and reduce overlapping mandates.  Any permitting would go through this unified structure.  The bodies would share staff, standardize forms and processes, and proximity would allow policies to rub off from one agency to another in a way that’s currently impossible.  A merger between ABAG and MTC was proposed in 2001 but eventually died due to internal opposition; the two agencies established the Joint Policy Committee instead.

But no politician or bureaucrat wants to cede power, and few people have the stomach to create government, even if it means streamlining what already exists.  There are so many sacred cows, so many little fiefdoms, in the current system that Bay Area residents will most likely be stuck with what they have for some time.  At the very least, now there’s an index to reference.

Midweek Links: Get SMART

SMART was making news this week, what with TAM voting not to rescind last month’s approval of an $8 million bailout for the transit project.  MTC then voted to approve its own transfer of $33 million.  Sonoma had already contributed $3 million.  Larkspur officially approved of the project, votes raised my eyebrows.  When the original vote deadlocked at 7-7 on whether to approve the bailout, it was Larkspur Councilwoman Joan Lundstrom who switched her vote.  She was not at the second meeting, allowing her alternate, Larkspur Mayor Larry Chu, to sit in her place.  Despite his city’s official approval of the project, he voted to rescind.  In any case, RepealSMART would have none of it, suing the organization for violating open meeting laws and general nefariousness.  All the while, the SMART board reported that they were “fundamentally sound and on track” and continued its search for a new executive director.

Meanwhile, Corte Madera and San Rafael passed their budgets.  Turns out the San Rafael gas tax doesn’t always go to transportation.

Not all budgets are in yet, with a number of cities contemplating sales taxes to close gaps that keep coming up.

Novato gets a new bicycle lane to bypass a stretch where bikers shared 101 with vehicular traffic.

Not all vehicular safety news is good.  A boy was hit by a driver outside of a crosswalk in a Mill Valley shopping area.  Police blame the kid for crossing outside of a crosswalk, but there’s a problem: there aren’t any crosswalks there.

In other local drama, Novato has revised their list of sites to zone for affordable housing.  Looks like the churches are off the hook, but I still wonder why the city insists on building single-purpose affordable units.

From here on, the only thing shocking about San Rafael’s Pizza Orgasmica is going to be the name.  Its owner has given up a fight to keep its bright yellow, Brazil-inspired hue.  SFist calls San Rafael’s objections an “Orange County-mentality“.

TAM is considering high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes on 101.  Despite research that congestion pricing is the only way to keep down traffic, I can’t help but think the $66-120 million required to install might go to a better use like, say, transit.  At least it makes the $8 million SMART bailout look like the chump change it is.

Lastly, and as an offering for being a day late, I bring you meaty theory.  Free parking, that ubiquitous scourge of the suburbs and thing that exists all over Marin, is really a huge drain on our local, regional, and national economies.

SMART Moves Forward

If you haven’t already seen it, the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) approved an $8 million bailout of the SMART rail project.  The rail project’s phase one will extend from downtown Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael, with operations aimed to begin in 2014.

Not everyone is so pleased with the result.  RepealSMART, an anti-transit organization formed exclusively to fight the project, is suing in Marin Superior Court, saying TAM meetings violated open meetings laws and election promises in providing the bailout.  The organization also alleges that SMART has an undisclosed $35 million deficit, a number group lead John Parnell says comes from an anonymous source.  Although he claims he’d have no issue if the train were being built at once, he calls the first segment “useless.”  Those that live and work along the segment will doubtless disagree.

Mid-Week Links: On Tenterhooks

NETWORK_LA transit has a wonderful video about moving LA from cars to transit.

Unlike LA, Marin might be stepping back towards the car if the Transportation Authority of Marin reverses last week’s vote to transfer $8 million to the SMART project at today’s meeting. (Marin IJ, Press Democrat)

The San Rafael mayoral race is already under way.  We’ll be watching this. (San Rafael Patch)

Limiting a parking lot to just the store’s customers is hugely inefficient.  Not only does it encourage people to drive fractions of a mile from lot to lot, but it creates redundant parking spaces, wasting land. (Reinventing Parking)

SMART will be a boon to downtown San Rafael, and that’s good for everyone in Marin. (San Rafael Patch)

Greater Greater Washington found that sometimes, people just don’t realize that bicycles are used for things other than recreation. (Greater Greater Washington)

Mid-Week Links: Coming to Earth

Paved paradise...

Good Earth and a parking lot

San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch reports that the Fairfax Council has approved Good Earth’s plans to move to the abandoned supermarket at the east end of town. It’s a great use of a dilapidated space, but couldn’t they have done something about that sea of parking? (Patch)

The IJ reports on the bizarre Transportation Authority of Marin meeting that first rejected, then accepted, the SMART fund bailout. Given that the public went home thinking the proposal failed, TAM will hold the meeting again and take a revote.  (Marin IJ)

The Washington, DC, Metrorail system is looking at expansion.  Local blog Greater Greater Washington argues that it should stay in the core.  BART, meanwhile, continues to push out into the suburbs. (Greater Greater Washington)

While Novato stews over its affordable housing mandates, the County is looking for affordable housing locations in its unincorporated areas.  A shame transit access and mixed-use development doesn’t play into much of the discussions. (Novato Advance, Marin IJ)

Be prepared: most of Marin’s first responders live hours from the County, meaning that, in the event of a major disaster, Marinites will be without aid for three to seven days.  Better be ready to hunker down for a while after the Big One. (Pacific Sun)

In a blast from the past, Fortune republished an article from 1958 detailing the politics and looming problems of the then-under-construction Interstate Highway System.  Most of the problems we deal with now were foreseen even then. (CNN/Forbes)