Plan Bay Area 2040: More Theatre or Genuine Outreach?

Plan Bay Area 2040: More Theatre or Genuine Outreach?

[Originally published in the Marin Post on June 1st 2016] This Saturday, June 4, starting at 8:30am an Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s public workshop will review an update to Plan Bay Area – called Plan Bay Area 2040. The venue is Corte Madera Community Center at 498 Tamalpais Drive. This time around ABAG/MTC are presenting us with three scenarios to choose from: Main Streets Scenario places future population and employment growth in the downtowns in all Bay Area cities. This scenario would expand high-occupancy toll lanes and increase highway widenings. It would also assume some development on land that is currently undeveloped. Connected Neighborhoods Scenario places future population and employment growth in medium-sized cities and provides increased access to the region’s major rail services, such as BART and Caltrain. It would place most of the growth in areas that cities determine as having room for growth, with some additional growth in the biggest cities. There would be no development on open spaces outside the urban footprint. Big Cities Scenario concentrates future population and employment growth within the Bay Area’s three largest cities: San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. Transportation investments would go to the transit and freeways serving these cities. There would be no development on open spaces outside the urban footprint. When you want to control the outcomes a great method is to limit the choices. All three likely pack in the same number of new residents (this is not yet clear). There may be some redemption in scenario 3 for Marin, but the growth still gets packed in the region somehow… Here’s an...
In the Heart of the High Density Housing Echo Chamber

In the Heart of the High Density Housing Echo Chamber

Sometimes the best way to deal with an adversary is to go behind enemy lines and find out what they’re thinking. So today, together with Susan Kirsch, I attended the ABAG and MTC hosted event “Calling the Bay Area Home: Tackling the Affordability and Displacement Challenge” at the Oakland Marriott. The Marriott is an impressive venue, attendees were provided with muffins, cake and Starbucks coffee for breakfast and an assortment of lunch boxes – this was no Plan Bay Area public meeting. Our regional transportation and housing planning bodies, MTC and ABAG had truly rolled out the red carpet for this select audience. While not up to Oscars standards, in regional political terms the cast was star studded. The north bay was well represented with Jake Mackenzie, ABAG vice chair and Rohnert Park Vice mayor resplendent in a Famous Grouse rugby shirt just in case his strong Scottish accent was insufficient to drive home his characterful identify. Also in attendance were Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey, Napa County Supervisor and former ABAG president Mark Luce, Novato Mayor Pat Eklund and supervisor candidate Susan Kirsch with whom I carpooled to the event. So Where’s ABAG’s Forum for Homeowners? What Susan and I found most remarkable was how special interest groups of affordable housing advocates and developers had their own dedicated forum laid on at a 4 star hotel. Where, we asked, was the forum for the other major stakeholder – the homeowners and residents whose taxes paid ABAG and MTC’s salaries and office rent? Where we asked was our forum also paid on our dime – the one that might be called “Calling...

The Flawed Concept of “Workforce Housing”

Listening to the Marin County Supervisors we would be led to believe there is no higher priority than to provide “workforce housing“. “We can reduce the impacts of in-commuting by…building workforce housing would enable people working in Marin to live closer to their jobs.” Supervisor Sears, Feb 21st 2014 Facebook page “It’s important that we build healthy and sustainable communities by allowing those who work in Marin to also live here,”  Supervisor Arnold, Sept 2011 “To increase the stock of affordable housing, especially workforce housing, the Marin County Board of Supervisors enacted the Affordable Housing Impact Fee.” This is a $5 or a $10 per square foot fee imposed on new builds and remodels. An existing 1,800 square foot house with a 700 square foot addition or conversion will be assessed $2,500. Source. The concept of providing workforce housing underpins stated policy not just from Marin County Supervisors but also the Association of Bay Area Governments’ Plan Bay Area: “The job growth forecast was adjusted based on the difficulties in supplying sufficient housing in the Bay Area to meet the needs of workforce housing within reasonable commute times. ” Source: Plan Bay Area, page 15, Employment Forecast Workforce Housing – The Premise & Alleged Benefits The concept presumes that by building affordable housing in a county: more county workers who used to live outside the county will be able to live in the county traffic congestion will be reduced greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced. A quick Google search constrained to the Marin County website references the term “workforce housing” in 340 separate documents. The same term appears in 160 documents...

