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 this November 2013 ABAG document. The memo clearly states:
“The TOAH Fund is a $50 million revolving loan fund for affordable housing projects near transit in PDAs throughout the region”
2) Both Sides Respect the Need to Fight Climate Change, But Only PDA Opponents Used Facts
There was also talk by PDA proponents of the need to fight climate change and reduce emissions. I could not agree more, but these proponents do not seem to concern themselves that cars have lower emissions than transit as I’ve covered in this article How Does Your Car’s Emissions Compare to Transit.
Proponents continue to misleadingly demonize cars as generating 40% of emissions for Marin. However this overlooks two critical facts:
– the number is large because so many depend on cars for transportation, car use eclipses other transportation modes
– if people were switched somehow to transit then emissions would actually increase
This blind pursuit of “sustainability” (as defined by these specific groups) is highly counter-productive. It can not only lead to increases in emissions, but more importantly it is a gross waste of taxpayer’s money. We should be spending no more than $50-$100 to reduce one ton of CO2 emissions; yet these misinformed sustainability groups would be willing for all taxpayers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to abate one ton of emissions.
3) Supervisors Continue to Deny a Loss of Local Control
The supervisors claimed that Plan Bay Area was not relevant to the discussion of Strawberry PDA. This is ridiculous. PDAs are a designation created by Plan Bay Area – and through their designation they allow an area to receive PDA grants.
4) A Failure to Grasp that PDA Costs Far Outweighed Benefits
Groups ranging from Sustainable San Rafael to the Marin County Bicycle Coalition justified the PDA as providing the dollars needed to create important car, bike and pedestrian improvements in the area. Yet the PDA will generate only about $250,000 in funding over 4 years for the area.
For perspective the city of San Rafael received PDA grants exceeding $600,000. They spent this with planning consultant Ferh & Peers to develop plans for the Civic Center and downtown San Rafael PDA. However $600,000 was not enough to even complete the planning of these two PDAs. To achieve any physical work requires millions.
5) The Special Interests Echo Chamber of FUD
Special interests such as social equity advocates, transit and “sustainability” groups have been highly involved in public meetings around Plan Bay Area, PDAs and Station Area Plans. Their involvement has served to adversely distort the conversation away from inconvenient facts and guide it to serving their needs.
To address this requires an especially assertive, self-confident elected official capable of what seems like a remarkable skill of actually listening to their constituents over the din of special interests.
While special interests accuse PDA opponents of spreading myths and disinformation they continue to spread misinformation – I cover this in several articles:
6) Special Interests Don’t Practice Sound Democratic Process, Even Within their Own Groups
One of the most remarkable speakers was a Strawberry resident who declared that he was also a member of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC)- a group that sent a dedicated advocate to speak on the entire group’s behalf supporting the PDA.
But the Strawberry resident and MCBC member stated that he had never even been consulted that his group would be taking a position to support the PDA. Had this been communicated he would have clearly objected. What is clear is that MCBC presumes support of its membership without ever polling its membership. As such is is failing to represent its members and in future no credibility should be given to any MCBC spokes people in public meetings until they can demonstrate good governance.
MCBC is a non-profit 501(c)(3) with a clear governance process defined in its bylaws. All non-profits are required to have bylaws as a condition of their tax-exempt status. I would be interested in others comments on whether taking a unilateral position without consulting its members adheres to these bylaws.
One Final Observation
My final observation, which turned out to be the over-riding factor in the Strawberry PDA decision – is that residents of Strawberry have made themselves truly informed of the facts. Armed with these facts the supervisors made the decision to rescind – the only rational decision.
We need more residents of Marin to become informed just like those in Strawberry. And we need true representation so we don’t have to waste our time objecting to schemes that any real review will expose as cost ineffective and against preserving quality of life for existing of new residents.