Why the Larkspur City Council Should Immediately Reject the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Larkspur Station Area Plan.
(Not-So) SMART, A Tale of Waste Fraud and Abuse:
To begin with, I think the City of Larkspur got it right the first time when it rejected the idea of extending SMART to the Larkspur Landing. SMART was a generally terrible idea when it was first proposed and nothing in the interim period has improved it. The great expense of the system could have been used to provide a viable public transit system that would have served the needs of all the people living in Marin and Sonoma Counties. This is turn would have created the logic to have built connecting bus networks with both Napa and Mendocino Counties. Imagine being able to reliably go from Fairfax to Boonville or Saint Helena without needing a personal vehicle in a comfortable state of the art bus, like the ones Google uses to ferry its valued employees to their HQ.
Just the cost of the extension of SMART from San Rafael to Larkspur Landing (estimated at $20 to $40 million) would be sufficient to purchase a fleet of 50 forty-passenger luxury buses, which could ferry 2,000 people each day to and from San Francisco or the Golden Gate Ferry Terminal at Larkspur Landing. Multiply this number by 20 (the investment in SMART) and you can see how stupid SMART really is.
The existing rail right of way being used by SMART could have provided a two lane dedicated expressway for just this kind of service, making for an all day, everyday opportunity for all people, be they workers or tourists, to travel up and down at the same time the Highway 101 corridor to the major destinations along the route. Given that bus fares, as opposed to either rail of ferry fares, cover over half the cost of the service, this system would have been economically viable without the persistent need for additional government grants to keep it alive.
Instead, what did we get? We got, SMART, is an old technology diesel train running along a one way track that will carry very few riders to a very limited number of destinations at a very great cost, a cost that will have to be borne by the taxpayers of Marin and Sonoma Counties for the indefinite future. It was and remains a truly DUMB idea. The principle benefits of SMART will be shared by four distinct sets of people. First, the government workers at the Marin County Civic Center, who live up North, and will be conveniently dropped off right near their place of employment; second, the bureaucrats that are living high off the hog managing the project; third, the manufacturers and contractors that are actually making the physical system a reality; and fourth, the biggest beneficiaries will be the real estate development interests that will earn fortunes building massive amounts of high density housing, as mandated by ABAG/MTC Regulation 3434, around each of the SMART station stops.
Yes, there are the ordinary passengers, but these are being syphoned off the existing Golden Gate Transit bus system. Few if any of these people are likely to be giving up their personal vehicle usage to ride SMART. They will probably be low wage workers that will switch to SMART from the existing transit modes they are currently using if SMART is cheaper. So, to hide this fact, or to make SMART appear more successful than it is, fares and fare subsides will be arranged to accommodate and encourage them.
One thing is certain, SMART will operate deep in the red for its entire lifetime, precluding more rational use of scarce public funds. It is a benefit to the few at the expense of the many. SMART is the triumph of special interests over the general interest. It was brought into existence by a relentless promotional campaign and continues to propagandize itself at the public’s expense. The lack of conversation on its existence speaks to the core of corruption, ignorance and cowardice in our local political environment. SMART epitomizes arrogance of power, wastefulness, and the inability of elected officials to admit they were ever mistaken.
With the coming advent of the driverless car with point to point individualized passenger delivery, who will be able to justify the whole paradigm of fixed rail passenger transit in the future? The answer is, only those making money off it. It is a creature of the past, a throwback to another era.
In light of the above, nothing relating to SMART should ever be encouraged. This includes any future sales taxes to bailout its future failures or its dreams of expansion. This also includes any support whatsoever for its expansion in the Larkspur Landing area. It is bad enough that its station location will reduce parking for the Marin Airporter, a truly great locally serving business that provides an invaluable service to all of us living in the County. However, tapping the taxpayer for more funds to try to invent and construct a means of getting the few people using the train to and from the Ferry Terminal just adds insult to injury. It portrays a complete lack of sensitivity to the need for economy in the use of the public’s hard earned money. On this basis alone, the LSAP DEIR should be scrapped, but there is more.
