Did you know that Civic Center in San Rafael is being
blackmailed by Plan Bay Area into accepting being a Priority Development Area (PDA)? Unless it accepts high density housing then there won't be a bike and pedestrian
path alongside the SMART tracks as promised to voters by Measure Q. Perhaps blackmail is too harsh a
word – you be the judge.
What Did Measure Q Promise Marinites for Our 1/4c?
In 2009 Marinites voted on and passed Measure Q which clearly states not in the small print, but in the measure’s statement:
“Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District be authorized to provide … a bicycle/pedestrian pathway linking the stations…by levying a 1/4-cent sales tax for 20 years, with an annual spending cap, independent audits/oversight”
Turns out we were sold short. Something wasn't disclosed. We
only get the bicycle / pedestrian pathway if we let Civic Center remain a
Priority Development Area. Residents were never really properly consulted if we wanted Civic Center to be a PDA in the first place and there's strong evidence demonstrating this decision was never properly thought through by the city council.
The Civic Center Station Area Plan is the first step towards implementing the PDA. It proposes an additional 620 housing units in 5 story buildings both sides of the freeway turning Terra Linda into a Northgate City.
MTC’s target for the PDA is for the area to have 3,000 to 7,500 housing units packed into a 1/2 mile radius around Civic Center station according to page 18 of MTC’s station area planning manual. Currently the ½ mile area around Civic Center representing the Priority Development Area has just 1,165 housing units – so we’re talking about a doubling or quintupling of the number of units in the area, or no bike and pedestrian path.
How Did this Happen?
SMART didn't just shorten the line, it appears to have unilaterally decided that it would break the promise made to Marinites by Measure Q and that it would not use it’s 1/4 c sales tax funding to build the promised bike and pedestrian path. Instead this duty was deferred to others – namely the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) who in turn turned to Plan Bay Area’s OBAG grants.
The estimated cost of the bike and pedestrian path at Civic Center Station with appropriate connections to the Civic Center campus is $2.4m. This TAM / OBAG grant application document exposes that TAM turned to MTC’s OBAG grants to source $1.9m of the required $2.4m. Plan Bay Area is providing $10,028,000 over the next 4 years to Marin through these OBAG grants. The document makes it very clear what’s needed to qualify for these grants stating:
"Priority Development Area (PDA) - TAM must program at least 50% of OBAG funds to Priority Development Areas (PDA). A project lying outside the limits of a PDA may count towards the minimum provided that it directly connects to or provides proximate access to a PDA. "
With Civic Center and Marinwood PDAs removed this would leave the funding tenuous and based on the remaining downtown San Rafael “City Center” PDA which targets 5,000 to 15,000 units that proposes high rises appear in downtown San Rafael based on the tables in MTC's Station Area Planning Guide.
A Caveat – Are These Just Enhancements to the Path?
Conceivably these bike and pedestrian paths may be supplemental to the promised bike and pedestrian path running besides the train line. Judge for yourself, here is the text describing the project taken from TAM's OBAG grant application summary:
1) A safe path of travel for pedestrians and bicyclists connecting the SMART station and the Civic Center Campus between Merrydale Overcrossing / Scettrini Drive and Judge Haley Drive; and,
2) Class II bike lanes. Signalization or roundabouts are being analyzed to provide safe pedestrian access to the Civic Center Campus and surrounding employment centers. Improvements consist of new 8 foot wide sidewalks, drainage, curb and gutter, class II bike lanes, landscaping, lighting, traffic signalization (with interconnection to Merrydale Overcrossing/Scettrini Drive) , or roundabout, at Peter Behr Drive and a reservation for a future class I bikeway conforming to the City of San Rafael bicycle master plan for long term improvements"
The Train, PDAs, Plan Bay Area and High Density are Clearly Tied Together
So many times we've been told that SMART and high density are not tied together. And we were promised a bike and pedestrian path alongside the train tracks – possibly a reason for many votes for Measure Q - we’ll never know. Now we know – they’ll give us our bike and pedestrian path, but only if we accept Plan Bay Area’s requirement for Civic Center to be a PDA.
With SMART rumored to be over-budget there’s also the risk that SMART can’t complete without enough Marin PDAs. Sure it’s local control, but can you really call it that when Plan Bay Area is holding a funding gun to the head of local officials? If they don’t deliver the PDA then local officials break their promise on the bike and pedestrian path.