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The Pressure's Off Under One Bay Area Plan

Under Plan Bay Area, Marin will grow much more slowly than it has historically, though you wouldn't know it from the plan's critics.

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 "non-growing' 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 nearly 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. You might as well kiss the Marinite way of life goodbye.

That’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 the state, 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. Little ever gets built anyway.

So Marin will likely grow faster than Plan Bay Area projects, will likely be required to plan for 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. What we have is a sensible plan to focus growth away from the suburbs and towards the region's major hubs in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. Under Plan Bay Area, the pressure's off Marin, and that's not a bad thing.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Susan Clark May 17, 2012 at 03:39 PM
http://youtu.be/sLqs_ph_8wA
David Edmondson May 17, 2012 at 03:51 PM
The AH list is just zoning - Bob Ratto can do what he wants with the property within the scope of the zoning. The problems come when the city comes with eminent domain to uproot his home or property for affordable housing, or when he can't do what he planned anymore because it's against the new zone. It's the problem with zoning, and why I don't like RHNA to begin with. I just don't like it for different reasons than most opponents, and I don't hate ABAG for it. SB375 isn't just affordable housing. If anything, the impetus is to put market-rate housing near transit alongside affordable housing - mixed income communities work better, and for-profit AH developments actually pay taxes, unlike the nonprofits.
Tired May 17, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Susan, Please watch something other than Fox news and you will see this "Agenda 21" conspiracy theory is a complete farce. Relax, anyone can still live in a suburban, single family McMansion and drive a hummer if they want. But for our children's sake, some of us prefer a lifestyle that requires less driving, and is lighter on the earth and we should have some of those options also.
Tired May 17, 2012 at 04:25 PM
David, the City of Novato mentioned on many occasions, in all their public meetings when asked that they have no authority of eminant domain in regards to AH. Thanks for your excellent piece! Some people will believe their own version of reality even if the facts are contradictory, but at least it will help others who are confused about the issue have a better understanding.
Bob Ratto May 17, 2012 at 04:39 PM
...and some of us actually don't think it make sense for a City to put our properties on a "list", without notification, even "for our children's sake"
Tina McMillan May 17, 2012 at 05:53 PM
David We are talking about the fundamental choice of where one lives as if it is now controlled entirely by state mandate. As a native Californian that thought terrifies me. I cannot believe that when Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB375 into law that he intended it to have these consequences. The idea that future generations of Californians will not have the right to choose where they live in relation to where they work is Kafkaesque. The pressure is not off, we do need to be concerned about One Bay Area, dictating our right to live a more rural or suburban life. Take a look at San Rafael for starters. San Rafael is the poster child for One Bay Area. Infill development was Bob Brown's major accomplishment during his tenure as the community development director. San Rafael is the only Marin city to have priority development areas (PDA's). It's also listed on local crime reports as a city with comparatively high rates of crime. Many of the other cities listed are either urban or have large populations. Increasing human density in urban hubs to save the planet from greenhouse gases is an oxymoron. http://docs.cityofsanrafael.org/CommDev/Planning/SAP/Downtown/DTSR%20SAP%20Public%20Review%20Draft.pdf http://www.localcrimenews.com/stats.php http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ca/san-rafael/crime/
Tina McMillan May 17, 2012 at 05:54 PM
continued We need to make our legislature accountable for the laws it creates. SB375 is being used in a manner that restricts individual rights. It needs to be modified so that it is clear that local planning is not controlled at the state level. There are many ways to incorporate affordable housing into rural and suburban communities. Let us choose how to build and then let the people choose where they want to live. If more people want to live in cities and urbanized areas then they will make that choice but if fewer people want a human density model of city planning then the market, and not the state, will dictate what is built.
David Edmondson May 17, 2012 at 09:20 PM
I'd love to have a free market for housing, just like I'd love to have parity of funding between all modes of transportation. What I'd rather see is a moratorium on road widenings, fast-tracking bike lane installation, zoning overhauls to allow a real free-market in real estate (no more parking minimums, no more required amenities, form-based zoning), BRT on Highway 101, bus priority on the east-west corridors, and mixed-use zoning for our malls that allows retail to stay but also allows owners to build housing if they want. I have no doubt that the free markets would create more apartment buildings like Wincup given the huge demand mismatch when it comes to multi-unit dwellings. What SCS will do is bring at least the regional aspect of this - grants and RHNA - in line with what I just described. The local aspect is still all the same, and you can continue to live in your single-family home. Regarding crime: it's not density that does it, it's the lack of people on streets. When was the last time you strolled down Second? Spent some time on Irwin? If you're like me, you haven't in years and years. Crime thrives where pedestrians don't go, and pedestrians don't go where there is zooming traffic, narrow sidewalks, and barriers that say "No Crossing". That describes downtown San Rafael perfectly to me. I know many districts in cities that are 45 units per acre that are absolutely safe, and the difference comes when ppl are invested in the street.
