.

Op-ed: Council's OK of Civic Center SMART Station Plan a 'Slap in the Face' to Public

After the City Council accepted a report on the Civic Center SMART station area plan, one Patch readers asks what is the point of hearing public comment when it is categorically ignored?

What is the point of public comment?  Specifically, the “public comment period” during advisory committee meetings and city council meetings?  One would think the point is to consider the public’s input before making decisions that will have significant impact on those most affected, right?  But this is clearly not the case. 

 Last week roughly two hundred residents of Northern San Rafael showed up at the San Rafael City council meeting (a huge turnout by any standards).  Over 90 percent of them were there to oppose the proposed development of 620 high-density, four-to-five story a 

During the public comment period, which lasted two hours, the City Council heard compelling arguments as to why they should delay approving this proposal until after they’d considered the concerns of the people most impacted by such a plan.  They were presented with petitions signed by hundreds of residents opposing it.  They were even presented with a modified proposal from Quiet And Safe San Rafael, a large group of Northern San Rafael homeowners and HOA leaders who’d taken the time to propose a compromise between the needs of the city and SMART, but also address the concerns of the neighborhoods directly affected by the proposed development. 

And yet, in the end, San Rafael City Council voted unanimously (5-0) to approve the plan with no changes - a virtual slap in the face.

Moreover, the advisory committee tasked with developing the plan over the last two years heard similar public comment at their meetings.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of comments they heard were specifically aimed at reducing the proposed development.  Again, public comment was wholly disregarded by the committee (with one minor alternative that was steamrolled by city council) and they approved all the proposed high-density housing.

So I’ll ask again.  What is the point of hearing public comment when it is categorically ignored?  I believe it is incumbent upon City Councils to be transparent by letting it’s citizens know up front that, while their comments may be heard, they will not be listened to and in the end will have no bearing on their decision making.  So much for a government, “by the people, of the people and for the people”.

