Mid-Week Links: Not Quite Paradise


  • Traffic along Tiburon’s main road is getting worse, but its bus line is one of the least-used routes in the Marin Transit system.  TAM, MT, and the town think improving school-time bus service may do the same trick it did in Fairfax, although they’re exploring other options as well. (IJ)
  • The historic building that housed Amazing Grace Music, the old instrument shop in the Redhill Avenue median, is gone. The San Anselmo landmark business has moved up the street thanks to George Lucas, who funded the project and lives a block away. (IJ)
  • Fairfax has its gateway supermarket back, now that the Good Earth has opened on the east edge of town. The corner has undergone a major transformation over the past few years, and the store looks set to become even more of an anchor for the town. Not to say that everyone’s happy – a local merchant dialed 911 to complain about a lack of parking. (Patch)
  • Neighbors were up in arms over CVS’s plans for a lit sign in Tiburon, but it turns out businesses are already flaunting local regulations. (IJ, Mill Valley Herald)
  • MALT’s housing-oriented cousin, CLAM, has a new director with an eye towards smart growth and the particular human/nature balance that marks West Marin’s villages. (IJ)
  • The Marin Board of Supervisors were busy this week dissolving the county redevelopment agency, reallocating funds for road repair, rescinding the priority development zone for homes around San Quentin, and bolstering their rainy day fund. (Patch, IJ)

Bay Area

  • The Metropolitan Transportation Commission wants high school interns this summer, and is actually willing to pay them. I’d be all over this were I 18 again. (Patch)
  • Parking in San Francisco could get even more expensive if SFMTA extends parking hours to Saturday evenings and Sundays.  That GGT ride just keeps looking more and more attractive. (SFist)
  • SMART’s rolling stock is on track for a 2013 delivery, and it turns out they’re not the only customer.  Toronto will purchase the same vehicles from manufacturer Nippon-Sharryo, and SMART, as a partial designer of the heavy DMUs, is getting a cut of the profits. (Press Democrat)
  • Rohnert Park’s SMART station has officially been relocated to the city’s center, much to the joy of all parties. Rohnert Park plans on building a downtown based around the station. (NBBJ, Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • Raleigh, NC, is pushing the envelope when it comes to getting people to walk. But it’s not the city doing the push – it’s people who care enough about Raleigh to do what needs to be done, and sometimes that’s just signage. (BBC)
  • Google has been instrumental in bringing transit data into the digital age with its GTFS protocol, allowing people to plan trips using transit instead of just cars.  Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit are not currently participants, but are actively working on getting online. (Xconomy)
  • Nashville has gone for the gold and released a new downtown zoning code that essentially does away with much of the zoning.  No more parking minimums, no more prescribed uses, no more setback requirements. (Old Urbanist)
  • Norfolk, VA’s The Tide light rail is going like gangbusters, beating ridership expectations in only six months. It faced much the same criticism as SMART, although the two systems will be rather different, and only time will tell how our rail system pans out. (Virginian-Pilot)
  • Building good bike infrastructure means more than painting sharrows, as Marin loves to do, and sometimes it means giving bicyclists their own traffic signal. (SanFranciscoize)

Tiburon’s Housing Element Might Actually Work

"Coming About" Fountain & Sculpture in Tiburon, CA

Tiburon recently released its draft Housing Element, the document required by ABAG every seven years. The document reflects the challenge of accommodating low-income residents in a high-income and largely built-up city, a challenge that all of Marin’s communities have been forced to face. Tiburon answered the call with substantive proposed changes to its zoning and ordinance laws that should break the affordable housing deadlock in the town.

The strategies Tiburon currently in place are fairly common in Marin, although they have faced limited success since the last housing element:

  • Inclusionary zoning laws, which force developers to include affordable housing in their developments
  • Density bonuses for developers that make more affordable housing than required
  • Affordable housing zoning overlays (AHOs), with lower barriers for affordable housing construction but with higher affordable housing mandates.

Commercial linkage fees, which force new commercial developments to pay a fee towards affordable housing, has been suggested by the town council but it has been stuck in limbo since 2005.

It is not difficult to see why these strategies have failed to generate much affordable housing, as each constrains developers in an already constrained market. If a developer includes affordable housing, the most generous restrictions are about 20.7 units per acre, roughly that of single-family attached homes (rowhouses); a maximum lot usage of 35%; and a 3-story height limit. This gives developers a very small building envelope to work with when looking at any new construction. As well, the cost of development is quite high, around $300 to $500 per square foot, including land acquisition. Add the affordable housing requirements and it becomes extremely difficult to thread the needle and make a development profitable. The AHO loosens these requirements somewhat, boosting density to 24.8 units per acre, but includes price controls on more than 60% of a development’s units, an impossibly high amount.

The Housing Element as written does loosen these restrictions. One goal – H-aa, if you’re wondering – lowers AHO’s affordable housing requirement to only 25%. Another, goal H-y, introduces flexibility to the general zoning code: studios and one bedroom apartments count as 0.5 and 0.66 units, respectively, and parking minimums are decreased given that many low-income residents are carless. This opens the possibility of a one-acre, three story apartment building with 59 studio apartments or 37 one-bedroom apartments – still less than what such a building could normally support in the absence of density maximums, but far more than what Tiburon would otherwise allow.