Choking on Traffic, Traffic, Traffic and Yet More Traffic:
Looking at the traffic analysis of DEIR, one finds it glaringly deficient concerning the impacts the intense development scheme envisioned in the LSAP will have on the already extreme traffic congestion on Highway 101 and the negative environmental and economic effect this will have to the people who need to use this roadway in their normal course of living or business. Not only is this impact underestimated, it goes uncalculated. It is dealt with using the kid gloves of vagueness and obfuscation. This well-known problem, which affects all of us in one way or another, has no mitigation at the present time, or any mitigation expected in the future.
The question is not whether the build out encouraged by the LSAP will make matters on Highway 101 and Sir Francis Drakes Blvd. worse, but how much worse. Will we go from stoppages of 2 to3 hours a day to stoppages of 3 to 4 hours a day? Will we have stoppages that range up to 5 or 6 hours a day, or until transit of all types (buses included) in the corridor comes to a complete halt, making life impossible for people living in the North Bay? Already, local businesses are suffering. How much more suffering must they endure? What effect on the mental health of our community will this have? What of the high blood pressure this will surely cause, not to mention the people left stuck in traffic having to breathe all the exhaust fumes of the cars, trucks and buses idling alongside them?
This grim, un-mitigable picture is nastiness itself. The planners at ABAG/MTC have no right damaging the health and welfare of the people of our community, while they attempt to imposed their agenda on us. Already, it has hurt the people of Marin. Just look at the anxiety of the hundreds of Marin citizens, who turned out in mass to protest the proposals in the LSAP’s DEIR. This whole sad affair is hurtful and unnecessary. The Larkspur City Council has the power to prevent this by rejecting the LSAP’s DEIR.
Is it not fascinating how a new verb has entered our local vocabulary, “wincupping?” The one positive consequence of the otherwise odious high density development on Tamal Vista Drive in Corte Madera is that its existence has alerted the people of Marin to what the bureaucrats and developers have in mind for us. It stands as a living expose of their vision of the future, one that we in the County overwhelmingly reject. Seven hundred people turned out to speak to this violation of their sensibilities on May 22nd at the Hall Middle School in Larkspur. It is clear that the citizens of Marin want the Larkspur City Council to reject this DEIR. This begs the question, is democracy still alive in our County? This is a profound issue, not to be dismissed.
At the core of every successful, happiness-producing society is an abiding faith in the culture’s institutions. This extends particularly to the manner of governance. Is our government of, by and for the people? Or, is our government of, by and for the special interests, the bureaucrats, the politicians, the money interest, or self-important academics indulging their penchant for social engineering and grant grifting? If so, rejecting the LSAP’s DEIR is a powerful opportunity to push back and do something very important for our society. Doing so will send a message that will be heard far from the confines of Marin. It will say that the people count for something more than the occasional ballot cast in our largely meaningless elections. It will say that we are not just doltish apathetic consumers, trapped in mindless materialism, but that we have feelings and wishes that deserve respect from our elected officials and all those employees of the government, whose generous salaries and benefits are made possible by our hard work and sacrifice.
Are we obligated to rescue generalized categories of imaginary people living somewhere far away, theoretically helpless, supposedly needing our assistance to improve their lot in life? I think not! I certainly do not feel any shame in living in Marin County. Neither do I feel any shame in the graceful way we here have chosen to live. We are by no means perfect, but there is a reason people look to Marin with longing and with some amount of envy. Why should we destroy that which we hold precious? What ill heartedness in others calls for us to do so? What purpose (or whose) would it serve for us to surrender our hard won virtue? I think the answer to that question is obvious: the money interest, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the character-debilitating welfare industry, and the big builders and landowners.
Our community standards and the quality of life they make possible should be seen as examples of what is possible when one takes care in development, when a proper balance is struck between environmental and societal impacts, when the demand for human scale development is honored and respected. The development proposed in the LSAP’s DEIR violates those standards in the extreme. It is completely unsuitable and incompatible with the community standards of Marin. The LSAP’s DEIR must on these grounds be rejected.
Water, Water, … Where?
