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Civic Center SMART Design Raises Concerns Over Building Height, Housing Density

A group of North San Rafael residents is currently collecting signatures to oppose the design plans for the land near the Civic Center SMART train station.

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North San Rafael neighbors are heading to the City Council at the end of August to oppose building heights and housing density plans for the development of land around the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Civic Center station.

Building heights for residential and mixed-use housing near , the Redwood Highway and east of US-101 could increase to five stories, according to the Civic Center Station Area Plan, a community vision for land within a one-half mile radius of the planned Civic Center station which is funded by the Association of Bay Governments and is part of the San Rafael planning process. The height coupled with a proposed increase of 44 housing units per acre has some residents worried that the development will clash with existing community of low-rise single-family homes.

"This housing is out of character with the area," said Richard Hall, who lives in the Vista Marin neighborhood near where the station will be built.

Hall and other homeowners in the area recently formed a coalition called Quiet & Safe San Rafael to oppose the height and housing requirements and address other concerns, such as quiet zones, traffic and the environmental impacts on the nearby open space.

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Hall decided to form the coalition after a July 25 public meeting on plan, where he said many residents believe their feedback was ignored by the Citizen Advisory Committee overseeing the design.

“This recommended plan's inclusion of five-story, high-density buildings is being presented as if residents are in support of the plan when nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

The coalition is currently circulating a petition asking for a revision of the plan. As of Aug. 8, 120 signatures were collected.

Many challengers believe the added housing density will increase traffic in the area and make conditions more dangerous for bicyclists and drivers.

"I live a block away from the Civic Center. North San Pedro Road and Civic Center Drive are busy enough as it is without adding more housing projects up the road," Stella Pereira wrote in support of the petition.

Vista Marin neighbor Jonathan Artz frequently runs on the roads and trails through the area and said that added traffic from the housing could put bicyclists and runners in danger. He also believes that the density and height suggestions contradict the rural landscape Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned when building the Marin Civic Center.

"People come out from all over the place to see the Civic Center," he said. "This development will change the whole area."

After two years of meetings to develop the Civic Center's station plan, Citizen Advisory Committee member Jeff Shopert was surprised to hear that community members felt like their feedback was ignored.

"I have no doubt there are people who disagree with the plan. But I don't know on what this feeling of being ignored is based," he said.

The density increase was intended to pave the way for more affordable housing units in San Rafael and the five-story height proposal is meant for mixed-use residences zoned for new retail stores and businesses to move in on their ground floor.

"I support affordable housing," Hall said, "but this is not the right place for it."

Opponents will be attending the Aug. 20 City Council meeting to present their concerns.

“We look to the city council as our elected leaders, to hear our concerns, and incorporate them in a meaningful way,” Hall said. “That’s simply not happening, and the results could be devastating for our communities.”