This is far different from the approach taken by Novato, which had an incredibly contentious mark-up period for its Housing Element. Novato tries to encourage nonprofits to build affordable housing projects on vacant lots scattered throughout the city, building concentrations of poverty among the market-rate, single-family detached homes. Tiburon’s plan would encourage mixed-income developments in already high density areas, concentrating people where they would do the most good for the town.

At least, that’s the theory. Unfortunately, only one available and earmarked site is downtown, at 1555 Tiburon Boulevard. Granted, it would be wonderful infill development. Built on the site of an abandoned supermarket and its parking lot, the site would be immediately accessible to the town core, two bus lines, and the Blue & Gold Ferry to San Francisco. Other sites would likely strain the town’s infrastructure. The Reed School site is almost a mile from the ferry, putting it out of easy walking distance to the town’s primary transit feature, while the Cove Shopping Center site is hardly accessible to transit at all, save those bus lines. The remaining sites examined are already zoned for market-rate housing that moderate income families can afford.

Despite problems with siting, the Tiburon Draft Housing Element presents a good way forward. Especially exciting is the change to densities, potentially opening a new market for developers that would otherwise find studio and one-bedroom apartments impossible to build in the town. It dovetails well with plans to improve downtown vibrancy, which calls for more housing in the commercial core. Still, it remains to be seen whether the plan will be any more effective in adding housing than the last Housing Element. No matter, though: the next element is due in just three years.

Tiburon’s Draft Housing Element will go before the Planning Commission on January 11.  You can find the document on the town’s website.

Mid-Week Links: Popup Surprise

A group of retailers are moving into abandoned storefronts in Old Downtown Oakland in an effort to revitalize the neighborhood in a concept called Popuphood.  The idea of pop-up stores, where abandoned storefronts are temporarily occupied by retailers, is not new.  They attract foot traffic to areas that don’t see many pedestrians and shoppers, giving a run-down neighborhood new buzz and new life.  Applying it to a whole neighborhood, with multiple storefronts, is a much larger application.  Check it out at 9th & Washington.  If you’re going by transit, the nearest BART is 12th Street Oakland City Center, which you can get to via GGT to Richmond or San Francisco.


  • The Novato Design Review Commission chairwoman resigned mid-meeting to allow a downtown strip mall to proceed without her approval. (IJ)
  • Last night, Novato debated food trucks and Hanna Ranch. No news as of press time as to decisions made. (Novato Patch)
  • Lucas Valley: George Lucas’s proposed Grady Ranch development drew fire from local residents at a Marin County Planning Commission hearing on the subject. (San Rafael Patch; IJ)
  • Golden Gate Ferry is now on the winter schedule, cutting a couple of trips per day. (IJ)
  • Marin County’s controversial tree-cutting proposal for West Marin has been scaled back. (IJ)
  • Last night, the Corte Madera Planning Commission heard details on the WinCup development and Nordstrom’s expansion plans at The Village shopping center. The WinCup development was told to push for more sustainability measures. (Larkspur-Corte Madera Patch; IJ)
  • Anti-chain Marin may end up with a Subway shop in downtown Mill Valley.  One commenter: “Declasse”. (Mill Valley Patch)
  • Ross is demanding that an extraordinarily wealthy family fulfill its obligations to the town and remove a fish barrier in Ross Creek on their property.  The creek is a spawning habitat for steelhead trout. (IJ)
  • At long last, the Novato Theater is under new management that plans to reopen the downtown theater to the public. (IJ)
  • The ongoing controversy in West Marin regarding oyster fishing in Drake’s Bay may be a moot point if former Assemblyman Bill Bagley is right and the operations are already legal, per action in the 1970s. (IJ)
  • Sometimes a coffee shop can stir up quite a bit of trouble: Peet’s wants to open up shop in Tiburon but faces opposition from residents who claim the coffee niche is already well-served by local stores.  The town’s Planning Commission will discuss the issue tonight at 7:30. (IJ)
  • Some bloggers have uncovered a marvelous bike map of California from the 1890s. (Grist)
  • The Marin County Board of Supervisors spend the most per-capita on office expenses of any comparable county in the State: $2.7 million. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • It’s been a banner week for biking in the Bay Area, with plans for a multi-use path over the Bay Bridge, new bike lanes in Sonoma drawing praise for calming traffic, and new bike infrastructure in Napa. (Chronicle, Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register)
  • California’s shifting demographics means shifting housing demand, too, with 75% of it being for rental, transit-oriented development – just the sort of housing Marin has been reticent to approve. (Urban Land Institute)
  • San Francisco’s performance parking isn’t working quite as well as expected, although the experiment is far from over. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • Cotati is in far better shape than other cities in the region, with a balanced budget, restored programs and active revitalization efforts for downtown and elsewhere.  You can see its signature roundabout plan in action. (Rohnert Park Patch)
  • A Napa cyclist is in a coma after being struck on Thursday.  He was in a crosswalk when he was hit by a 70-year-old driver. (Napa Patch)
  • Americans aren’t nearly as attached to their cars as people think, as research shows a strong connection between transit mode share and gas prices. (The Atlantic Cities)