Susan Clark May 18, 2012 at 01:45 AM
@Tired: Fox news or not, this video http://youtu.be/sLqs_ph_8wA is a clear discription of what our government is up to regarding Agenda 21-Sustainable living. Government is forcing a way of life most don't want or need. You must ask yourself what their master plan really is. Everything we do today in government is a direct result of Agenda 21. Do you understand the harm that's being done to humanity. Our Government needs back off!
Roger May 18, 2012 at 03:19 AM
David, I would rather have my home and its big backyard taken by the City via eminent domain than by what is happening now where the City just zones a site as dense AH so I can only sell it to a few developers that want to build AH there. If I have to sell it for whatever reason, I have a very small pool of potential bidders to up the price. I might have to take a low price like $100,000. Ouch. At least with eminent domain I would get market value by law. Look at the new dense condos in downtown Novato above Whole Foods. Why didn't they sell? Owner tried and tried but had to go lease them all. Your idea did not work in Novato. Why?
Tina McMillan May 18, 2012 at 06:35 AM
David Not everyone can ride a bike. I work with people who have autoimmune and environmental disorders chronic pain and disabilities that make your image of a perfect world much less than perfect for them. Your assumption that you understand city planning at such a detailed level leads me to believe that you have skin in this game. Whether it is a commitment to a green ideal or the idea that Marin can mimic the Netherlands I don't think you are taking into consideration the diversity of factors that affect crime in our community. We have a heterogeneous population responding to multidimensional issues. More people walking on Irwin is not enough to change the impact of crime in San Rafael.
Tina McMillan May 18, 2012 at 06:35 AM
continued Regional agencies lack the checks and balances to be given control of planning. Look at the recent attempt by MTC to purchase a building in San Francisco rather than continue their presence in Oakland. MTC's use of funds is being questioned by the state. They still moved ahead with the building purchase. They are immune to regulation from above or below. You act as if these agencies have the best interests of the public in mind. The exploitation of SB375 is part of a larger picture. At least by focusing on a local level you can better hold government accountable for its actions. If you believe regional agencies can be trusted then you have not done your homework. http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_20577443/states-lawyers-call-mtcs-building-purchase-improper-opinion
David Edmondson May 18, 2012 at 06:43 AM
My idea is a balanced Marin, not a high-rise Marin. Millworks didn't work at first because the property owner thought demand was for condo sales, and it's not; the demand is for rentals, and Millworks filled up when they converted. I checked about six months ago and it was still full. It works in Marin, even in Novato. As for zoning: I'm not as up-to-speed with the intricacies of Novato's zoning code, so I can't comment on the specifics. What I can say is that the city shouldn't limit your options to 30-unit-per-acre development, nor should it create zones exclusively for affordable housing. You should be able to sell it to a single-family-home buyer or a developer.
David Edmondson May 18, 2012 at 06:59 AM
Of course not everybody can ride a bike - that's why there are cars, taxis, electric wheelchairs, segways, buses, ferries, and trains. I want MORE people to walk or bike, not ALL people. I'm convinced that a major factor in San Rafael's crime problem is the relatively dead pedestrian environment on Second and Third. It's not the only factor - I'm not trying to write a treatise on the subject in the comments - but it's a big one. Though it's cliche, pick up "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". It deals with exactly the issue of eyes on the street and crime. How do you define "skin in this game"? I'm interested, I'm an activist, I have a guiding philosophy, if that's what you mean, but I'm not a developer, government employee, or secret agent of Agenda 21. Re: the building purchase - it was a bad investment from the start. None of the other agencies wanted to move from Oakland, and most of MTC's employees live in Oakland or near BART. The purchased building is further from BART and other transit. I don't trust these agencies; I trust individual projects. MTC's building purchase was bad; the SCS is flawed but good on balance; RHNA is foolish and should be abolished or significantly reformed. My opinions aren't monolithic or absolutist.
Roger May 18, 2012 at 01:48 PM
David, you are wrong. Millworks was a loser. The owner recently sold it for much less than what it cost to build. When condos have to be leased because they couldn't sell in a good market years ago, you have to admit it does not work in Novato. San Rafael has a more active downtown, and maybe that draws some type of buyers to live there. The taking of individuals' land via AH zoning is a state mandate. Novato's housing element has to go to the State in 8 months, and it has to have sites listed for a certain number of AH units at a specific high density. Do you know the details of those State mandates on cities and counties? That is what upset many long-time Marin residents.