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Kevin Moore August 12, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Marin has added a lot of homes, and employment has gone down. There use to be many small and medium sized software companies, now there are a few. The distance to Silicon Valley it too great. Establishing an industry in an area is like poker. One of a kind doesn't work well. Having several of the same kind in the same area allows movement of employees and more than one shot at employment. The "Field of Dreams / Build more houses and the good jobs will come" approach does not work. Stockton and Las Vegas would be awash in good jobs if all it took was more housing. Talented people are not going to move here on the hope jobs will follow. Stanford , San Jose State, and Santa Clara are the resources that help create Silicon Valley. Businesses migrate to good local resources. Those universities churn out talent. If Lucas had wanted to build near the freeway, he would have been welcomed with open arms. He chose a location that required a lot of work to a creek. It's too bad, but the blame on that deal going bad goes to many parties, including Lucas.
Kevin Moore August 12, 2012 at 02:47 AM
One of the worst intersections in San Rafael is Frietas Parkway off-ramp and on-ramp on the Civic Center side. Even with the Merydale overpass, it is an accident waiting to happen. Seeing broken glass there is a weekly occurance. Before the Merydale overpass was built and the on-ramps changed an SRPD officer told me that 3 intersections in San San Rafael account for almost a third of all traffic accidents. Irwin street has a bad track record, which is why it has red light cameras now.
Valerie Taylor August 12, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Richard, I honestly don't think that yours is the majority opinion. We all tend to surround ourselves with and get validation from those with opinions similar to ours ( myself included). Pulling up to the 10,000 foot level, higher density housing in the area near the station, and the Civic Center is a pretty good idea. Five stories between 101 and Los Ranchitos is probably a boon to those east of the highway as a sound barrier. Again, please read the studies of the travel habits of those who choose to live near regional transit. That being said, I agree that adding traffic to CC Drive by putting station parking on the west side is sheer madness, and building any housing that the planners themselves wouldn't live in is not what we want either.
Rico August 12, 2012 at 04:55 PM
It is interesting to see so many people who grew up in a large metropolitan area on the east coast move to Marin, they live in a condo on the freeway up in the north bay, or in an apartment on Second St. in San Rafael, or in a condo on busy S.F.D. Blvd. at the edge of Fairfax. The find a good job in S.F., commute by bus each day to the city, then come home. That is the only Marin that they see and know, and they have never seen or been to 90 percent of Marin. They are the ones advocating all of this high density infill development and commute trains from Sonoma county. Living without a car is a great concept, and living in a high rise apartment building might work for some people for a little while when starting out, but to raise children there would not be very desirable for most, unless they are from the east coast.
derrpa August 12, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Marins residential housing is composed of probably 80-85% single family homes.... Is that the only housing type that should be allowed in Marin??? And you have numbers that show people in apts or condos don't ever venture out of their homes???? Your whole comment is a joke.... how can you be that inebriated at 9:55 on a sunday......
Lizzardking's Rise August 12, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Thank you Kevin for answering my question. That intersection is utter mayhem! And it's sad to see senior citizens trying to navigate their way through it--some even stop while exiting into this trinity of fear only to hear the blast of a horn from the car behind them. One time I took a cab home and the cab driver, a really tough looking dude who drove a cab in New York, and he said that this intersection terrifies him. What? Was it Free Style Day the day the engineers/architects designed this intersection?
David Edmondson August 12, 2012 at 10:15 PM
And do you see how people are supposed to get to the bus pad? BY CROSSING THE ONRAMP. Awful, simply awful.
Lizzardking's Rise August 12, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I was for the Lucas project, but this issue is not the same at all. All I can say is look around at all the empty commercial properties with lease signs. Terra Linda is starting to look as ghostly as the Marinwood Shopping Center. Putting in more housing where there are no jobs would only add to traffic congestion and that freakishly horrific intersection at Freitas Parkway exit on the northbound side of highway 101. I love choo choo trains as well as the next dude, but all this idiotic planning which has gone around it makes this a Not-so-Smart Train.
Rico August 13, 2012 at 01:13 AM