Due to a “freak” winter storm this year, Marin County was spared imposing mandatory water rationing. Yet, once again we have major development schemes being brought forward with scant acknowledgement of the limited water resources available from the MMWD’s watershed and reservoir system. If one adds up all the land development entitlements that have been imposed on our County by the States Community Development Agency for the next Housing Element cycle (2014-2022), we need to find additional water for over 1,000 new homes countywide. Is the current dry spell over? When will drought come again? How long will it last? What future sacrifices will the residents of the County have to endure? Is not an adequate supply of clean safe water critical to public health and welfare? I think so. I think my opinion is widely shared. What remedies does the LSAP’s DEIR speak of? Again, we are invited to trust in the wisdom of the future to solve this problem.
According to the research work of B. Lynn Ingram, Professor of Paleo Climatology at UC Berkeley, The West Without Water (available from Amazon.com), we are already living beyond our means in terms of water and are likely to face a major civilizational crisis in the Western United States, including California, due to our over development in the face of the highly variable and limited supply of this most important ingredient needed to maintain our standard of living. We are completely unprepared for an extended drought, one that would last for a decade, or more. Plan Bay Area, of which the LSAP is simply a subchapter, completely ignores this issue, even though it was brought up repeatedly at the numerous public events that were staged to get public input and approval. During this process it was made clear that all impediments to high density Transit Oriented Development were to be cast aside so that the main agenda of ABAG/MTC could roll on unabated. Their marching orders were, we must build out and up, no matter what the cost. Their ends (building more high density housing) always justifying their means (deceiving the general public).
The basic underlying theme of this type of Public (meaning Government)/Private Partnership Cronyism is that profits are privatized while costs are largely socialized. It is soft touch fascism. It is always for the “greater good,” which really means that the great get the goods. We can be assured that when the water runs out, the money interest will move on. And, as always, the bought and paid for politicians, the revolving door bureaucrats, and their poodles in the Main Stream Media, will adroitly cover their slink out of town. We the average ordinary citizens will be left with the mess, not of our making, to clean up. Anyone who has witnessed the recent Housing Element charade knows exactly how much honesty is left at the County’s Planning Department. Ask yourself, just how much honesty, transparency and care can be expected from the regional agencies, which are imposing all this stuff on our communities?
According to the MMWD, there is no new dam or reservoir construction or expansion planned for the County in the future. Federally imposed environmental regulations virtually prohibit it. The supplemental water supplies from Lake Sonoma are only viable if that reservoir has the water to give us. The water level of that reservoir has fallen very low this year and this is a major concern to the people up North. They now ask, will they be served? The same is true of the Russian River.
Given these facts, until adequate water supplies are found, we should be looking to put a moratorium on new development, as we did in the 1970s. Any new building should be scaled down infill development, built to the most water miser standards. On this basis alone, the LSAP’s DEIR with its emphasis on massive structures should be rejected.
Sea Levels and Natural Climate Cycles:
One of the greatest self-contradictions in the schemes being promoted by ABAG/MTC, and the rest of the politicians and planners promoting Plan Bay Area and its focus on Transit Oriented Development, is their oft stated concern for so-called the Climate Change (i.e. Global Warming) crisis. We are told that we must abandon our entire transportation and community development paradigm because of “catastrophic global warming.” One of the principle evils assumed to be occurring as a consequence of this purported dramatic imminent increase in temperatures is sea level rise. So, where is the bulk of this new construction going to take place? At sea level! You just can’t make this stuff up. The Ferry Terminal is right at sea level, so is the roadway to Highway 580. Highway 101 already suffers traffic stoppages during king tides, which occur at the same time that we experience heavy rains.
18,000 years ago the coast of California was west of the Farallon Islands. According to Paleo Climatologist, Doris Sloan, sea levels in the San Francisco Bay have been rising about 5 to 6 inches per century for the last 6,000 years. If History is to repeat itself, this process is likely to continue for the next 3000 years until the water in the San Francisco Bay is 15 feet higher than it is today. During the peaks of the previous interglacial warm periods, the waters of the San Francisco Bay submerged much of the area that our current human habitat is built on. Eastern Marin was mostly swamp and marsh. (Think of the shoreline up near Magnolia Avenue.) Perhaps, some mention of this would be appropriate before investing a billion dollars of additional development financing along the most vulnerable stretch of Highway 101 to sea level rise in the North Bay. (Tam Valley and Sausalito should be included in this category also.) Do these hired so-called “experts” even know any of this? Has Cal Trans any long term mitigation plans for this coming possibility, even for just the next 50 years? Is this discussed in the DEIR? Of course not!
