Walk Bike Marin’s $28m+ Failure Rewritten Into Success!

Walk Bike Marin’s $28m+ Failure Rewritten Into Success!

While I enjoy cycling and support extending bike paths and trails, residents such as myself have found themselves facing off against bicycle coalitions and bike groups that serve as the vanguard for pushing high density housing. Frequently these groups claim to represent thousands of cyclists and speak  out against the wishes of their membership as covered in another Planning for Reality article. As someone who has been involved in many market research projects I am a big fan of statistics – when used correctly – but nothing could have horrified me more than the manipulation of  Walk Bike Marin and the associated Congressional report deeming the $28m Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program a success. This was further heralded by coverage in an article in the June 30th  Marin Independent Journal “Feds Hail $28m Bike Path Program“. What Should We Be Trying to Achieve? We do need to fight climate change,  reducing vehicle miles travelled. More importantly we should spend our dollars as cost effectively as we can to focus on the most critical resources – road and freeway usage during peak weekday commutes.  It may help with emissions to reduce off-peak trips, but if we can switch people from cars to alternative commute methods that would be the real win – saving time for those who do need to commute by car, and maximizing economic benefit. The economic benefit of reducing peak hour congestion is measured in multiple ways: People can commute to jobs that would otherwise be out of range Children can be taken to activities Additional shopping trips may occur (these may be part of multi-leg trips incorporated...
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...
Transit Oriented Development’s Dirty Secret

Transit Oriented Development’s Dirty Secret

An innocent reader interested in learning about transit oriented development projects would have learned from official county and city sources that one of the major justifications was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Here is a selection of the justifications made to justify a number of projects in Marin: – The County of Marin told us in official documents that Priority Development Areas would “lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” – The Larkspur Station Area plan public workshop presentation told us that we should add 920 units of high density housing in order to “minimize greenhouse gas emissions” – The SMART’s train’s measure Q, climate change whitepaper and final Environmental Impact Report told us that it would “fight global warming” But what if none of this turned out to be true? What if all of these projects actually increased emissions? What if the claims that “if we don’t build high density here then we’d increase emissions by building sprawl elsewhere?” rang hollow? Then shouldn’t we re-evaluate all those projects based on the new information? After all the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated unambiguously that the climate change crisis has become so significant that we can’t continue with business as usual. The Changing Landscape: Car Emissions Have Dropped Many of us still feel a modicum of guilty pleasure driving a vehicle – based on information such as the above we presume that while taking transit can be inconvenient, we’re doing our bit to save the planet because transit has lower emissions. But the reality is that cars have come a long way in the last few years....
Transportation Authority of Marin Denies Repeated Records Requests

Transportation Authority of Marin Denies Repeated Records Requests

I used to live blissfully unaware of the major plans that others had for urbanizing first my neighborhood, then Marin. But then I had a rude awakening as I discovered how special interests, assisted by seemingly compliant government agencies were pushing through radical plans to significantly increase growth. The agency that kept catching my attention was the Transportation Authority of Marin (and ABAG – but let’s leave them aside for now). They first showed up on my radar after hundreds of neighbors discovered a rigged community input process around first the designation of our neighborhood as a “Priority Development Area” concentrating high density development – then via what was purported to be a “Station Area Plan” but which turned out to propose radical rezoning from 1,074 units to adding another 1,414 units within a 1/2 mile zone. Resident input was summarily dismissed, and workshops somehow carefully avoided presenting “no change” options. Public meetings concluding setting height limits of 3 story height limits would magically come back from the oversight committee and planning consultants as 5 storys. All Roads Lead to the Transportation Authority of Marin More and more I discovered that more and more led back to the Transportation Authority of Marin: A TAM employee, Linda Jackson, was the project manager of the “Joint Project Team” (JPT) committee responsible for technical coordination TAM had lobbied councilors to discourage them from rescinding the Priority Development Area status when this was clearly the desire of the majority of residents TAM had been highly involved in the SMART Train – a project where all along the line “Station Area Plans” had popped...
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...