Top 10 Planning Pitfalls

Top 10 Planning Pitfalls

Planning Toolbox Planning is a highly complex topic. This complexity can allow progression towards an outcome that may not be in the best interests of a city. This guide is designed to alert elected officials to areas that may be subject to pitfalls if the right questions aren’t asked.   Elected Officials, Planners & Advisory Committee Members Should Always Remember… You live in a bubble, surrounded by expert advisors who may benefit from receiving grants or progressing agendas for other groups and interests. It is your duty as a public servant to make the effort to get outside this bubble and understand residents’ genuine viewpoints. Advocates routinely attend meetings (sometimes they can be paid advocates, or attendees giving the appearance of support may be financially incentivized) Paid lobbyists routinely attend meetings Residents rarely attend meetings, they are busy and getting on with their lives Residents are trusting you to represent and serve them Residents outnumber advocates and lobbyists hundredfold Residents hold the votes to get you re-elected Top 10 Planning Pitfalls Mayors, councilors, planning commissioners and advisory committee members can increase their effectiveness by understanding common planning pitfalls, and knowing what questions to ask… It Reduces Greenhouse Gases – So We Must Do It to Save the Planet The word “sustainability” has become a mechanism for seeking unquestioning approval. We are confronted with facts that can be misleading about car emissions being the greatest source of CO2 emissions for the town or city that we live in. What is overlooked is that the car usage is what 98% of people use to get around – to work, school, shopping…...
Disenfranchised by an Ecosystem

Disenfranchised by an Ecosystem

Many residents attend community meetings objecting to high density housing near transit – yet find themselves facing highly organized, well-funded opponents who have controlled the conversation for years – before the residents ever showed up. These groups helped usher in designations of many Bay Area neighborhoods as Priority Development Areas – hot-spots where 80% of new housing growth is targeted by Plan Bay Area. While residents would learn of neighbors wanting to build kitchen extensions, somehow our elected representatives overlooked telling us about far more radical development plans. Finally when residents did show up to voice their concerns they found themselves either dismissed as a nuisance as anything from “johnny come latelys”, to being labelled as NIMBYs and racists. The outcome despite a near 10 to 1 ratio of high density opponents to proponents is that fast growth and high density is going through in the Bay Area. In Marin, where the author lives, the following has occurred: Civic Center in San Rafael is going to be turned into a 5-story Northgate City metropolis. Its “Transit Town Center” PDA designation signals MTC’s target to pack in 7,000 housing units within ½ mile of the SMART train station where there are currently only 1,165 units. (Read this MTC guide to understand PDA designations). Update: Through a multi-year opposition by hundreds of residents, including the author, this Civic Center PDA designation was finally rescinded in September 2013. It will be revisited in 2016. Marinwood and Lucas Valley face absorbing 546 high density housing units. This has the potential to cause significant impact on schools – it is estimated to place a burden of...
Fighting High Density On Our Terrain – A Force Multiplier

Fighting High Density On Our Terrain – A Force Multiplier

Maybe Marin’s supervisors are thinking that voters have memories like goldfish and they will soon forget about the 1,111 unit Housing Element that pushes for extensive high density development. But given the supervisor’s actions perhaps the reverse is true. The supervisors have delayed discussion of the Strawberry PDA just to the point where people will be starting to cast their votes as Supervisors Arnold and Adams seek re-election. Officials Promoting High Density – An Endangered Species Looking back, elected officials backing high density have rapidly started to disappear – they’re almost becoming an endangered species. In the Marinwood Community Service District election they were completely displaced. In Corte Madera David Kunhardt failed to win a seat. In San Rafael outspoken high density advocate Greg Brockbank, a well known name and former vice mayor, lost his race. Meanwhile a complete unknown who opposed high density, Randy Warren, came out of nowhere to nearly winning a council seat. For each dollar spent Randy won almost double the votes of other candidates (detailed analysis in my article here). Opposing high density is a FORCE MULTIPLIER in any election capable of DOUBLING the effect of campaign funds. Fighting in High Density Terrain When Ill Equipped with the Facts The supervisors seem to be unaware of the facts of either transit-oriented development (which doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions or solve transportation issues in suburban areas) or that they will be fighting on our terrain for this election. This coming supervisor election will be all about the high density housing that supervisors are pushing on voters – voters finding themselves completely disenfranchised by special interests. To oppose this here’s what we all must do: 1....
Let’s Build a Trolley – For the Sake of Nostalgia

Let’s Build a Trolley – For the Sake of Nostalgia

This morning I sent a letter asking to know why the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) is continuing to entertain the Marin Trolley, a project covered in a recent Marin Voice Independent Journal op ed. I sent this to TAM Executive Director Dianne Steinhauser, Marin Supervisor Kinsey, San Rafael Mayor Phillips and Corte Madera councilor Diane Furst who are all on the TAM executive board. Is the Marin Trolley Likely to be Viable? I asked why TAM is continues to invest taxpayers money in the Marin Trolleys project when even a cursory review reveals that this project would fail to achieve the stated goals: It claims to reduce traffic congestion when review of a similar trolley project in Anaheim demonstrates it will more than likely increase traffic. It claims to reduce emissions; it does so only at a prohibitive abatement cost per ton of CO2 that is not even close to being cost effective. It’s confusing to understand how $100,000 has already been spent when even a cursory review demonstrates that the project is highly unlikely to achieve these stated goals. One might question – is this expenditure going to a truly neutral party that is making an assessment – where it has no involvement in the outcome? (e.g. architecting housing that would be along the line, designing the trolley, managing the project, etc…). Analyzing Trolleys I am no transit expert, but in a short period of time using a spreadsheet was able to surmise that this project is not close to being economically effective at achieving its stated goals. Claims to Reduce Traffic Congestion but Actually Increases It Streetcars are typically 67 feet long – about...
AB1537: A High Density Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

AB1537: A High Density Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Susan Adams and Marc Levine are advocating Assembly Bill 1537 as the answer to Marin’s high density concerns and asking residents to put their support behind it. Supervisor Adams informs me that she is the primary author of this bill. Supposedly, if enacted, AB 1537 will change the default density for Marin from 30 to 20 units per acre. Sounds great, right? But the more I dig the more I think the supervisors and Levine may be pulling a fast one on residents – by supporting AB 1537 we may actually increase densities and have little or no impact on reducing densities of new developments. AB 1537: Upzoning Disguised as Downzoning Densities There are existing apartment buildings and land areas zoned at under 20 units per acre.  AB 1537 effectively upzones these properties – but this is not being clearly disclosed to us. We are being given the impression that AB 1537 will result in an across the board reduction. AB 1537 Doesn’t Affect Existing Sites Like St Vincents & Strawberry While Supervisor Adams reassured me that once AB 1537 passes the default of 20 units per acre is restored, she confirmed that the sites identified in the current housing element with their higher densities would remain. Supervisor Adams dismissed that this would be an issue as residents could simply work to ensure the next housing element reduces this number (which will only address a tiny 114 incremental units – the element that just passed was the mother of all housing elements at 1,000+ unts). Supervisor Adams stated that any project in the interim would surely be denied due to ferocious community opposition – well we’ve seen just how broken that process is....