David Edmondson May 18, 2012 at 02:45 PM
The state through RHNA mandates that Novato a) Zone for 30-units-per-acre housing, and b) Demonstrate that it will make a good-faith effort to encourage affordable housing development. The zone is not an affordable-housing setaside, though they do need to make it inclusionary. Novato is not bound to create uniform zones like that as long as it demonstrates the capacity and encouragement. Rezoning the land so it can only be sold to developers is not the state's mandate. My understanding is that so long as the city shows the capacity and the effort, it's good. Millworks converted to apartments in 2009, hardly a "good market" year, and Novato is at the suburban/exurban fringe for the Bay Area market, making real estate there especially vulnerable to market shifts when there's not a walkable center (such places held their value far better than drivable places). The article on the sale lists it as 98% occupied. I'm not sure why they sold it for only $67M, but when it happens in DC it's because the developer did something wrong, not because the market was bad. One can't write off a concept based on one project. If you could, then you'd find New York City a jumble of strip malls and single family homes.
Demosthenes May 18, 2012 at 04:24 PM
David, You could be a secret agent of Agenda 21 and not even now it. That's how deep the conspiracy is.
Tina McMillan May 18, 2012 at 04:52 PM
David I think the premise of your article is flawed. You don't understand what drove the movement by individuals and neighborhoods in Novato to look more closely at city planning, why it is so important to maintain choice in where and how we live and the level of corruption and misguided ignorance of the regional agencies as to the impact of the One Bay Area Plan. Skin, means an investment in a specific outcome. I took the time to read your blog, your linked in profile and other articles. Your beliefs come across in your writing. In my case it is that I have lived, raised a family and worked in Novato for 30+ years. I don't have aspirations to become a politician or to move out of Novato. My skin in the game is the realization that we do not have adequate funding for our schools due to a lower property tax base and though we have buildable land we can't take on a higher percentage of nonprofit housing without raising the taxes of property owners who are all ready struggling. The argument that sales tax makes up the difference for lower property taxes or that government subsidies are enough to compensate per pupil funding are wrong. The cuts to Novato schools and to county programs in health and human services have been draconian. The only solution is to live within our means or risk the same bankruptcy that Vallejo and Stockton now face. You make light of people's concerns by calling them "pure nonsense." It makes you seem inexperienced and foolhardy.
David Edmondson May 18, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Reliance on sales taxes are part of the problem. Nonprofit housing is another part of the problem. Another part is the fact that Novato doesn't charge residents enough nearly enough property tax to cover the services they require (a problem of such low densities) so they need to draw from business taxes to make up the shortfall. Another part is the vagarities of the housing market so far from the City. My problem with the kind of narratives I call "pure nonsense" is that they aren't based on facts but on emotion. The assertion at the crux of the argument - that Marin isn't growing - is false. If Plan Bay Area's opponents want to make a fact-based argument they ought to use actual facts, not impressions. "Nonsense" to me is something that dresses up impressions as facts, and that's what I read and see time and again when this kind of thing comes up.
David Edmondson May 18, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Regarding the concerns about character: I understand, believe me. The last thing I want is for 20-story buildings to go up in San Anselmo. We need to have a conversation about what constitutes small-town character, though. Is it a strip mall? Regular mall? A thriving downtown, or a 6-lane arterial? Do the able-bodied have a chance to bike? Can you walk to a restaurant, or is it better to drive? I'm asking because I think we do have different ideas about what makes a small town feel as wonderful as it is. My concern for Marin's character is tied up in the arterial, the parking lot, and the strip mall, but perhaps you're not concerned about those things.
Roger May 18, 2012 at 07:45 PM
David, "taxes aren't nearly enough," you say? You must pay a small amount. California has one of the highest taxes of any state. Perhaps just too many freeloaders here. I thought you said you like free-market systems. Lots and lots of AH handouts for people making $60,000/ yr seems like a low priority to me compared to cutting jobs for cops and teachers.
David Edmondson May 18, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Novato residents pay only a fraction of the cost needed to maintain the city's services; the rest comes from businesses, the state, and the feds. I like free-market systems, but those are sustainable. The low-density development Novato specializes in isn't sustainable.
John Parnell May 18, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Tina - You can thank Steve Kinsey for that $180 million MTC building, which was just found to be an illegal use of our toll funds. As the board chair of the MTC Finance Committe, Mr. Kinsey was instrumental in that purchase. You can also thank Mr. Kinsey & Judy Arnold for illegally diverting $8 million of our road funds last year to SMART with the TAM bailout. That doesn't seem as significant, until you realize that it was about half of our Measure A tax dollars (which are explicitly forbidden to go to the train). It's interesting to see our local leaders complain about these unelected regional agencies, while they are the ones on these boards making the very decisions they criticize when they put on their other hat.