It is funny to see so many city folk from the east coast lament about their wonderful subway train systems and compare Marin to the east coast. They are always ranting and raving about how efficient the subway systems are, how 10's of millions of commuters use them each day, and how the underground stations are so slick. I have an idea, PUT THE SMART TRAIN UNDER HWY 101 ! The east coast urbanist transit promoters would pay for the construction and maintenance, but the business community, public agencies and north bay commuters would pay too for the years of traffic delays on 101 while they install the SMART train line under the freeway. Of course, the train cannot be powered by diesel because it is underground. So, my plan is to power the electric trains with solar panels built above 101, all the way from Healdsberg to downtown San Rafael. The light blue colored solar panels would hide the ugly freeway from people who live in the hills. It would also help mitigate the noise problems, but most importantly, it would keep the rain off of the freeway, making it much safer. And in the summer, it would shade the freeway, reducing the need for air conditioning and saving fuel to boot. With PV array of that size, there would be extra power left over after powering the train to power electronic signs, traffic signals, and public buildings. Of course, it would still need to be tied to the power grid. Forget about the new apartments, Marin does not need them at all.
Rico August 13, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Hey Valie, Put the station underground at the Civic Center, like they did with with the jail. There is plenty of parking in the area near the corporation yard. That is a dirt lot now, but if they put in the SMART station at that location, they can pave the top for a new parking lot for the hundreds of commuter that will ride SMART at 15 MPH to downtown San Rafael.
David Edmondson August 13, 2012 at 02:19 AM
35 MPH, actually. The slow segment will be from SR to Larkspur, which will take an agonizing 9 minutes at, yes, 15 MPH. The Christmas Tree lot, which is where I think you mean, will probably become a permanent Farmer's Market under county plans.
Rico August 13, 2012 at 03:14 AM
David E. The Smart train had a $25 million + tunnel to go to above east Larkspur, but that is not in the current plans. There are many hoops and hurdles just to get the train to downtown San Rafael. The major one is the rebuilding of Puerto Suello tunnel that runs from near the Civic Center to upper Lincoln Ave. in San Rafael. I remember back in around 1963 when there was a massive fire in that tunnel, and a firefighter was killed fighting it. The tunnel was sealed off back then and will take untold millions of dollars to rebuild, something that the North Bay Train Officials did not disclose when sending Prop Q to vote. The 15 MPH limit as for now is only on the section from the top of Lincoln Ave. down to the proposed station in downtown San Rafael, the rest of all the SMART train line is limited to no more that 40 MPH the whole length. A real slug compared to driving. I saw David Shonnbrunn on Marin TV spitting mad about the 15 MPH limit along Lincoln, he said that that would deter people from riding SMART !, I think that this time he was right. And David E., have you checked out where they built the sound wall in that section ? Instead of building it between the freeway and everything else like the train and ped/bike path, they built it between the bike path and the train, exposing the residents to the train noise. They did this because they did not want the commuters whizzing along at 65 MPH to see the SMART train crawling along at 15 MPH. Politics.
Rico August 13, 2012 at 03:19 AM
The point is, they should have built the sound wall between the train line and the residences, but they didn't because of politics and the embarrassment of the slug of a train. Why build a sound wall if it won't protect the nearby residences from sound ?
David Edmondson August 13, 2012 at 04:25 AM
I'm just going on the plan as written. It might be 15 MPH after Puerto Suello, but the plan is a 4.5 minute ride from Civic Center to downtown. I suspect another wall will need to be built between residences and the tracks, too. California law requires a certain type of barrier for a certain speed, and it would be in SMART's interest to do a wall to speed through that segment. Caltrans (here's some foolishness) moved the tracks but didn't upgrade them, meaning SMART has to rebuild what Caltrans had to dismantle and move when they expanded the freeway. If, however, FRA regulations regarding quiet zones and grade crossings have something to do with the speed, then there's a whole different fish to fry. Where'd you get the 40 MPH stat? The IOS has an average speed of 43 MPH, including stops, and the system's top speed is 79 MPH.
Lizzardking's Rise August 13, 2012 at 07:08 AM
Valerie, man, with all due respect, in the neighborhood I live as well as at least 4 enjoining neighborhoods which are in the vicinity of Autodesk and the civic center, homeowners are all unified in their fight against this kind of development. There is a huge grass roots campaign against this type of development, so while Richard might like to hang out with people who share his love of Rush (the rock group, not that right winged, fat assed, whacked out radio personality) he isn't trying just to hang with people who agree with him on over development in this area, it's just happening naturally. It's kind of like how the turtles at the Civic Center agree with the ducks about the Canadian Geese--they just gotta go.
Lizzardking's Rise August 13, 2012 at 07:10 AM
Ricardo, great idea. I love it. And because I love it is the very reason why it will never happen.
Rico August 13, 2012 at 04:16 PM
