The Story of How Marin Was Ruined

Sci-fi author, Douglas Adams once talked about how an edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica fell through a rift in the time-space continuum from 1000 years in the future. What if a Patch article fell through such a rift from the year 2020?

Marin 2020?
Marin 2020?
Dec 3rd, 2020: It's become nearly impossible to commute from Novato to San Francisco. Most northern Marin commuters have had to face a stark choice between a 3-4 hour roundtrip in a car or even more on transit, while Sonoman's choices are even more challenging. Quality of life is being affected, stresses are being placed on families, more divorces are happening. People are losing their jobs or not able to reach job opportunities in San Francisco or the East Bay. Realtors have been telling people to lower their house prices to sell. 

It's affecting those with lower incomes the worst as they can't easily get to jobs - and some need to work two jobs to make ends meet, but that's not possible anymore.

The Transit Story that Never Materialized

The promised transit alternative turned out to be no more than a leap of faith where the theory was never rigorously validated. Somehow to make transit work the geniuses in planning justified it by building more and more high density housing. We found out later that Wall Street and developers had a hand in spreading those myths.

To get from Novato to San Francisco, previously a 3 hour roundtrip in a car now takes 4 hours roundtrip on transit. All the dreamlike promises of the so-called "smart" train seemed to have been overlooked:

- you had to park at the bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus left (if you were unlucky the bus was full and you had to wait 20 minutes for the next one)
- you had to wait 5 minutes at the station for the train to arrive
- at Larkspur you had to walk 5 minutes and wait 5 minutes
- on reaching the ferry terminal you again had to walk 5 minutes then wait 5 minutes

The cost of taking transit was over $35 a day, over $8,000 a year (something like $12,000 pre-tax income).

You remember the claims "SMART will reduce 101 congestion". You wonder just what happened? What could have been done to stop Marin and Sonoma effectively being cut out of commute range of San Francisco and Oakland?

You wonder how it ever was considered common sense that all this building would reduce greenhouse gas emissions when all around you you see traffic congestion and needless, avoidable emissions.

How Did it Happen?

The changes were subtle but cumulative over the years. You'd lived in your house, trusting that local politicians were doing the right thing. But not realizing that they had succumbed to a dogma of "transit oriented development", or in many cases simply "development". 

You'd heard of Plan Bay Area - but didn't know much about it. Someone once told you it was a big deal. That it opened up the Bay Area for extensive high density development around transit hubs and together with State Senate Bills removed much of the obstacles to over-development. You didn't quite grasp that Marin was almost entirely built around transit hubs once they counted the train and bus stops.

The first sign of trouble was Grafton Casino in Rohnert Park. It didn't seem like an issue - it opened in November. But that first summer day commute on a Friday evening the combination of thousands of casino goers added to commuters and day trippers really jammed 101. That night instead of getting home at 6:45pm you arrived home at 8pm. You thought it was just a fluke. But then it started to happen every Friday; other weekdays became bad.

Win Cup - the First Warning

Then there was Win Cup / Tamal Vista in Corte Madera. The 4 story 170 housing unit apartment built back in 2013 had seemed to be built for all the right reasons - it was to provide affordable housing wasn't it? The new residents would take nearby transit. It was only years later you heard it was almost entirely market rate. The local newspaper conducted a survey to discover almost all of the residents took at least 2 trips a day in their cars.

The "Coup De Grace - Larkspur Station Area Plan

But the one thing you regret looking back is not opposing the Larkspur Station Area Plan. You drove past Larkspur almost every day, sometimes you took the ferry. Back in 2013 it was just an inconvenience - a traffic bottleneck that you figured would get sorted out.

But the Larkspur Station Area Plan changed all that - defenders of the plan proclaimed it "planned nothing". But what it did was to open up the area to 920 high density housing units. The defenders claimed the new residents would all take the nearby ferry or the train. They used this to justify the removal of the 100 ferry terminal parking spots - what a mess that made of ferry parking. Now you had to pay and it was a lottery whether you'd get a spot.

Once built the change was irreversible. The extensive 920 housing units made the 180 unit Win Cup look like a small apartment block. Just like Whole Foods in San Rafael you put Larkspur Landing on your list as one of those places never to shop because finding parking was one of the most infuriating experiences you'd ever had.

As the new residents moved in the 101 northbound crawl became steadily worse. You thought about biking, but the 80 mile round trip might have seemed practical to the eco-warriors who pushed Larkspur Landing through but it was never going to work for you.