Bob Ratto May 18, 2012 at 08:58 PM
David Careful of stepping out on the budget ledge, as you likely do not have sufficient knowledge of the intricacies of Novato's budgets (and there are many, as the budgets lack even a modicum of transparency). Novato has sustained itself as a city for only the last 50 years, despite a few egregious missteps along the way, and undoubtedly more on the way. Perhaps, we can take your idea and encourage, say, Apple, to invest capital in a new experimental village you can run, we can call it Foxconn West, perhaps?...we can live in barracks, and if work is scheduled correctly, we can have three people sharing a bed, entitled to 8 hour shifts, that way we can get good productivity, and claim even more taxes from workers, who will have limited opportunities to spend wages earned doing factory shift work...kidding, sort of
Roger May 19, 2012 at 12:30 AM
David, your view of "sustainable" may conflict with the Constitution. You say you like free-market systems, but no developer is going to build another Millworks type dense housing in downtown Novato when the first guy "lost his shirt"....unless government handouts are given. There was no demand then for buyers to pay the full real cost of the building. Are government handouts sustainable and worth the society benefit? You want to be the judge of that determination, I bet. The public already decided when they walked away from buying any of those condos.
Tina McMillan May 19, 2012 at 03:38 AM
John Parnell Thanks for reminding me about Kinsey's role with MTC. In a recent article he said his primary mistakes while in office have been SAP and Pension Funding. It's reassuring to have the list grow longer. Diane Furst is his opponent in the June election. After 16 years of Kinsey it's time for a change.
Mari May 19, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Mr Kinsey is not looking our for all of us - he is looking out for the people who contribute to his campaign. One example this ill advised million dollar slab for Evergreen Ave. Residents have offered an alternate plan to improve sense of safety for all who use Evergreen - while keeping our neighborhood's semi-rural character intact. Mr. Kinsey stated that he wants the Evergreen sidewalk project to go forward and will accept the $900,000 from the Safe Routes to Schools fund (despite the fact that residents pointed out LIES in the grant application that was awarded the funding) to "benefit the seniors" in Homestead - and to "recoup the money County has already spent" thus far on a design that was created without adequate community input and goes against the TAM Plan, even though Marin County's budget has a surplus! http://www.change.org/petitions/no-million-dollar-slab-for-evergreen-ave
Rico May 20, 2012 at 03:00 AM
David, most of those vast tracts of new identical houses in the east bay are projects that went bankrupt before they were completed. I have seen some of them. It is very sad to see resources wasted, sitting unfinished, rotting. Schools were built, shopping centers built and fire stations built, not be used probably in our lifetime. And 622 "housing units" per year built in Marin in the last 10 years ? Where might that be ? It was in Novato and surrounding unincorporated areas in north Marin, where 99 percent of all the growth in Marin has been in the last 10 years. When you write about "housing units", you are not referring to single family detached houses, you are talking about condos, apartments and town homes. The development in Hamilton added around 5000 housing units, the development on Ignacio Blvd. added hundreds more, and on Redwood Highway in Novato added hundreds more. Guess what, all that growth up in the north bay was not thought out very well, there are some jobs up there, but most of those new people commute down 101 every day. So, then you have all the other commuters from Sonoma county complaining about all this new traffic on 101. ABAG should get out of the promoting of the long commute business, and put more pressure on the cities that are doing all this growing to focus on eliminating the need for the horrible long commute syndrome.The one Bay Area plan is blind to the real problems, and only perpetuates their demise.
Marilynne L. Mellander May 21, 2012 at 06:17 PM
See video of the totally out of control ABAG/MTC joint Commission meeting held last Thursday in Oakland at the downtown Marriott Hotel...many dissenters, crowds of attendees kept out of small "Junior Ballroom"....a total breakdown of representative government Video: https://vimeo.com/42525834
Kevin Moore May 22, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I lived a half block off of Evergreen Avenue for 11 years. The sidewalk plan is a bad idea that will ruin that area. That street is narrow and this will just make traffic worse. Seems like $500 of paint could create a walking corridor. Can Marin do anything for under $500,000? The bus stop in Marin City seems like another waste. Watch people continue get robbed there as contractors collect their fees. Not a single security camera installed. As well as the $800,000 "showcase" 680 trail. 800k for a 3 mile trail? Just crack the checkbook.

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