Whose Fault Was the WinCup Disaster?

Today WinCup has become famous as a disaster to both sides of the housing debate: Measured growth advocates point to a monstrosity that is a major departure from the architectural character of Marin, will impose major traffic impact and provides barely any (just 18 units) affordable housing Fast growth new urbanists recognize that it is the highly visible monument that lost them the hearts and minds of mainstream Marin residents. It is right next to 101 where on a peak day as many as 591,000 people drive by according to Caltrans 2013 traffic counts. Some blame the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) which imposed housing quotas on Corte Madera that the city had to plan for – failing which it was sure to be sued by housing advocates for “failing to deliver its fair share” of afforable housing. Others lay the blame on the Corte Madera city council. Both are both partially right a, but they overlook an entity that was fare more responsible for the fiasco that was WinCup. The Real Story of WinCup While it will be impossible to completely join the dots here is the real story behind WinCup that I’ve learned: 1) ABAG gave Corte Madera a ludicrously high target that it must plan for 244 housing units.This was preposterously high for a city that councilors tell me is near completely built out. The city already had identified locations for about 60 units, but there was very limited remaining land available that wasn’t in a flood plain. Later into the process Corte Madera objected and ABAG dialed the quote back to about 70 units,...

SMART Train Growth Set to Overwhelm Highway 101

Thanks to the SMART train, a project we were promised would alleviate congestion on Highway 101, towns in Sonoma County have planned a whopping 24,010 housing units in the Priority Development Areas (PDAs) along the train line — equivalent to a city the size of San Rafael appearing in Sonoma County. In Marin Downtown San Rafael remains a PDA. The giant WinCup complex in Corte Madera has 180 units. This new growth planned by Sonoma, focusing on high density growth, is equivalent to no less than 133 WinCups.  Will All of the New Residents Be Taking the SMART Train? Do Marin’s planners really think the 60,000-plus new residents of suburban Sonoma County who work in Marin or employment centers in Oakland or San Francisco will be taking the train? No, many more will  drive down 101 rather than take the train. What About the Water for 60,000 More People? Do the planners not recognize that they will drink water coming from the same reservoirs that serve Marin? Can Marin County’s planning really be a good plan if it effectively ignores the massive growth already planned to our north? While Marin has squashed PDAs in Marinwood, Civic Center and Strawberry the sheer numbers of units in the remaining Priority Development Areas dwarf the units that were removed (see map). But SMART Told Us That it Would Alleviate 101 Congestion Many voted for SMART based on the ballot measure’s promise that it would alleviate 101 congestion. However the reality was quite the opposite as the presence of a train opened up the entire rail corridor for development – targeting more than...
What Should Come After Plan Bay Area?

What Should Come After Plan Bay Area?

Plan Bay Area hit really stiff resistance – the opposition is now mobilized and highly organized – and primed and ready for Plan Bay Area 2.0. Some might argue that some kind of revolution is needed; instead I strongly suggest ABAG and MTC incorporate new thinking into future regional transportation plans: 1) Build Bridges & Involve Opponents ABAG and MTC need to build bridges and connections with opposition leaders – to commence genuine engagement that never occurred with Plan Bay Area 1.0. Plan Bay Area 2.0 admits that this was a grave mistake.  It should not repeat this same error in the latest version of the Plan. 2) Amend Senate Bill 375 so it does not Selectively Reduce Emissions for Cars Senate Bill 375, a Steinberg Bill, needs to either be thrown out or amended so that instead of solely focusing on reducing the emissions of cars and light trucks, it reduces emissions from all forms of transportation. Since 2010, market forces, aided by government regulations, have resulted in the sharp decline of car emissions. Car emissions in Marin are now far lower than ferries and lower than buses. Given that SMART train ridership will be low in suburban Marin and Sonoma the train will  have higher passenger emissions per mile than cars. 3) Allow Residents to Vote for their ABAG Representatives There is insufficient accountability for ABAG representatives. ABAG representatives are effectively distanced from their electorates. In Marin there are three seats on ABAG (of 110). More populous areas are better represented, so if Marin and other suburban and rural areas have different needs, representatives from more urban...