The Baby in the Bath Water (LOL):
The last refuge for those favoring certifying the LSAP’s DEIR is that because there just maybe some useful bits of information in the DEIR relating to the circulation element in the Larkspur Landing Area, the plan should be adopted so that these nuggets of value can be retrieved from it. These purported little hidden gems are the so-called “baby in the bath water.” I would rather think of them as Trojan Horses standing there at the community’s gates, waiting for fools and traitors to invite them in. Why would any intelligent principled elected official risk the future of the County for such a paltry reward? It is because at its core the issue of certifying the LASP’s DEIR is a question of intelligence and principle. As they witness the deliberations of the City Council, the issue before the voters of Larkspur is who are the fools, who are the knaves, and which Council member(s) is/are going to stand with the people to defend the community’s interests?
As Bob Silvestri, the most knowledgeable person locally on this subject, eloquently pointed out during his recent well attended presentation at Redwood High School on May 17th, the LSAP’s DEIR is a Program EIR, as opposed to a Project EIR. Once the DEIR is certified, developers in the future could exploit its inherent land entitlements to get permits for their high density developments without much public input or approval. We the citizens of Marin would be powerless. We would be out of the decision making loop. Future Wincups at Larkspur Landing would be difficult, if not impossible, to stop.
The some members of the current City Council may have thought that these negative possibilities would not happen until their association with the whole affair had passed from memory. They could appease their higher ups at ABAG/MTC and not lose their “seat at the table” (nor their invitations to all the special events sponsored by the regional elites) without incurring the wrath of their fellow citizens. They could have their cake and eat it too. But, due to the tireless work of community volunteers, in particular Larkspur Fights Back and Marin Against Density, along with the cogent arguments put forward by Bob Silvestri, we are now clear as to the peril we are in. The concerned citizens of Larkspur need to be all in at this moment, because after this our voices will carry little weight in the calculus of development decisions. If we do not act now, we will be condemned to future silence in how the Landing Area is developed.
Completely Avoidable (But Perhaps Necessarry) Events:
The next question for the voters of Larkspur and those of us concerned with the potential negative consequences should the DEIR be certified, is what political steps and legal actions can be undertaken to undo the damage such a decision would make likely. The knaves and fools need recalling. The issue would need to the subject of a referendum. (Signatures for both the recall and the referendum could be gotten at the same time.) Additionally, a lawsuit would have to be brought forward to block the certification of the DEIR. Legal experts and volunteers stand ready to carry out these actions. Should a recall petition and its counterpart referendum be successful in getting on the ballot, it is likely that they would positively reinforce each other and pass in the general election. How the elected officials will deal with such approbation is another topic all together. However, certifying the LSAP’s DEIR is politically inexcusable.
In the end, what this whole misadventure with the LSAP’s DEIR is really about is whether there is still a place for democracy and the practice of democratic activism in our society. As one who came of age in the 1960, I want to answer that in the affirmative. If the City Council certifies this odious document and is successfully tossed out of office, a message will be sent far and wide that democracy is not yet dead in America. As the economy continues to wobble along on its current self-destructing path, as it becomes ever clearer that what ails us is the grip Cronyism has on nearly all aspects of our economic and political life, the apathy that has dominated our country for the last couple of decades is coming to an end. Here, in a most unlikely place, the small town of Larkspur, California, 700 middle class people showed up to express their displeasure at the behavior of their local government. This is beginning to happen all across the land. It is a Spontaneous Arising, a shift in consciousness. It is a very beautiful thing!
In conclusion, the members of the City Council of Larkspur have it in their power to end this needless suffering and act in concert with the sensibilities of the vast majority of their neighbors, on those neighbors’ behalf, in a good neighborly manner and vote not to certify the LSAP’s DEIR. The City Council should make haste in doing so. It needs to be put on the agenda for the second City Council meeting in June. The press should be on hand. The community activists, who have worked so hard on this issue, should be respectfully present. The City Council should thank them. Then, the City Council should toss the LSAP’s DEIR in the trash bin of local History, so that the good people of Marin County can enjoy the upcoming summer. We will all be happier for it.