Fremont Arrives in Marin

Once Corte Madera and Larkspur had high density housing the precedent was set and the appetite whetted for developers - it happened everywhere around the Bay Area. Developers and special interests had perfected how to get development approved, removing obstacles such as cries from Marinites that their beautiful, treasured county and their small towns were being irreversibly changed.

You took a trip up to Vancouver's suburbs and Bellevue to see friends or for work - and you realized this is what was in store for Marin.

Finally you reflected - you'd really enjoyed living in Marin - but after about 2015 the place had changed. It was no longer the place you once knew and loved.

What Can You Do to Stop This?

Sadly the above fictional story is not too far from what may happen to Marin and Sonoma commuters. Instead of asking "what could I have done?" the answer is we're approaching a tipping point now. Here's what you can do:

1) Donate to Politicians Opposing High Density Housing
Someone far wiser than I shared with me last week that while our houses are an enormous investment that we treasure, and we might not think twice about spending $120 to go out for dinner and a movie, many of us don't donate to politicians to preserve and defend what we stand for. In Marin this means donate to Marin Community Alliance and  two emerging supervisor candidates - Toni Shroyer and Carol Brandt.

Both candidates need a strong body of committed volunteers - so donating time passing out flyers and calling neighbors can make a difference. They both have a big fight on their hands displacing powerful incumbents set on imposing high density housing on Marin. 

2) Sign the Petition Opposing the Larkspur Station Area Plan
Sign the online petition. But if you drive on 101, and transit or biking are not an option, then you shouldn't hesitate to add your name to defend against this ludicrous plan to add 920 housing units at Larkspur Landing.

Is this exactly how the future will play out? - probably not exactly. What do you think we should be doing about it?

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.

