Calming the Larkspur Station Area Plan with Misinformation

Calming the Larkspur Station Area Plan with Misinformation

A new fast growth organization has appeared on the radar – the Coalition for a Livable Marin, calling itself “CALM”. Its ranks are filled by familiar faces supporting fast growth with goals of urbanizing neighborhoods across Marin – including Larkspur, the Strawberry Seminary, Marinwood and Terra Linda – contrary to residents’ wishes.

Members of these groups may not live in affected neighborhood, but they don’t hesitate to ally and join forces against residents opposing urbanization plans in their neighborhoods.

Throughout the past two years members of these groups have claimed that misinformation is being circulated by those supporting measured and reasonable growth. The highly polished spin of their newly launched website would place them at the extreme end of the Politically Correct Spectrum.

They claim to be for all the right things: “livable places, transportation choices, living local”. But are they really? Let the reader be the judge.

Claim: The Larkspur Station Area Plan Alleviates Freeway Traffic Congestion – FALSE

The group makes an interesting claim in it’s page purporting to lay out the facts on Larkspur Landing Station Area Plan, stating:

Probably the top priority of Larkspur residents, and anyone who commutes through Larkspur Landing, is the horrific traffic congestion….To help smooth out the traffic, the SAP pushes for a direct connection between 580 and 101, to ensure freeway traffic can stay on the freeway and doesn’t need to cut through slow surface streets.

What is entirely remarkable about this statement is that the Station Area Plan is a plan for the city of Larkspur to act on. It does not secure any funding to build any such freeway connector. The SAP can suggest all it wants, but the plan does not have any impact on securing approval or funding from entities with the ability to authorize and build such a freeway connector  - CalTrans or MTC.

Assertion: Larkspur Should Open a Third Lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Alleviate Traffic Congestion

Somehow the Larkspur Plan Would Open Lanes on the Bridge

Somehow the Larkspur Plan Would Open Lanes on the Bridge

The same document also makes this assertion:

Larkspur should also explore the traffic impacts of opening a third lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Much of the evening traffic through Larkspur Landing is going to the East Bay, and the city should determine just how much of an impact it would have.

Once again the city of Larkspur, especially the Larkspur Station Area Plan, has no jurisdiction to extend the number of lanes on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Again, this is a matter for CalTrans and MTC.

Claim: The Opposition “Don’t Want Those Kinds of People”

More disturbing still is the following paragraph on their page “what happened to 101?“:

When people hear “affordable housing” they think of “projects” with visions of crime-ridden ne’er-do-wells who prey on their communities. They don’t want “those kinds of people” moving into their neighborhoods. But when you look at the people who really move into the few affordable housing projects that have been built you actually find regular working folks: teachers, policemen, firefighters, retail and service workers. Most people who currently reside in Marin could not afford to buy the homes they live in if they had to pay current prices. Children who grow up in Marin are forced to move away when it’s time to raise their own families.

This uses the straw man argument to misrepresent the point of view of proponents of measured and reasonable growth. A straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and then to refute or defeat that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the original proposition. It’s a rhetorical technique used to silence and discredit an opponent in debate.

Although convenient for fast growth supporters to overlook, their opponents actually have many residents of affordable housing in their ranks. Many more, such as myself, support affordable housing.  Others, like myself, are happy to live in neighborhoods adhering to Marin’s policy of 20% affordable housing in any new development. In our small neighborhood we have both police and teachers. Still many more proponents of measured and reasonable growth have incomes under the county’s median, and  many have incomes under the level that would qualify for affordable housing in Marin  ($103,000 for a family of 4).

It’s important these are long term residents, accepted and integrated into the community. The reality is that not everyone who lives in Marin is rich, and neither is it fair to lump all Marinites together as rich or exclusive.

Claim: Affordable Housing is Needed so Marin’s Firefighters Can Afford to Live in Marin

Fast growth advocates reference the need to provide housing for police and firefighters. Remember to qualify for affordable housing a family of four must make under $103,000.  Many Marin firefighters earn well over $100,000. Using a database provided by the Marin IJ of reported public employee salaries, I conducted a little more analysis:

Of the 248 full time firefighters (not part time or seasonal) in Marin County in 2011:

  • Only 24 have a total cost of employment (includes their pension and benefits) low enough to qualify for affordable housing (under $103,000). Although not shown, conceivably some of these 24 firefighters will have partners with jobs who push their household income above $103,000.
  • The other 224 firefighters, that’s 91%, have an income above that which would qualify them for affordable housing.

However incomes will likely have risen since 2011, so of the 24 / 248 qualifying firefighters many likely would not qualify today either due to pay raises or working partners. Restated – close to none of Marin’s firefighters would qualify for affordable housing. 

What fast growthers gloss over is that many Marin cities and county have policies in place so that 20%+ of all new development must be affordable, otherwise developers pay a forfeit. At least one Livable Marin coalition member was complicit in allowing WinCup to be built with just 10% affordable housing units – less than the 20% standard mandate.