David E, I read that the diesel trains are capable of getting up to 79 MPH in the flats, but, since the Smart train will mainly run through or near cities and towns in Sonoma county, and there will be stops, the trains are limited because of proximity to residences and streets to no more than 40 MPH. There is also the Santa Rosa creek bridge that needs millions of dollars in upgrading to allow for any faster than 40 MPH. Also, there are quiet zone laws (a quiet diesel train-what a joke), that I forgot what the limit is, but I think it is around 25 MPH. Keep in mind that when a diesel train stops to debark and embark passengers, it takes a long time to get up to speed again, it is not like an electric train. Those engines on the SMART train are pinners, not much stampeding horsepower, my little car probably has more power than those diesel trains. So, Lionel Gambill was wrong when he said that the SMART trains would go 90 MPH. Think about it, riding a SMART train with all the stops and slow speeds, is going to double the commute time from Santa Rosa to San Rafael compared to driving a car. Most cars can go 90 MPH, but because of speed laws, it is best to keep it below 70 MPH (unless there are no CHP planes in the sky and cruisers in sight). The people got tricked on this SMART deal, (if it ever does get built). Either way, the taxes are here to stay.
David Edmondson August 13, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Oh yeah, they'll slow down for the cities by there's a lot of space between them, too. I'm going off the expected travel time of 50 minutes for downtown Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael, about 37 miles. That includes station stops, waits, and starts.
Michael August 13, 2012 at 05:29 PM
SMART's board will continue to present any information they deem fit. Reality will be something else I think. No way a train will make it from Santa Rosa to SR in 50 minutes. No way, but nobody cares as we have been duped into more taxes whether we like it or not. Another example of out of control, unaccountable government. SMART's manager, Mansurian, exemplifies the arrogance of our government today. Remember we will be paying for all of their nice retirement benefits while we taxpayers will need to continue to work in order to pay the bills.
Richard Hall August 13, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Continuing on a theme it should be renamed the fast and SMART train.
Rico August 13, 2012 at 07:10 PM
For my proposal for the under grounding of the SMART train and electrification project, there will be strict labor agreements. 1) All prime contractors for the project shall have their home offices in Marin or Sonoma counties. 2) All workers working on the Marin section shall reside in Marin county-no exceptions, and the same for the Sonoma county sections, all workers must reside in Sonoma county. This is extremely important because many contractors charge travel time and mileage for their workers to travel out of area, but most often do not pay the workers for all travel time (if any). This is to prevent the taxpayers from getting gouged, and also tho help ensure that the workers of each county are guaranteed the jobs without competition from workers who live out of county and work for cheep. 3) All workers will be certified journeyman electricians (IBEW), equipment operators and engineers (Operating Engineers) , drivers and laborers (Teamsters) being paid top step prevailing union wages for their trade-no exceptions. A few apprentices may be allowed if close supervision and training is provided as part of a State certified apprenticeship program. That way the public will not be fooled by the politicians who say that they adding jobs. A job that requires a worker to travel on their own time , work for peanut wages ($12 per hour) , receives no benefits, is treated like dirt and ordered to do unsafe cost cutting things is not even considered a job.
Kevin Moore August 13, 2012 at 07:52 PM
SMART's website shows a time of 55 minutes from Santa Rosa to San Rafael. I think that is idealistic with no problems. Much like the driving time is 44 minutes with a clear road. Trains need to slow down for: stations, boarding/offloading, north/south bypass by other trains (at stations mainly), bridges, car/bike/pedestrian crossings, grades, and curves. The stations are all about 10 miles apart, some with car crossings that will require reductions in speed. I wish SMART would publish the expected speeds for each section of track.
Nicole Ely (Editor) August 13, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Thank you everyone for your comments. Although it was clear to me, I realized that I failed to clarify in the story that the station area plan is part of the San Rafael planning process for the surrounding land around the station. I updated the story above to make that more clear. Thanks everyone for your feedback.
Kevin Moore August 13, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Thank you for this article. It is a wake up call for the people of Terra Linda. Many people vote, assume politicians will do what is best for them, set the snooze alarm for the next election. Now we need to be constantly vigilant for the changes that are being made on our behalf.
Kevin Moore August 13, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Honestly, the debate over building SMART is done. It is being built. However, I still believe SMART does not have the carrying capacity to effectively reduce traffic on 101 in any significant measure. As I said before SMART is a show piece / sales tool for new development, much like the Disneyland monorail, but we are paying for it. The infill housing will max out the SMART carrying capacity before any existing residents can board. All of my in-laws are developers and they have moved out of Marin as there are few lots to be developed and the water capacity was crippled back in the 70's when Marin turned down being part of Lake Sonoma. Game over for massive expansion. More water from the north? Sonoma almost went on water rationing a few years ago. That leaves the expensive and environmentally unsound desalination plant option. I don't trust our government to NOT build more housing units than our water supply will sustain, nor build more housing units for a county that is not growing jobs. Permits will excede the local capacity, then the political excuse, "Well promises were made and we have to honor them" will be used to overbuild the area. Then we get desalination plants and our water bills soar even more. Overbuilding residential units does not fix a recession or improve a local economy. Or did you sleep through the Bush years?