Pekupandropov December 03, 2013 at 11:46 PM
I'm always amazed at the assumptions people make to justify their pet project. This one seems to be that people who live in high density housing don't own cars. They use mass transit.
derrpa December 08, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Maybe you should blame the mindset of the typical Marin resident? They would rather sit in traffic in their own car then take public transit. Same for the people commuting from Sonoma, they just don't care. I think people in Marin are gonna have to take public transit soon like it or not. San Francisco hates the "car" Parking lots are disappearing as any available space has new condos or other developments being built. Marin has to and needs to embrace public transit. The other bay area counties have. Overall this post smells of remnants of an anti-smart movement.
Richard Hall December 08, 2013 at 07:51 PM
@derrpa: You need to understand how markets work. In cities sure public transit is a great solution and I would prefer it. But in the suburbs the car is convenient, comfortable and in most cases faster. Then there's also the fact that cars are much cleaner than transit, and becoming even cleaner. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ You can swim upstream and fight the fact that people like cars for their convenience, comfort and direct A>B travel; or embrace that this is why 20x more of us use cars than transit in the suburbs and rural areas.
derrpa December 08, 2013 at 10:03 PM
So your saying Bart isn't working for Walnut Creek or Concord, east bay? Caltrain doesn't work for the peninsula? I'm looking into the future and see San Francisco with less available parking for commuters(more parking meters and removing downtown parking parking lots) More commuters take public transit because they have to. With that buses come more frequent and more ferries are added to the Fleet...
Kevin Moore December 09, 2013 at 02:33 AM
The Ferrry is nearly at capacity. There is a legal limit on how many ferry trips can be made per day. This is an environmental restriction, due to the waves produced by the boats. Adding more people to the area will just force existing commuters onto other modes of transportation or their cars. People that are against the SMART train knew a bus system could have been greatly expanded for a fraction of the cost. Buses and shuttles would be traveling within Marin. The SMART train has 156 seats and leaves a station twice an hour. Do the math. On the average day 197,000 vehicles pass the Marin Civic Center on 101. If each the average vehicle has 1.5 passengers, the count is near 300,000. The entire BART system handles 400,000 per day and BART is a two track system. SMART will never have the capacity.
Kevin Moore December 09, 2013 at 02:44 AM
Derrida. You compare Marin with the rest of the bay. The people of Marin like that it is not like the rest of the bay area. It is not a high density overcrowded urban area. People look at Marin as an untapped resource to be expanded until it is just like the rest of the Bay Area. Not everyone wants to live in a high density urban zone. Building up a population is more than just adding transit and housing. Resources,,such as water are not infinite. If we overbuild, we will be forced to build a desalination plant or expensive pipeline. The water district is already the number one consumer of electricity. Then where do you build the schools to house all of the new students. This is not 1970 with plenty of vacant land. The problems of adding more people are complex, but glossed over by the big picture plans.
derrpa December 09, 2013 at 03:21 PM
What happens in San Francisco effects Marin from proximity alone. We all see the headlines and know what great growth and change San Francisco is going through right now. Lack of available housing, people are gonna live somewhere if not Marin then Santa Rosa and Sonoma County will be happy to build more housing and use Marin as just someplace you pass through on your way to the city. These people are gonna jam up 101 anyways might as well have some of them live, pay taxes, shop and dine out in Marin. These new high density units attract demographics(young professionals) that we are lacking greatly in Marin. Kevin and Richard are fighting the inevitable. These posts have become sad pleas of help to prevent smart trains from running through Richards backyard. I kinda feel sorry for you guys and hope you end up making some logical decisions, perhaps moving somewhere else?
Ron Pimentel December 10, 2013 at 01:09 AM
derrpa. Why do you think everyone who drive in Marin commutes to San Francisco? Am I supposed to put my tools and materials on a Golden Gate Transit bus. As far as attracting young professionals from SF, I don't want those hipster douchebags here.
Kevin Moore December 10, 2013 at 11:57 AM
*affects. People can understand overloading a boat, a car, an airplane. Figuring out the capacity of the ecosystem or infrastructure is harder to analyze. The current plans mainly focus on building more housing and some transit solutions. No one is looking closely at the details. Water supply, schools, and other infrastructure. They get mentioned in passing. This is a developer's dream. Minimize costs, build it, sell it, count the money. Let the locals fix the problems. ---------- SMART is a done deal from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, possibly to Larkspur if they get the funding. I'm not fighting that. I am fighting to make sure the details are being addressed. How many housing units can be added before the streets are gridlocked. Where are you going to build the new classrooms. (Land isn't cheap or as available as in the 70's) -------- I saw so many people get suckered in by the Housing Boom. "I want mine". They didn't look at the long term. What happens when that 2% teaser rate expires. Who in government was looking out for citizens? No one. "Building was good for America". We got suckers, they took the money. Then came the implosion. --------- Mark Luce, the president of ABAG stated that you can't build in affordability to Marin Housing. It will always be expensive. If you think adding a few apartments will bring down costs, you are wrong. People from all around the bay area will bid against you. Meanwhile, commuting will get worse. We don't have BART. We don't have the population to support BART. If they build to that goal, Marin will be like San Jose. --------- The real solution is to get companies to build more satellite offices outside the "San Francisco Mother Ship".
