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...
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...
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...
Preserving Strawberry’s Charm – By Rescinding the Growth Designation

Preserving Strawberry’s Charm – By Rescinding the Growth Designation

On Tuesday Feb 25th the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to rescind the Strawberry Priority Development Area – a designation targeting the area for significant housing growth – supposedly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and secure transportation funding. The Marin IJ provided this coverage of the topic. As an attendee of the session I made several interesting observations: 1) Priority Development Area Proponents Continued to Talk of Myths and Disinformation But these same proponents didn’t specify any alleged myths beyond “there are no strings attached“. The evidence contradicting PDA proponent’s assertion couldn’t be much stronger: a) One of the leading planners in the county, Paul Jensen who is the community development manager for Marin’s largest city, San Rafael, and more qualified than almost anyone in the room, stated in his presentation on PDAs on September 6th 2013 not once but twice that PDAs create an expectation of growth. View the video and jump to the 35 minute mark to see this. b) In January 2014 ABAG, MTC and the other organizations behind Plan Bay Area published a PDA Application Form. The form clearly states: “the area has plans for a significant increase in housing units to a minimum density of the selected place type from the Station Area Planning Manual,” c) The designation provides a clear tool to a developer to show that the area has been volunteered by residents for high density accelerated growth. This is a key part of justifying a specific plan for development by a developer. d) The designation enables developers to qualify for Transit Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) Loans. This is clearly stated in...