David Edmondson August 13, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Kevin: Thanks, I was using the downtown-to-downtown time, as I hadn't seen the updated north Santa Rosa station's travel time. That published time does include the slow-downs and stops. I'd love to see the slow-downs for each segment. Having a list of the slow segments will help me and others advocate for a better program. Now, we can only speculate on some of the more technical pieces of the puzzle.
Rico August 14, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Kevin, Did you know that the Disneyland monorail is a fake monorail ? It runs on rubber tires, the monorail is for show only, it is just a common bus with fancy skirting. And how about those mag-lev trains ? So far, there is only a small test line in Germany, but no commercial mag-lev exists to date. And I agree with you, overbuilding does not fix a recession or improve the local economy. All it accomplishes is to pad the wallets of politicians and developers, at the peoples expense being a diminished quality of life for everyone, not just the sad sacks who get suckered into migrating to these noisy, cramped, dirty and dangerous shared wall buildings that the developers want to slap up anywhere that they can get away with it. Also, it was not Marin turning down using the 400,000 acre feet Lake Sonoma , it was a monetary thing. The big trick with measure V in 1991, was to get the people of Marin to pay for a pipeline in Sonoma county that would only go to Novato. The MMWD already had an intertie in place to Novato in 1981, that is what allowed for the big boom of development in Marin.The officials actually got measure V passed, under the stipulation that it would only be done if Marin needed more water. But Marin was completely built out without the extra water, so measure V was never done. Imagine if the ratepayers of the MMWD got suckered into paying for a pipeline in Sonoma county only to serve development in southern Sonoma and Novato. Thank goodness for that.
Kevin Moore August 14, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Hi Ricardo, Actually, all three monorails I have been on Disneyland, Las Vegas, and Seattle run on rubber tires. I think that is part of the desirable design. Rather than steel on steel, which can be very noisy, rubber on concrete can be quiet. But that is a side note. My point is SMART is a nice feature to build around. I don't view it as a via way to reduce traffic on 101. My father in law, who was a Novato developer for decades, blamed the Lake Sonoma deal for creating a limited water supply in Marin. It could be the pipeline issue as you said. How is it Bolinas can stop issuing water hook ups and the rest of Marin treats water an an unlimited resource? Once we go over the limit, we will be forced to install desalination plants. So much for the "green planning". I will have to attend the next meetings and see exactly what is being planned for Terra Linda. I really don't like the "Build 5 story buildings or else" ultimatums. I choose "else". There are no more lots to create more sprawl. It's an empty threat.
Bill McGee August 14, 2012 at 07:26 AM
Ricky - good to see you have not lost any of your confidence. I also can't help but notice you remain very loose with the facts. Of course the Disneyland Monorail is not fake. Monorail means single rail and has nothing to do with rubber or tires. I see you are also spouting your ridiculous SMART train MPH speeds. LOL you have thrown around so many different figures around over the years, none that carried any resemblence to the truth, that you have confused yourself. Now tell me again the width of the tunnel and how this was a big scam / consipiracy/ coverup and trains and bikes won't even fit in the tunnel? I did enjoy reading your latest underground train fantasy piece and the terms of the labor mandate you would employ if you were annoited king Ricardo. Nicely done thanks for the chuckle.
Rico August 14, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Hi Kevin, I agree with you, I don't think the SMART train will reduce any traffic on 101, but is just a venue for the creation of projects like the one in this thread. You are right, the MMWD service area is already built out, if not overbuilt. But there is still some room left up in north Marin and Novato is not in the MMWD, they get 80 percent of their water from the SCWA, and the rest from Stafford Lake. That is why your relatives were concerned about the pipeline from Lake Sonoma. Lake Sonoma is the largest reservoir in the greater bay area, it holds over 400,000 acre/feet of water, and although the SCWA uses a small amount of it in Sonoma county, the developers have been salivating over a new pipeline down to Novato for years. But your relatives developing in Novato still have managed to do very well building in Novato, even though the ratepayers of the MMWD did not have to fund their pipeline (thank goodness). Novato is still booming, while the MMWD service area is all boomed out, we had our last big spurt of growth during the 80's and 90's, but most of central and southern Marin was built up in the 40's and 50's' We now have a water surplus in the MMWD, but have not much desire for train oriented developments like 5 story apartment building built on the freeway.

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