Records Request Revelations: The Larkspur SAP

Records Request Revelations: The Larkspur SAP

Today one of the greatest mysteries in Marin is how it came about that the “preferred plan” for the Larkspur Station Area Plan is for 920 new housing units, a hotel and 77,000 square feet of commercial space. That such a plan is the preference of residents, their representatives and  civil servants seems wholly remarkable given the increasingly acute traffic circulation and parking issues at the ferry terminal and Larkspur Landing mall. TAM – The Conduit Between ABAG, MTC and Plannning in Marin’s County and Cities To shine a light and unearth the reasoning behind the Larkspur Station Area Plan on January 25th I submitted a Public Records Request to the Transportation Authority of Marin – the conduit of transit planning and funding that sits between ABAG, MTC and the cities and county of Marin. In other words – TAM is the focal point  straddling the regional agencies behind Plan Bay Area, and the cities and county of Marin. Starting in late January my public records requests went back and forth with 3 denials, then  eventually in April – with the request  focused on specific TAM employees referencing Larkspur – things started to move and TAM agreed to produce records, but only after a county attorney could spend 20 business days vetting and censoring emails (which is permitted). Finally today, for the princely sum of $62, I received a DVD-ROM containing emails back as far as 2011 from three TAM employees – Dianne Steinhauser, TAM’s Executive Director, Linda Jackson, Manager of Planning and Suzanne Loosen, TAMs representative on the Larkspur Station Area Plan Technical Advisory Committee. SMART is Driving Growth...
Why Plan Bay Area Failed

Why Plan Bay Area Failed

An article “The Actions of Discontent – Tea Party and Property Rights Activists Pushing Back Against Regional Planning” by Karen Trapenberg Frick was recently brought to my attention. The author, an assistant adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, purported to address the underlying reasons for opposition to two regional planning initiatives including Plan Bay Area and a similar exercise in Atlanta. An otherwise well written piece, it seemed to fall short of understanding the true reasons for opposition. It seemed appropriate to get to the bottom of why so many opposed Plan Bay Area, and while enacted to understand why the plan failed in so many different ways – most of all for its’ largest stakeholders – Bay Area residents. But ultimately by putting plan proponents ABAG and MTC into an impossible situation as they progress new regional planning efforts. Focusing on the Wrong Places: The Tea Party and Property Rights Groups The piece focused on two groups that are away from the mainstream that allegedly led  opposition to Plan Bay Area. A tactic historically used by many regionalization proponents as an ad-hominem attack – seeking to give a stigma to those who might otherwise oppose. These groups did come across as vocal and well represented in their opposition, they tend to polarize conversations –  but in reality they were the tip of the iceberg. By comparison other grassroots and local groups did not make themselves so easily identifiable. So it was an easy mistake to make. The real foundational reasons for opposition to Plan Bay Area were at the grass roots level. What Really Happened #1: Planning Without the...
Rail: The Transportation Cannibal

Rail: The Transportation Cannibal

The SMART train here in Marin and Sonoma are not the only areas to see the building of a billion dollar train line as the solution to the areas transit needs – Houston has it’s Metro, Portland has it’s MAX light rail, and Anaheim is spending $318m for a trolley that goes a mere 3.2 miles – trains seem to be the new obsession and solution to all of our transit woes. But an analysis of the actual impact rail has had in historic case studies exposes that rail is far from the solution – and the famous Einstein quote becomes apropo: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results Planning for Reality would like to thank Thomas Rubin for his expert insight – this article is based on his detailed analysis of rail case studies – and he is owed all credit. Rail: The Transportation Cannibal The problem with rail projects is that they have a disturbing history of causing transit agencies to eat their young – meaning that they cannibalize other far more cost effective projects capable of increasing ridership, decreasing emissions and not needlessly adding to sales or property taxes.   This is the story of Los Angeles, where the existing transportation system is in jeopardy as it is in the process of being replaced by rail. This is in area where the author, Thomas Rubin, has considerable expertize as he was the former Chief Financial Officer of Southern California Rapid Transit District from 1989 to 1993, when it was absorbed into what is now the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. After he...
Larkspur and the Transit Oriented Development Ponzi Scheme

Larkspur and the Transit Oriented Development Ponzi Scheme

If you ask the situational analysis question to anyone living in Larkspur or commuting through Larkspur “do you have traffic or parking issues?” the answer is likely to be a resounding “Yes – we need to sort out this mess”. However Larkspur has got itself caught up in what can almost be described as a planning-Ponzi scheme. Is it intentional? I would argue many involved have good intentions, and many are hamstrung by state and regional mandates driven by flawed thinking that is pushing areas like Larkspur into an endless cycle of creating acute transportation issues, then offering funds to solve the issue that only compound it. It’s like a drug-deal. Who benefits? Regional transportation agencies that gain more and more federal grants, grow in employees, executives get more responsibilities and higher salaries and grow in influence. What Does Larkspur Really Need? In normal circumstances whenever new development is added developers pay impact fees to expand the road system, pay for schools etc. However this money only pays for improvements in the immediate local area. Larkspur is a focal point for transportation for Marin and Sonoma. While development in Larkspur has been limited, the town is affected by all development happening upstream. Sure each new development in Marin and Sonoma only adds a little traffic, but it adds up. Take for example the $820m Graton Casino which opened in Rohnert Park in November which provides no less than 5,700 parking spaces for it’s patrons. The casino will draw a significant amount of evening traffic passing through Larkspur. The casino is paying $12m per year in traffic mitigation fees –...
Can’t Win the Debate? Then Shut it Down

Can’t Win the Debate? Then Shut it Down

Successful democracy depends on community discussion to reach the best outcome. But what if special interest groups infiltrate key positions to promote self-serving, green-washed schemes on the public? What happens when the public awakens to realize what’s happening and disagrees? Supporters of high density, transit oriented development, including Wall Street banks, developers, builders unions, and social equity activists, reap benefits from the very policies they helped shape like California Senate Bill 375, ABAG’s Plan Bay Area and the Marin County Housing Element. These financiers and activists mask their motivations behind claims of social justice and combatting whatever else is ailing the planet. Volunteering Needless Sacrifices Without those Affected Present These special interests have helped formulate policy such as Plan Bay Area, housing quotas, Climate Action Plans and Housing Elements in a bubble – a bubble removed from the input of residents who might be concerned about foundational flaws in the thinking  – such as transit emits less greenhouse gases than cars (disproven by facts covered by this Planning for Reality article). This policy-formulation bubble was also removed from what sacrifices residents might be willing to make to achieve these special interests goals – such as diverting money from roads to other transport modes, even despite these modes declining in usage after increasing investments. Or imposing developments such as WinCup across Marin – in the hope that the new residents work in Marin or a disproportionate number will take transit – more flawed thinking. A Revolving Door Between Planners and Special Interests  Recently I emailed an ABAG employee to understand how Priority Development Areas (PDAs) are rescinded. Using LinkedIn, I discovered that he was a former employee of Urban Habitat, the social equity advocacy group that filed suits against Pleasanton and Menlo...