Claim: Sir Francis Drake Should be Narrowed to Two Lanes

In a post on the Greater Marin in August 2011 titled Larkspur’s Missing Village, Dave Edmondson, Coalition for Livable Marin steering committee member  recommends on the coalition’s partner website The Greater Marin:
[Sir Francis] Drake should be narrowed past the entrance to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.  It doesn’t need the capacity it has and could be narrowed to two lanes, with the difference going to bike lanes and the sidewalk
However the Larkspur Station Area Plan Draft EIR section on Traffic and Circulation Analysis demonstrates how this is likely to have very significant adverse impact on Sir Francis Drake traffic. Traffic impact is measured using the “Level of Service” grading system with A being very low delay and F being unacceptable. Typically towns like Larkspur aim to keep Level of Service no worse than “D” (=longer delays).
Update 5/19: The Greater Marin’s suggestion of narrowing Sir Francis Drake was published prior to the Larkspur DEIR. That said, it would have been obvious to a person living in Marin and using Sir Francis Drake (as I did) back in 2011 that narrowing Sir Francis Drake was absurd. But perhaps not to a Washington DC resident who was never in the morning Larkspur commute.
Here is how Sir Francis Drake lines up, before being narrowed to two lanes:
 
#5: Sir Francis Drake Boulevard/U.S. 101 Northbound Ramps: LOS D, 53s peak evening delay
Grade D = “At the limit of acceptable delay”
#7: Sir Francis Drake Boulevard/Larkspur Landing Circle  (West)/Ferry Terminal Entrance: LOS D, 44s peak morning delay. Grade D = “At the limit of acceptable delay”
#8: Sir Francis Drake Boulevard/Andersen Drive: LOS F, >50s , unacceptable LOS F morning and evening, >55s
Grade F = “Unacceptable”
The Traffic and Circulation section of the Larkspur SAP Draft EIR goes on to add:
Vehicle movements along this section of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that currently operate at LOS E (limit of acceptable delay) or F (unacceptable) include the following:

#3 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard/Eliseo Drive
a. All eastbound movements – LOS F in the AM peak hour, “At the limit of acceptable delay”
b. Eastbound left movement – LOS E in the PM peak hour, “At the limit of acceptable delay”
c. Westbound left movement – LOS F in the AM and PM peak hours, “Unacceptable”
d. Westbound through movement – LOS E in the PM peak hour, “At the limit of acceptable delay”
#5 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard/U.S. 101 Northbound Ramps
a. Westbound through movement – LOS E in the AM and PM peak hours, “At the limit of acceptable delay”
#6 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard/Larkspur Landing Circle (West)/Ferry Terminal Entrance
a. All westbound movements at Larkspur Landing Circle (West) – LOS E in the AM peak
hour, ”At the limit of acceptable delay”
#7 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard/Larkspur Landing Circle (East)
a. Eastbound left movement – LOS E in the AM and PM peak hours, ”At the limit of acceptable delay”

Edmondson’s suggestion that a road clearly at the limits of its capacity be narrowed demonstrates scant regard for the users of Sir Francis Drake, while promoting a spurious benefit. Is the number of bike path users worthwhile?
Currently the peak bike count is 23 bikes in a two hour peak weekday period crossing the ferry terminal bridge; the bike count for other areas of Sir Francis Drake is much lower (see page 107 of the Traffic and Circulation section of the Draft EIR). 
By comparison page 112 of the Draft EIR states:
Within the Plan area, “Sir Francis Drake Boulevard carries approximately 50,000 vehicles per day.
We don’t have the hourly numbers, however considering that  average vehicle occupancy based on US DoT figures is 1.67 (see table 16, page 33 of the US DoT National Travel Trends Survey, 2009) it’s likely safe to say that in excess of 10,000 people would be further inconvenienced if the level of service for cars was worsened by narrowing the lanes to add bike and pedestrian paths as Edmondson suggests. Compare 10,000 people to the 23 cyclists that take the ferry terminal bridge during the two hour peak and you get the picture.

Narrowing these lanes is quite simply utopian dreaming  sure to compound acute traffic and circulation issues but help a small handful of people. These suggestions by the Coalition for a Livable Marin’s members reinforce just how little consideration they are paying to the large numbers of people traveling through Larkspur. They have a different vision for how we should live in Marin, but not one that conforms to reality.

Propagating Misinformation to Promote Fast Growth in Marin

MisinformationRegarding traffic conditions, a CALM-schooled reader would incorrectly take away the impression that if the Larkspur Station Area Plan is enacted:

- traffic issues on highways 101 and highway 580 will be alleviated

- a 3rd lane will likely be opened up on the Richmond / San Rafael Bridge.

CALM’s claims around affordable housing would incorrectly result in the website visitor believing:

- All opponents don’t want any growth, they’re just a bunch of rich people who don’t accept change and don’t want “these people” in their neighborhood. In actuality many longer term residents are “these people”, they have an income under $103,000 and would qualify for affordable housing and/or have 20%+ affordable housing in their neighborhoods already.

-  Firefighters who work in Marin qualify for affordable housing

However, worst of all,  if we follow CALM’s recommendations Sir Francis Drake would be narrowed from 3 to 2 lanes when this road is already at the limits of acceptable delay, and in places beyond it. This would inconvenience and frustrate tens of thousands of people in cars, but help maybe two dozen or more cyclists.

This misinformation is not helping residents make informed decisions – it clouds the issues, but helps promote a utopian vision that is out of touch with reality. Yes, we should surely be planning for progress, but equally importantly we should also be planning for reality.