Clayton Smith December 10, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Kevin: In my opinion, the reason companies do not build satellite offices is because enterprises, which are that large, are highly bureaucratized and the principle activity in a highly bureaucratized organization is politics. Not being at the center of things is contrary to a employee's career prospects. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ A thought on the ferries. As I remember, there was controversy when the GG Bridge District bought the current ferries some years ago. The idea was to buy ships that go get to and from SF much faster than the older ones then in service. So they got these costly crafts that were designed for service elsewhere. But once put into service, it was noted that they churned up the Bay's sea bed, wrecking the fragile environment underneath. So, they were told to slow down. An expensive mistake! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ At a meeting in Santa Rosa last month, the manager of the bridge discussed the district's deployment of luxury express buses to get commuters from Sonoma County and Novato to SF. These would have upgraded seats, Wi-Fi and bathrooms, enabling professionals to better utilize their time going to work. So, now we have two public agencies, SMART and the GG Bridge District, competing for the same market. Since SMART doesn't really get you "there," I think the winner is pretty much a forgone conclusion. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ In a more rational world, the bridge district would buy out SMART, tear up the tracks and replace them with a two lane expressway from Cloverdale to the ferry terminal in Larkspur. Then they could buy some barge like ferries, which could accommodate these express buses and take them anywhere up and down the Bay, where upon arriving they could drive off the barges and take their passengers directly to where they need to go. On the weekend, these same buses could do the opposite, taking people from the various locations around the Bay out to the countryside and small towns in the North. Such breath taking rationality is completely improbable given our current spate of rail fetish. ++++++++++++++++++ The driverless car offers some hope down the road. So does internet enabled ride sharing, which could go a long way to better utilizing the limited space on our roadways. But in the end, nothing can completely compensate for the number of people that the government seems determined to locate here. We will congest until the standard of living for all but the wealthiest and politically connected collapses. The world of freedom and hope that we were born into is rapidly giving way to fascism and despair. However, that is a very big conversation, filled with its own controversies.
derrpa December 10, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Kevin, some how I don't believe you... It is where your band of merry men have been picking fights... Rose Lane development? Or how about the the guy that wants to build six identical three-story houses on a grassy hillside dotted with oaks and madrones adjacent to San Anselmo’s Sorich Ranch Park(in san anselmo patch)? The Martha Property in Tiburon?... There continues to be plenty of new housing being built on lots that has been creeping westward further into open space that people of Marin really cherish... These single family homes most likely will use huge amounts of water to keep lawns green, pools etc...
Richard Hall December 10, 2013 at 05:41 PM
@Clayton - so the bridge is going to run these luxury buses? As you mention these actually get to places people want to go, such a superior solution. I strongly agree - rip out the SMART tracks and have these buses run the length of the line... and then onto where people actually need to go - San Francisco, SFO or Oakland. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The obsession with rail however is way too strong. They know it can't be easily ripped out or diverted; and the nostalgic draw combined with the lack of grasp of facts around emissions and transportation preferences has led us to this dire situation.
Kevin Moore December 11, 2013 at 12:28 PM
@derrpa You will find the pro-housing people consider building out Tiburon's Easton Site 6 as "in fill housing". It is pretty obvious that putting houses on large lots will use up water, but not a peep from them. In fact one housing advocate stated that is part of capitalism. I have commented that while the Tiburon site is close to bus transit than the Lucas Valley site, there are zero affordable units in Tiburon and 100% affordable units in Lucas Valley. So much for integrating the economic classes. http://www.co.marin.ca.us/comdev/housing/docs/Environmental_Review_sites_list_2012.pdf
Michael D. Smith February 15, 2014 at 03:43 AM
I agree with derrpa. San Francisco is going to become less and less car friendly and as it does folks in Marin will wonder why they allowed themselves to stay stuck in the dark ages. We lived in Vancouver B.C. very similar to San Francisco in density and available land. As people within the city got sicker and sicker of the bridge and tunnel crowds cars the city just made it near impossible for outside folks to drive in. Parking spaces are almost non-existent and if you can find street parking you better not let the meter run out because they will tow you within 5 minutes and I"m not exaggerating. Tow trucks roam the streets. We had a downtown parking space we owned and we sold it for $100,000.00 U.S. dollars. Two years later I'm told it would go for $150,000.00. San Francisco isn't going to be interested in making accommodations for Marin's lifestyle and ego.
derrpa February 18, 2014 at 03:31 PM
Thanks Michael D. Smith! Glad to see someone knows whats going on! Richard states Marin is nothing but a suburb all the time! A suburb of San Francisco! I'm on curbed SF every other week and see all these new developments and high rise condos being built over all the commuter lots south of market! Ed Lee is pushing for faster growth! All the lots are going to disappear at an accelerated pace by changing zone or whatever they can to build more. People will have to take public transit because San Francisco will demand it! I'm for high density in Marin! There has been plenty of new construction in Marin all the time! We just don't see it because of the mcmansions being built up in the hills. Plenty of remodels that have doubled square feet. The high density gets so much attention because its visible to everybody. So I see it to be unfair so discriminate against apartments and let single family resident construction get no heat from these people. Especially when they bring up water etc...
Michael D. Smith February 19, 2014 at 09:18 PM
Don't despair derrpa. This mindset that seems to be pervading Marin is short lived. San Francisco is enticing the tech companies into the city. As more and more take up office space within the city instead of south of the city, Marin will become more of an option for these younger, progressive mindsets. They will sell their stock options and buy homes in Marin and that will start changing the demographic quickly. This demographic is going to want more density, not only because of housing demand but because they are going to also demand a more progressive lifestyle be afforded them. Marin also has the room for real estate prices to rise that will also make it appealling. With tiny houses in the city now starting to approach 2 million Marin is going to actually look like an affordable option for these high wage earners. You mentioned that you keep up with Curb. Well, they featured a 1,100 square foot, post-war dump the other day sitting on a meager 2,700 square foot lot in Palo Alto. The list price was 1 million. It went into a bidding war and fetched 1.6 million. 1.6 million for a tear down and a tiny, 2700 square foot lot. Even the children who grew up in Marin and are now young adults that can't afford to live here don't want this anymore. Marin is going to basically have 2 types of lifestyles to offer. If you are VERY rich you will have a big house on a big lot. If you are not, you will be living in higher density. You'll be able to have your Marin lifestyle but either you will pay dearly for it or you will have it in North. Far, far North!


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