Scott Urquhart

President of San Rafael Meadows Improvement Association

Richard Hall August 29, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I have to echo Scott's comments. The community is literally stymied as to how it has any voice in city planning matters. Just how is it meant to be heard? Evidently not by giving input at planning meetings or even council meetings. Can someone please listen to us, or better yet start really representing us? [Point of fact: The council "accepted" the plan, they did not "approve" the plan]
Richard Hall August 29, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Even the city's own Design Review Board was ignored when it told the advisory committee not to build over 3 storys.
Bob Silvestri August 29, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Well said, Scott.
David Edmondson August 29, 2012 at 07:08 PM
At the risk of getting flamed by association, a correction: the plan models 620 housing units but doesn't call for that many, and doesn't call for them to be affordable.
Michael August 31, 2012 at 01:35 AM
they only hold public comments because they are required to. This is a clear example of just how out of control we have allowed our government (even local) to get. If we the citizens can't find a way to get their attention now we must start work now to make sure not a single person who voted for this is elected again. How dare them ignore their employers. Who the hell do they think they are? We need to keep calling them out by name and by their actions. Gary Phillips, Damon Connolly, Barbara Heller, Marc Levine and Andrew McCullough are the ones who ignored the will of the people and did what THEY wanted to do. And please remember that the SMART train funding was finally approved (after multiple failures at the ballot box) based on false and misleading financial information fed to the voters before it was approved. Get the picture yet voters?
D. C. Beard August 31, 2012 at 09:16 PM
The council members are required to adhere to binding agreements made by the City of San Rafael to facilitate fair and equitable housing in the community. You can vote in a new council if you wish, but the new council will still be bound to the same agreements. These agreements were brought about as a result of an investigation by the HUD into impediments blocking fair and equitable housing in Marin. The impediments are none other than the people who showed up at the meeting to protest against fair and equitable housing in their community. Hence, these illegal protests against fair and equitable housing were ignored.
Bob Silvestri August 31, 2012 at 09:29 PM
The issues that brought about actions by HUD (which were also highly questionable) had nothing to do with perfectly legal and constitutionally guaranteed rights to assembly and free speech by the public. As I understand it, they were technical in nature (i.e. related to regulatory compliance) and related to the City's administration of their fair housing and affordable programs regarding their outreach to the public.
Michael August 31, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Sorry D.C Beard but since when are protests illegal in our democracy? Did Obama's group slip another illegal law by us recently? Put the cool aid down, take a step back and think outside of the box our government tries to make us live within. What we really need to do is to investigate HUD. Who do they answer to, developers? Fair and equitable housing seems to be an oxymoron in my opinion. There is nothing fair or equitable about forced socialism unless you are one of the ever growing masses living off of us dwindling few remaining taxpayers .
D. C. Beard August 31, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Marin failed to comply with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title VI and two other anti-discrimination statutes. Marin County has agreed to research why it has so few racial and ethnic minority residents relative to the rest of the Bay Area and to take specific actions to attract more low-income people and ethnic minorities to the affluent county, which is 85 percent white. The biggest battle is with neighborhood groups who don’t want new, affordable housing built near them. “Nobody wants it in their backyard,” he said, and politicians are often willing to placate them." Housing discrimination is not unknown in Marin. In 2008, the nonprofit agency Fair Housing Marin had black and white apartment hunters with similar profiles call 25 landlords who had advertised rental property on Craigslist. A third of the landlords responded less favorably to the black callers, failing to return voice messages they left. Meanwhile, those landlords offered white callers lower rent or more flexible terms, and told them about a greater number of available units. In its report citing Marin’s civil rights violations, HUD’s report noted that even among its relatively small minority population, persons of Black race and Hispanic ethnicity are largely clustered in two minority-impacted census tracts, African-Americans in the housing projects of Marin City and Hispanics in the canal zone of San Rafael. http://www.baycitizen.org/housing/story/hud-scolds-marin-fair-housing-record/
Richard Hall August 31, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Some useful clarifications as there seem to be some misconceptions: - Quiet and Safe San Rafael (QASSR), did not oppose the advisory committee's plan; QASSR quite specifically proposed *modifying* the plan. - QASSR's modification allowed for the addition of hundreds of new housing units to the area that include affordable housing - QASSR includes multiple active members who themselves live in affordable housing - QASSR has explicitly stated (e.g. on leaflets) that it is pro-affordable housing, and increasing the amount of affordable housing available The issue at hand is that the plan did not take into consideration input from hundreds of residents concerned by issues ranging from public health, traffic, parking and character of the neighborhood due to the 5-story height. Other members of the council have shared this height concern. One concern voiced by a doctor and member of QASSR was that this affordable housing was being put within 1,000 feet of a freeway overpass. Authoritative medical studies state that this proximity creates abnormally high autism and asthma rates - QASSR does not want new residents to face this avoidable public health issue. Is foreseeable avoidance of adverse health issues is a civil rights issue? (If so QASSR was advocating a modification to the council to modify the plan to respect Civil Rights).
Ralph Canine September 02, 2012 at 04:20 PM
This plan for excessive housing density near the Civic Center is part and parcel of the fight against the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). I attended two of these so-called "public comment" sessions. The meetings were phony and manipulative, intended just to meet the bare minimum legal requirement of pretending to listen to the public, when actually ll the decisions had been made in advance. The SMART train's role in high density affordable housing was concealed from the voters, and the coordination with ABAG and the MTC has alsobeen concealed. Furthermore, these out of control bureaucracies and supine elected officials are in denial about the relationship between high density affordable housing and gang takeovers. We know from the Marin Grand Jury report that Marin is targeted by violent drug gangs. The good, peaceful residents of affordable housing have every right to expect that elected officials and the housing authorities will screen tenants carefully, manage the buildings wisely, and keep the bad guys out. Neighbors near the affordable housing projects have every right to expect the same. Unfortunately, after an initial honeymoon period, often we see gradual tenant turnover and infiltration by gang members and sympathizers. Here in Novato, we've had major problems at the Wyndover Apartments and problems are growing at the lovely affordable town homes at Bay Vista Meadows at Hamilton.
Michael September 03, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Bingo!. ABAG is a farce forced on us by politicians catering to developers. I do not believe individual communities should adhere to this out of control group. To hear comments from some who actually believe communities have to work to gain lower income people to live in their communities is pure BS. Why? Do people actually believe this stuff fed to them and then forced on them by politicians? Social engineering fraud is being committed upon the taxpayers and like it or not some of us refuse to just accept this without a fight.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »